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Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1976
Cast: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Release Date: April 27, 2009, 1:31 pm
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, strong sexual situations, nudity, graphic violence)
Run Time: 01h:42m:25s

ìYou were so cheerful and kind. I was your customer. Donít you remember me?î - Old Beggar (Taiji Tonoyama)

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How fine is the line between "Art House Classic" and "Japanese Porn?" The Criterion Collection's new In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray gives me no choice but to answer that question. For some reason, I'm really looking forward to finding the answer to that question.

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: A+

Whether you consider Nagisa Oshimaís controversial 1976 film, In the Realm of the Senses an art house classic or a glossy, Japanese porn film, you can make strong cases for both. Itís all in how you define both terms, though, and if porn, to you, means anything showing graphic intercourse, including penetration, then itís hard to argue slapping such a tag on Oshimaís film. However, if you consider porn to be the XXX-rated films of the 70s and 80s, and the numerous gonzo fare that you can easily download on the internet today, then In the Realm of the Senses clearly does not deserve to be grouped amongst such fare. The closest such recent comparison to this 33-year-old film is 2006ís Shortbus, as it is an equal marriage of art house and something many would consider to be pornography. I remember seeing that film in a packed local art house theater, and, despite the shock (and uncomfortable feeling at seeing such a thing outside of the privacy of our own homes) at what we were seeing, in the end it was clear that the director had a clear vision, that stretched beyond showing the most detailed sexual acts imaginable. Nagisa Oshima pulled off the exact same thing with Senses and paved the way for Shortbus and hopefully many more entries in this obscure genre.

This ìloveî story essentially tells the tale of Sada (Eiko Matsuda), an ex-prostitute who is now a maid in the employ of Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji). When Sada accidentally sees Kichizo having sex with his wife, she falls in love with him. It isnít long before the two are having an illicit affair, which they arenít even seemingly concerned about hiding from anyone. As their relationship continues they get more and more daring in their sexual acts, marring the line between exploring each othersí fantasies, and becoming dangers to one another. When it appears that itís time for this affair to end, itís no surprise that it does, but how it does pushes every possible film taboo to the limit.

We see our first graphic sex scene a mere four minutes into the film, and this sequence almost feels like a pathetic excuse by the filmmaker to show us exactly what weíre in for during the rest of the running time. Still, despite nearly every scene involving someone copulating with someone else, it never crosses the line into exploitation. There is a story to tell, and after the shocking final five minutes, it all comes together quite nicely. This is a brilliant film that uses sex to get under our skin, so to speak. Few of these graphic sequences are erotic or titillating, and the film has a grimy, dirty look to it, thus crafting a mood that might not be appealing initially, but is truly effective in practice. Itís clear that Oshima could care less about his audienceís own, personal, moral boundaries, and such an attitude only makes this film that much stronger.

This is a difficult movie to get through at times, but if you can make it through the final scene without getting nauseous, youíve got a pretty strong stomach. You might think youíre prepared for this last bit after having sat through virtually 95 minutes of non-stop sex, but even if youíre the most avid gore hound out there, itíll be difficult to keep from cringing at what youíll see. To top it all off, if youíre a man, I almost recommend just stopping the film after an hour and a half. Still, we all know that this talk is only making you want to witness this even more, and in doing so, you will have witnessed a scene and a film that has polarized respected critics and movie buffs around the world for the last three decades.

Criterionís Blu-ray disc presents Senses in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and uses a 1080p print to blow away any and all previous home video incarnations of the film. There may be only a few instances where the film shows its age, thanks in large part to amazing image detail, a gorgeous color palette, and total elimination of dirt and grain. The audio is just as impressive as the video, thanks to the inclusion of a lossless PCM Mono track that features crystal clear dialogue that is never overcome by the wonderful Japanese music that makes up the score.

The extras are up to Criterionís lofty standards, in that thereís just the right amount of them and theyíre all compelling. For example, the first interview is from 1976 and features the filmís two leads. When the French interviewer asks actress Eiko Matsuda about why she chose to be in such a challenging film, she gives an answer that is both honest and unforgettable. We see director Nagisa Oshima interviewed in that older piece, but we also get a new discussion with him, shot in 2008 exclusively for the Criterion Collection. The contrast in what he said 33 years ago and now is reason enough to check out this 17-minute talk. The extras donít stop there though, as thereís also 12 minutes of trimmed footage, the U.S. trailer for the film, and the best of the bunch, an audio commentary track by film historian and critic Tony Rayns. He basically tells us anything and everything we ever wanted to know about In the Realm of the Senses, from the story to the controversy that has surrounded this film for decades.

Chuck Aliaga April 27, 2009, 1:31 pm