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A William Nestrick Journey

Tuesday, August 6, 1996
In the Realm of the Senses
Nagisa Oshima Japan/France, 1976

(Ai no corrida). Like many of Oshima's films this is based on a true story, concerning a woman who was found wandering the streets of Tokyo after having apparently killed and sexually mutilated her lover with his consent. The film reconstructs the relationship between Sada and Kichi on its own physical terms but examines it in a tradition that looks back to the Japanese erotic woodcarving, and forward to pose questions of cinematic voyeurism. The performances by the two principles, Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji, like the film itself, are all the more audacious for their realism, for the almost casual acceptance of the crossing of boundaries. But even this has its forebears: Sada and Kichi are refugees from Edo's "floating world" (the pleasure quarter) whose demise in modern times would have to equate sex with death. In locating his tale in 1936, the year in which Japanese militarism solidified, Oshima makes a pacifist statement more provocative and comprehending than "make love, not war": kill me with love, he says, not with war.

• Written by Oshima. Photographed by Kenichi Okamoto. With Eiko Matsuda, Tatsuya Fuji, Taiji Tonoyama. (105 [correction: 99] mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Kino)