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Fox Lorber presents
In The Realm of the Senses (1976)

"A superior film about intense physical love. A mature, beautifully made motion picture."
- The Chicago Tribune

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: June 20, 2000

Stars: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda
Other Stars: Aoi Nakajima, Yasuko Matsui, Meika Seri, Kanae Kobyashi
Director: Nagisa Oshima

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for Explicit Sexual Situations
Release Date: April 25, 2000
UPC: 720917503721
Genre: late night

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Wow. How does one begin to evaluate a film like this? From the very first scene In the Realm of the Senses steps over so many lines and breaks through so many "conventions," the viewer is very quickly on shaky ethical ground. By enduring several scenes, one has had so many taboos broken and inhibitions shattered that, by the end of the film, standards by which we might make a judgement are completely distorted by the context of the film experience.

Just to write a review that tells what happens in the film might be classified as pornographic. The very existence of this film engenders an evaluation of what is erotic and what is pornographic, of what is art and what is trash. One simple fact stands clear: Someone who does not want to see or hear about graphic depiction of sexuality, exploration of the depths of darkness in human sexual behavior and explicit representation of human sexual expression should not see this film and probably should not continue to read this review.

At one level Realm is a fairly common tale of sexual obsession between a man and woman in pre-War Japan and is, in fact, based on a true story. The illicitness of the affair between master and servant, between highborn and lowborn is a common thread for drama throughout history. This film diverges from almost all other stories about sexual obsession by actually showing many sexual acts in long and studied focus. There are no hints, no carefully planned sanitary shots, and no oblique angles. It is straightforward and close-up sex between man and woman.

The taboos of sexual cinema relegate many of the acts found in Realm to films with an X rating. Usually the standard that designates this involves the showing of the erect male organ and actual penetration. Realm is rated NC-17 on the DVD, which was a rating that was created to allow for films that contained explicit sexual images but had qualities of story or filmmaking that made the film worthy of consideration beyond what are more obviously pornographic films.

Realm is very artistically framed and features some high quality filmmaking. There is no doubt of that. From the first scene that establishes us as "voyeurs" through the scenes of Tokyo and onto the room which the couple shares in their mock marriage. The story is interesting and, once one is de-sensitized to the explicitness, frankly illustrates some aspects of sexual attraction and obsession that are worthy of consideration. Rather than hinting at the implications of such a love, the film goes there. Anyone who has been involved in an affair or relationship of great sexual intensity can find aspects of this movie that speak to where they were in that situation. However, one cannot separate the story of In the Realm of the Senses from the sexuality any more than one could put boxer shorts on Michaelangelo's David.

The story itself involves more than just a series of sexual encounters. Through their interactions, the lead characters Kichizo and Sada, confront and illuminate a broad range of the varying roles and issues between men and women as human animals. How this develops and leads to violence and death, is really the crucial journey of the drama that concerns director Nagisa Oshima.

One could tackle the problem inherent in a story of this nature, by finding what we ultimately learn from the film and working backward to re-evaluate the sequences of events. Is the graphic sex necessary to tell the tale? I think perhaps not. But it would not be the same film without it. Would the film still be as powerful with this story told without the explicit scenes? I think perhaps it could be. There is the fundamental problem with this film. If it has an important aspect of humanity to explore, is it necessary for the actors to actually perform sexual acts in order to problem perform the drama?

This begs the question of whether the explicit sex denies us the chance to properly evaluate the depth of meanings of the story because I look at my page and I see that I felt it necessary to spend several paragraphs to establish a context for my own perception of sexual cinema. Then, I remember this movie and I feel certain that it could not be properly discussed without it.

Ultimately, In the Realm of the Senses exists, as it is. Whatever the standard of pornography or the decision of its qualification as art, it remains a very strong statement of human experience. Various resources exist that allow the potential viewer to make a rational decision on whether to watch this movie or not. It is not recommended for most viewers.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - no
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image transfer is remarkably good. The colors are crisp and the skin tones are very warm and realistic. The artistry of the camera work is shown to good advantage in this DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Difficult to review the audio as this is the English Language version. But, the transfer was certainly serviceable for the content. Good balance between sound effects and voice. In fact, the clarity of the sound was a great help in following the often unusual voices that seem to crop up in these dubbed films from Asia. As long as the sound was not annoying, it was inconsequential.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Filmographies and awards (Eiko Matsuda, actress & Nagisa Oshima, director)
  2. Weblink to http://www.winstarvideo.com
Extras Review: A film of this type would do well to have an interview with the director or an actor in the extras. This movie was banned at the 1976 New York Film Festival and has been banned in several countries, including Japan, and there are issues of censorship and freedom of artistic expression that should be addressed. But, this is one case where the lack of extras is a wash, in that it is not an issue in whether to watch or not watch this film.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An astounding movie for several reasons. Certainly not one for every viewer and certainly not for anyone of an immature or a sensitive nature when it comes to onscreen sex or violence. In the Realm of the Senses is thought-provoking as much as shocking, fascinating as much as repellent.


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