In The Realm Of The Senses


Ai No Corrida | Japan/France | 1976 | Directed by Nagisa Oshima

Logline: After a master begins a torrid affair with one of his servants, she becomes morbidly obsessed with their sexual relationship. 

Still one of the most controversial “mainstream” movies ever made, In The Realm Of The Senses is a powerful and disturbing tale of sexual obsession set in a small Japanese village in 1936. It was inspired by a true, modern day incident of a deranged woman who was found wandering the streets with her lover’s severed penis in her handbag.

Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) is married to Toku (Aoi Nakajima). He has several servants, but a new maid, Sada Abe (Eiko Matsudo) catches his eye. She is mischievous and highly-strung and she is equally attracted to Kichizo-san. Before you can say “bullfight of love” (the literal English translation of the Japanese title) they have embarked on a torrid affair. But what unfurls as a passionate display of forbidden lust quickly turns into obsessive behaviour, as Sada exhibits an unruly fixation on Kichizo’s penis. 


She succumbs to nymphomania, and he can barely keep up with her sexual demands. Her strangely intense desire excites him and he encourages her. The other maids are forced to turn a blind eye. But when Kichizo indulges in sex with his wife, Sada becomes jealous and threatens to kill her master. Kichizo takes it all in his stride, but he knows Sada provides him with a level of passion that surpasses anything, so he surrenders to her carnal pleas. 


Sada’s obsession can only lead to an act of extreme possession, and this is fueled by Kichizo’s own journey from dominance to subservience. In order to be sublimely happy, all joy must be consumed. Kichizo allows her to bind his hands, she tightens the handkerchief around his throat, feels him deep and rigid within her, her desire surging beyond control… 


Sexual obsession had never been portrayed with such a ferocious authenticity. It was the first major motion picture outside of the hardcore porn industry to feature actual sex between the actors: vaginal penetration, fellatio, and ejaculation. In contemporary mainstream cinema unsimulated sexual activity has been embraced (or accepted, at least), but in 1976 this was unheard of. The movie was banned in many countries for a long time, including Japan. Even after it was filmed the undeveloped footage had to be snuck out of the country to France (who helped finance the movie) due to Japan’s strict censorship laws. 


Due to the movie’s graphic intensity, and the overall themes of pleasure and pain, sex and death, and the abuse of power, the movie maintains the power to shock, certainly to confront the viewer, and it exists in numerous versions. Still censored in a couple of scenes, both involving sexual violation; one scene where Sado interferes with a young boy, and another where several of the maids assault another maid with a wooden dildo. 


The whole movie plays as a kind of chamber piece of adult theatre. The lead performances, brave and unfettered, are excellent. The style is very precise, the atmosphere claustrophobic, and there are parts where the narrative becomes sticky in a mire of sexual repetition. Ultimately it’s a most curious mélange of eroticism and repulsion, and one that demands your attention.

In The Realm Of The Senses screens at the 66th Sydney Film Festival as part of the “All Night Cine-Love In”, Saturday 8th June at Dendy Newtown, five minutes after midnight. It is preceded by Eraserhead (10pm), and followed by O Lucky Man (2am) and Female Trouble (5.10am).