Apr 21, 2017

In the Realm of the Senses

Unlike many modern-day white men around my age, I have never really suffered from strange fetishistic plague of ‘yellow fever’ or even considered dating an Asian girl, let alone marrying and/or having children with one (after all, the last thing that world needs is more deranged hapa spawn). Indeed, aside from a Slavic-looking green-eyed ¼ Japanese girl when I was in middle school, I have never really found myself fantasizing about defiling the largely curveless bodies of oriental chicks, so naturally I have never wanted to actively seek out Asian pornography of any sort, hence my initial disinterest in seeing the Franco-Japanese flick L'Empire des sens (1976) aka In the Realm of the Senses directed by Nagisa Ôshima (Night and Fog in Japan, Death by Hanging). Of course, considering it is a fairly (in)famous film and I am a huge fan of the director’s preternaturally homoerotic (anti)war flick Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) starring David Bowie, it was only a matter of time before I watched erotically wayward flick. Needless to say, as someone with a huge fetish for dames with large shapely derrieres, hourglass figures, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) large tits, I initially did not expect to find anything even remotely erotic about Ôshima’s film, yet upon watching it I somehow found myself enamored with female lead Eiko Matsuda’s petite yet surprisingly curvy physique. In short, Matsuda is like a Japanese Venus, but arguably the most erotic thing about In the Realm of the Senses—a film best known for featuring tons of unsimulated sex and an unconventionally climatic castration scene—is the hot, heavy, and slightly homicidal ‘mad love’ romance that is unequivocally the main focus of the film.

 Notable for gaining Ôshima internal acclaim in the cinema world and more or less transforming him from a Japanese filmmaker to a relatively cosmopolitan one (though his work would ultimately suffer as a result), the film is loosely based on the real-life story of Japanese Geisha-cum-prostitute Sada Abe and the huge scandal that she caused in Japan during the 1930s when she erotically asphyxiated her lover, Kichizo Ishida, chopped off his penis and testicles, and then carried them around with her in her kimono as if they were sacred good charms. Like one big long, erratic, and deleteriously intoxicating coital session that concludes with a such an enrapturing transcendental orgasmic climax that the inordinately virile male protagonist loses both his life and genitals in a sickening scenario that somehow seems logical in the end in the context of the lovers' lurid and insanely intense romance, In the Realm of the Senses is a film that is, above all us, about a totally raw and visceral chemistry based sexual love affair that is so dangerously potent and explosive that it can only end in death due to the ever increasing intensity of the crazed couple’s singular carnal majesty. Indeed, although a rather fittingly titled film since the debauched duo lives in a totally intoxicating and solely sensual-based hermetic demimonde, I still think it might be better renamed ‘La petite mort.’ 

 Undoubtedly, one of the aspects of Ôshima’s film that I found most intriguing and, to some extent, relatable is the fact that the two leads seem to lie together in bed for eternity, as if they would love nothing more than to completely cut themselves off from the rest of humanity and spend the rest of their days in a perpetual state of heightened carnality, hence the film's almost autistically literal title. Indeed, out of all the girls I have been with, only one did I never eventually get sexually bored of, even though some of my previous lovers were gifted with comparable pulchritude. In fact, as the years passed, our sexual chemistry and mutual attraction only seemed to grow while our relationship became more ‘complicated’ in other ways. Even to this day years later, an hour cannot pass with me being reminded of her touch, smell, and sensual warmth. Surely, what makes In the Realm of the Senses so delightfully darkly romantic is that the couple, which lives for perpetual mutual copulation, chooses death while they are at the height of their otherworldly erotic compatibility instead of allowing themselves to be broken up by society or something else (like the heroine's mental illness!), as if they can subconsciously sense that Japan will be eventually firebombed and nuked in dubious Allied air raids.

While I sincerely expected the film to be pretentious artsy fartsy Jap pornography of the rather revolting sort disguised as a ‘mature’ arthouse flick, it proved to be, at least in my opinion, one of the few films ever made in cinema history where the sex scenes are an innate and imperative ingredient to the point where it would completely fall apart at the seams were it not so delicately explicit. Indeed, instead of watching two sex fiends fucking to simply fuck, Ôshima’s shockingly mirthful celluloid orgasm treats the viewers to two strangely sympathetic weirdoes making love to one another simply because they are so hopelessly in love and see virtually everything else in life as completely pointless. In short, even the most inordinately artful of porn flicks like Lasse Braun’s Body Love (1978), Cecil Howard’s Neon Nights (1981), and Stephen Sayadian’s Café Flesh (1982) seem like tasteless fucks flicks when compared to the exquisite eros of Ôshima’s arguable cinematic magnum opus. Bataillean in an oftentimes surprisingly humorous egg-in-a-pussy sort of fashion and almost pathologically politically incorrect in an oftentimes sadomasochistic fashion, In the Realm of the Senses also somehow manages to be almost just as absurdly comical as it is erotically cultivated and decadently romantic. In fact, the film is almost savagely sadistic in its humor as a uniquely unforgettable flick that features small children teasing an elderly bum by pocking his exposed shriveled prick with a flag stick, an insanely unmotherly heroine that sexually abuses a wee toddler by aggressively squeezing his genitals to the point where the little lad screams in pain, and a male protagonist that has no qualms about randomly molesting, raping, or sympathy-fucking Geisha gals of all ages and sizes while in the company of his beloved, among other things.  Somewhat ironically, while I have always found the sort of absurdly sordid sexual fetishism depicted in Japanese cinema to be nothing short of insufferably ridiculous, if not downright sexually autistic, In the Realm of the Senses—a film that is certainly beyond vanilla as far as sexuality is concerned—proved to be an almost shockingly accessible film for me.  Indeed, the flick might have been directed by a leftist degenerate of sorts and produced by a dubious Hebraic frog, but it certainly has something archaically universal about it in the way in manages to succeed where most pornography fails in its depiction of organic sexual obsession.  It is also a rare film that demonstrates what it means for a man to find a cunt that feels and smells as natural and imperative as his own cock and vice versa.

 Unlike many more conventional cinephiles that seem incessant on looking solely to the Criterion Collection  (incidentally, they were response for releasing In the Realm of the Senses on DVD/Blu-ray in the United States) for what they regard is notable cinema, I have rather mixed feelings about Japanese cinema in general and hardly have a hard-on for Akira Kurosawa, who is more or less the Jap John Ford and certainly the most Americanized of the great Japanese filmmakers. Naturally, I was immediately interested in Ôshima when I discovered that he largely hated Japanese cinema and even much of his own cinematic works, so it is only natural that his most well known film, In the Realm of the Senses, has never been released in its complete and uncensored form in his own native country. In fact, the film—a rare Franco-Jap production—only managed to bypass Japan’s anti-pornography laws by having the undeveloped footage shipped to frogland where the film was processed and edited (not surprisingly, the film was produced by French-Polish-Hebrew Anatole Dauman, who also produced some of Polish erotic maestro Walerian Borowczyk's classic films). Notably, at the very end of his rather polemical and borderline anti-Jap BFI documentary 100 Years of Japanese Cinema (1995), Ôshima concludes the film by more or less expressing his longing for dissolution of an organically Japanese national cinema and identity, even stating with not even the slightest hint of irony, “The first hundred years of Japanese cinema have been the period of its youth. It will certainly stay young for the next hundred years. And in these hundred years, the Japanese film will free itself from the spell of Japanese-ness, and will come abloom as pure cinema.” Of course, the great irony is that In the Realm of the Senses—a quasi-pornographic period piece featuring bisexual Geisha orgies and archaic Jap folk music—is hopelessly Japanese in terms of its aesthetic essence and bizarre fetishism. After all, only in Japan does a woman become a famous celebrity after chopping off her beau’s balls and bald-headed bandit. Certainly, when I think of Japanese cinema, my mind always comes to Ôshima and Shûji Terayama before the relatively tame samurai cinema of Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi. As a lifelong leftist extremist of sorts that was born to an ancient aristocratic family with notable samurai ancestors, Ôshima is certainly a degenerate of sorts, albeit a distinctly Japanese one that tested the bounds of cinematic civility and artistic expression.  Certainly, if there ever was a sort of Jap Pasolini, it was Ôshima.

 For better or worse, In the Realm of the Senses features one of the most believably depraved and sexually insatiable yet somehow compulsively cute and eccentrically erotic divas of cinema history and I say that as someone that has never had a fondness for yellow flesh. Indeed, Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda)—an unhappily married ex-prostitute turned domestic ‘servant girl’ that works at a hotel who was forced to peddle her pussy after her businessman hubby lost all of his money—is immediately revealed to be an unhinged bitch in the very first scene of the film where she stares into space with great unhinged fury, as if she is about to explode at any second for the most trivial of reasons. While she might be a pervert of sorts that could fuck all day if she had the right cock inside her, Sada is rampantly heterosexual as demonstrated by the fact that she rebuffs an aggressively Sapphic coworker that begins randomly fondling her tits. In fact, after the lesbo coworker realizes she is not into the ancient art of carpet-munching, she takes Sada to a peephole so that they can spy on their boss Kichizō Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) while he fucks his wanton wife. It seems that Sada likes what she sees, as she soon starts a hot and heavy romance with hyper hedonistic sex-master Kichizō. Indeed, one day after Sada attempts to stab one of her coworkers for calling her a “whore,” Kichizō physically manhandles her, suggestively states, “Why hold that knife when you could be holding something else?,” and then forces his fingers inside her assumedly less than wet cunt. Shortly after warning her, “I like the sway of your hips. I bet you’ve broken many a man’s heart. I will pierce you through,” Kichizō more or less rapes Sada but she really likes it and soon transforms from a passive lover into a highly aggressive one as a result of her complete and utter obsession with her employer's seemingly eternally erect member. As the two soon realize, it is virtually love-at-first-fuck as the two become almost permanently attached at the cock and cunt to the point where they completely forget about all the other people and concerns in their respective lives. 

 Undoubtedly, both Kichizō and Sada are eccentric social misfits of sorts and it does not take long before they get lost in their own hermetic demimonde of hyper horniness.  Of course, the lovers are nothing if not happily imprisoned in their own two-person pandemonium of pleasure and it is ultimately only death that can separate the two.  As a rather emotionally erratic woman that seems to suffer from Post-coital tristesse (PCT) and is prone to violent outbursts and emotion breakdowns when she is not having her meat curtain rammed with her beau’s seemingly permanently erect blue-veined custard chucker, Sada quite literally lives to fuck and only wants to fuck to the point where even her lover begins to get a little too physically tired from all the juice-draining orgasms. Luckily for Sada, Kichizō has the sexual prowess of a virtual samurai army and is always down for dipping his Don Cypriano into Sada’s seemingly perennially wet passion pipe, even when he is literally falling asleep. While initially a seemingly happily married man that enjoys giving his wifey what she most desires, it does not take long for Kichizō to abandon his needy wife and completely devote himself to his mistress Sada. Indeed, Sada is an unrepentant bitch of the grotesquely jealous sort and even bitches to Kichizō during one of the first time they have sex, “you’re going to make love to your wife later, aren’t you? What a slut, having sex every morning […] I won’t let you go until you’ve cum.” When Kichizō’s wife attempts to ‘mark her territory’ by intentionally fucking her hubby in front of the heroine, Sada becomes so enraged that she instantly fantasizes about violently murdering the broad.  Luckily, Sada has more creative ways to demonstrate her love for Kichizō, including dipping her food in his sexual juices and vice versa.  Unfortunately for Kichizō, Sada would prefer killing them than to allow him to be in the general proximity of another woman's cleft of flesh.

 Kichizō may be married to an oversexed sexpot, but that does not stop him from marrying Sada in a sort of mock wedding attended by half-a-dozen seemingly sexually demented Geisha girls and some goofy old fart that resembles an anorexic mummy. In fact, the wedding ceremony is so special that the newlyweds fuck in front of the guests, which ultimately turns the Geisha girls on so much that they collectively strip a virginal member of the group named ‘Kosome’ and deflower her with a somewhat quaint bird-shaped dildo.  Not surprisingly, the wedding eventually evolves into a full-blown orgy that concludes with a sea of lifeless naked bodies lying on the floor. Despite their incessantly professed love for one another in a decidedly fleshy form, Sada temporarily leaves Kichizō to visit her hometown for the sole purpose of peddling her puss to her former school principle. An extremely elderly and unattractive man that she apparently deeply respects due to his prestigious reputation, Sada demands that the principle slap her, twist her nipple and pull her hair, which ultimately arouses the heroine so much that she gets horny enough to ride his ancient cock. Before leaving Kichizō for her fancy date with the principle, Sada forces him to trade kimonos in what is indubitably a silly yet nonetheless potent symbolic display of their mutual undying love and affection for one another. Although she is not beneath selling her cash for gash to dirty old men, Sada soon becomes so irrationally jealous that she whips out a knife and threatens to cut off Kichizō’s cock in a somewhat foreshadowing scene that underscores the heroine's deep-seated unhinged sadism and how it seems irreparably intertwined with her sexuality. 

 Indeed, Sada seems especially obsessed with the sadistic act of cutting off Kichizō’s cock while it is inside her cunt, at least until she realizes that she has a special fondness for the savage art of ‘breath control play,’ which ultimately leads her to getting the opportunity to castrate his creamstick and love-spuds. Indeed, the beginning of the end of the couple’s hot and heavy romance occurs when Sada comes more in touch with her growing sadistic side and realizes that she receives especially potent orgasms while strangling Kichizō while he is inside her. After abandoning his wife and trapping himself in an increasingly deleterious yet completely intoxicating psychosexual affair that blurs the line between heaven and hell, Kichizō almost seems to welcome his demise as he has unquestionably reached the greatest heights in the realm of the senses, with death during sex being the next sensible route for the romance to take. When the pain involved with erotic asphyxiation proves to be too much for poor Kichizō, he tells Sada, “If you strangle me . . . don’t stop midway. It’s too painful afterward.”  Somewhat curiously, Sada seems more interested in the potency of her orgasms than the survival of the man that gives her said orgasms.  After Kichizō succumbs to asphyxiophiliac excess, Sada quasi-ritualistically dismembers her lover’s cock and balls and then writes “SADA AND KICHI TOGETHER FOREVER” on his chest with his own blood.  Notably, the film concludes with a shot of Sada lying next to Kichizō’s dismembered body juxtaposed with auteur Ôshima himself narrating in a somewhat monotone fashion, “For the next four days, Sada carried his severed organ from one Tokyo inn to another. She was still smiling radiantly when she was arrested. The story shocked all of Japan. The sympathy of the public made her strangely popular. These events took place in 1936.” 

 Undoubtedly, I think the best way one can argue for the legitimacy and absolute imperativeness of the unsimulated sex scenes featured in In the Realm of the Senses is to compare it to Ôshima’s subsequent film Empire of Passion (1978), which features a similar ‘mad love’ orientated romance sans the sexually explicit imagery. The second film in a fairly respectable diptych that was created when Ôshima was surely at the height of his artistic powers, Empire of Passion is a quasi-horror flick that also stars Tatsuya Fuji as a ‘sexual outlaw’ of sorts, yet it is not as nearly immaculate and ultimately lacks the fluid pacing of the director’s previous effort. Additionally, Ôshima’s penultimate feature Max, Mon Amour (1986)—a goofy comedy about a loony love affair between Charlotte Rampling and a chimp that was penned by Luis Buñuel’s later era screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière—seems like a retarded pseudo-Buñuelian joke compared to the eloquent erotic excesses that the auteur achieved in the past. Indeed, somewhat ironically, only in the relatively sexless film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1980)—a work that elegantly depicts the homoerotic tensions between an uptight Japanese POW camp commander and a Hakujin POW played by an extra gay David Bowie—does Ôshima come anywhere near to depicting a love story as potently idiosyncratic as he did with In the Realm of the Senses. Personally, I find most pornography to be completely phony and extremely alienating and anyone that has ever read about the behind-the-scenes degeneracy that goes into producing fuck flicks will realize that there is nothing even remotely sexy about it, yet I never got that sense while watching Ôshima’s film. In short, it took me nil effort to suspend my disbelief and accept that the two people on screen are consumed with completely organic l’amour fou

 I have noticed that a number of film critics have praised Ôshima for his sort of far-leftist iconoclasm and active destruction of traditional Japanese mores and taboos, yet I certainly did not read In the Realm of the Senses as some sort of fierce feminist statement as some (e.g. Jonathan Rosebaum) have, namely because the heroine is a violent and sadistic hypersexual whore that does not think twice about strangling to death her beloved just so that she can achieve the ultimate orgasm. Additionally, the male protagonist—a fairly weak and lazy would-be-Don-Juan that lives off women and lets them constantly push him around—is not exactly a hero.  After all, pleasure is a weakness, yet it seems to be the only thing that the male protagonist is capable of striving for, hence his idiotically tragic yet somehow strangely touching downfall. In a rather notable symbolic scene towards the end of the film, the horny hero is depicted walking in the opposite direction with his head down while a lines of soldiers march stoically down the street as they are celebrated by young adoring Jap chicks in a scenario that really underscores the character’s hopeless alienation from Japanese society and overall fantasy-like existence. While this scene seems to be Ôshima’s attempt at mocking the supposedly dehumanizing Jap war-machine and how it ostensibly alienates hedonistic people like the protagonist, it is ultimately said protagonist that seem rather ridiculous in the end, but then again I must confess that I still found their raunchy romance to be singularly touching.  Indeed, one of the greatest accomplishments of  Ôshima’s film is that it successfully manages to depict true love between two preternatural lunatics that have somehow managed to find each other in a world that rejects them.  Of course, Ôshima, not unlike Pier Paolo Pasolini, was no mindless leftist ideologue, or as Donald Richie (Dead Youth, Five Philosophical Fables), himself a director of subversive Japanese avant-garde erotica, noted in his essay In the Realm of the Senses: Some Notes on Oshima and Pornography in regard to the filmmaker, “All of Ôshima’s films are criticisms of society and the political assumptions that form it. He is interested in reform but rejects the social agendas that often accompany it. He sometimes castigates the left as well as the right, and always assumes that it is the individual and his or her needs that must be politically addressed.” 

 In the dark and depraved eyes of literary degenerate Georges Bataille, who clearly influenced the film (e.g. egg in pussy), the male hero Kichizō of In the Realm of the Senses is the mostly erotically bravest of men as revealed in the frog novelist’s words, “It takes an iron nerve to perceive the connection between the promise of life implicit in eroticism and the sensuous aspect of death.” After all, the male protagonist not only sees this connection but fully embraces it to the point of self-obliteration, thus bringing new meaning to the French phrase ‘La petite mort.’ Of course, what makes the character’s death truly disturbing, at least for Japanese people of the 1970s, is that the couple rejects the traditional Japanese ‘Shinjū’ and instead demonstrates a sort of deracinated romantic nihilism that Ôshima seems privy to. While probably not the director’s intent, Kichizō is, in many ways, certainly symbolic of the death of true Japanese masculinity, thus it is only fitting that the film is set right before Japan suffered the most emotionally, spiritually, and physically brutal defeat of their entire history.  As contemporary Japanese society and culture certainly demonstrates, WWII more or less resulted in the spiritual castration of the country.  While maybe an unrivaled Übermensch in the bedroom in terms of sheer sexuality virility, Kichizō symbolizes Nietzsche’s ‘last man’ as a sort of anti-prophet that anticipates Japan's post-samurai crypto-dystopia where frigid women give orders, testicular fortitude has been replaced with technology, and people in general no longer seem interested in establishing a legacy by having children. Certainly, it is no coincide that the heroine Sada eventually completely castrates Kichizō after threatening to do so at various points, as if the only value her lover had was his cock, hence why she kept it as a special souvenir. While Kichizō might be a dai-sensei of sensuality, he basically lacks virtually every other quality that any sane woman looks for in a prospective lover. Of course, as a disgraced pussy-peddler that is not beneath sexually abusing children, Sada is no exactly good wife material.

As a completely cosmopolitan man descended from a respected samurai family that sympathized with Korean invaders, worshiped female power, actively sought to uproot organic Japanese culture and law, and directed what is arguably the least intrinsically Japanese film ever made (Max, Mon Amour) by a native Japanese filmmaker, Ôshima was the ultimate degenerate and a sort of contra Mishima as an artist that virtually made a career out of mocking and exploiting his own race and culture.  After all, Yukio Mishima was certainly no puritan, yet he managed to find a way to seamlessly interweave the degeneracy of Occidental modernity with traditional Japanese aesthetics.  Whereas Mishima infamously ended his life when he was at the height of both his artistic and physical powers, Ôshima degenerated into a sort of novelty ‘Uncle Wong' that merely faded away after only managing to direct one more feature over an almost three decade period before his death in early 2013.  Of course, the greatest irony of Ôshima's legacy is that he will be best remembered as a weirdo Jap filmmaker that made weirdo Jap films and not as some highly successful cosmopolitan artist that was able to transcend both his race and culture. Surely, the auteur led the way for distinctly degenerate Japanese artist and chef like Mao Sugiyama, who underwent elective genital-removal surgery, cooked his dismembered cock and balls, and then served them to about half-a-dozen people at $250-a-plate during what can only be described as a carnally cannibalistic dinner party. As In the Realm of the Senses—a film that features a brief scene of non-cannibalistic culinary carnality—certainly demonstrates, only a Japanese filmmaker could make a rather rapturously erotic film where the characters spend the entire time fucking on a floor.

-Ty E

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