In the Realm of the Senses  

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"My goal in this chapter will not be so much to understand this unique film as a stunning example of Japanese cinema (which it is), but as the first example of feature-length narrative cinema anywhere in the world to succeed as both art and pornography—as both genital maximum visibility and the erotic subtleties of line, color, light, and performance."-- Screening Sex (2008) by Linda Williams

"In fact, Fred Halsted’s L.A. Plays Itself (1972 – begun in ’68 and not completed until ’72), as well as his Sextool (1975) and Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack! (1974) were well known hard-core art films of the time. Unfortunately, Williams was unaware of this other history of experimental pornography at the time she wrote Screening Sex."--Rob Thomas, phd

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In the Realm of the Senses, Ai no korīda, literally, "Bullfight of Love", French: L'empire des sens) is a 1976 Franco-Japanese film directed by Nagisa Oshima. It is a fictional and sexually explicit treatment of a true story from the 1930s in Japan, the Abe Sada story. It garnered great controversy during its release; while it was intended for mainstream release, it contains scenes of unsimulated sex.



The British title of the film is In the Realm of the Senses, while the U.S. version is Realm of the Senses. The French title L'Empire des sens (Empire of Senses) is derived from that of Roland Barthes' book about Japan, L'Empire des signes (Empire of Signs, 1970).


In 1936 Tokyo, Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) is a former prostitute who now works as a maid in a hotel. The hotel's owner, Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji), molests her, and the two begin an intense affair that consists of sexual experiments, drinking, and various self-indulgences. Ishida leaves his wife and family to pursue his affair with Abe. Abe becomes increasingly possessive and jealous of Ishida, and Ishida more eager to please her. Their mutual obsession escalates to the point where Ishida finds he is most excited by being strangled during lovemaking, and he is killed in this fashion. Abe then severs his penis and writes, "Sada Kichi the two of us forever," in blood on his chest.


Strict censorship laws would not have allowed the film to be completed as per Oshima's vision in Japan. To get around this, the production was officially listed as a French enterprise, and the undeveloped footage was shipped to France for processing and editing. At its première in Japan (and in all prints of the film there ever since), the sexual activity has been optically censored.

In the USA, the film was initially banned upon its première at the 1976 New York Film Festival, but later screened uncut; a similar fate awaited the film when it was to be released in Germany. The film was not available on home video until 1990.

Many individual scenes have been cut from the film for the sake of local censorship. For example, the British Board of Film Classification granted the film an "18" certificate (suitable for adults only), leaving all of the sexual activity intact, but ordered that a shot showing a prepubescent boy having his penis pulled as punishment be optically reframed so that the act itself was not shown. The film has been made available, however, in completely uncut forms in France, the United States (including the current Fox Lorber DVD), the Netherlands and several other territories.

In Canada, when originally submitted to the provincial film boards in the 1970s, the film was rejected in all jurisdictions except Quebec. It was not until 1991 that individual provinces approved the film and gave it a certificate. However, in the Maritimes the film was rejected again as the policies followed in the 1970s were still enforced.


The film does not so much examine Abe's status as a folk hero in Japan ("Pink film" director Noboru Tanaka's film A Woman Called Sada Abe explores this theme more directly) but rather the power dynamics between Abe and Ishida. Many critics have written that the film is also an exploration of how eroticism in Japanese culture is often morbid or death-obsessed. Oshima was also criticized for using explicit sex to draw attention to the film, but the director has stated that the explicitness is an integral part of the movie's design.


  • Eiko Matsuda as Sada Abe
  • Tatsuya Fuji as Kichizō Ishida
  • Aoi Nakajima as Toku
  • Yasuko Matsui as Tagawa Inn manager
  • Meika Seri as Matsuko
  • Kanae Kobayashi as Old geisha Kikuryū
  • Taiji Tonoyama as Old beggar
  • Kyôji Kokonoe as Teacher Ōmiya
  • Naomi Shiraishi as Geisha Yaeji
  • Komikichi Hori as Mitsuwa Geisha

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "In the Realm of the Senses" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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