Spinning the Disc: Nagisa Ôshima Double Bill

In the Realm of the Senses
Directed by Nagisa Ôshima
Starring Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda and Aoi Nakajima

Predominantly the most successful of Ôshima’s films, it is surprising that it has been exposed to such a large audience, even though this release is the only fully uncut edition granted by the BBFC in the UK. Taken loosely from a scandal that occurred in Japan, 1936, In the Realm of the Senses tells the story of Sada (Matsuda), once a prostitute who takes a job as a maid working for Kichizo (Fuji), a married local inn owner. The two embark on an affair; Kichizo leaves his wife, as he and Sada set up shop somewhere else. Sada’s jealous nature soon starts to become an issue, with sexually violent consequences.

The film has not ceased to shock. The narrative can be a little tedious and somewhat drawn out at points, yet it still manages to visually communicate its disturbed characters, almost effortlessly. So much so, that you tend to watch the sadistic nature of Sada and Kichizo’s submission with an open mind. Ôshima does not intend to take any sort of moral high ground, a quality that heightens its storytelling. In the Realm of the Senses reminds us that Sada and Kichizo are exploring something that they can only subjectively comprehend. No matter how radical their sexual exploits may be, we can only collectively sit back and watch the aftermath.

3.5/5

Transfer
The transfer is great. In fact, surprisingly good. The image is smooth, less grain than on most 1080p transfers, which shows that Blu Ray can showcase a clear cinematic image. Unfortunately not as good as the transfer of Empire of Passion, but definitely a high quality improvement on the previously available DVD release.

3.5/5

Extras
A 2003 retrospective including interviews with producers, assistant director and distributor is quite interesting. As well as a panel discussion at Birkbeck College with Japanese and deleted scenes.

3/5

In the Realm of the Senses is available on Blu Ray & DVD from 17/10/2011

Empire of Passion
Directed by Nagisa Ôshima
Starring Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Takahiro Tamura

Probably one of the least acclaimed of Ôshima’s films, Empire of Passion is a fantastic mélange of eroticism and a mystical ghost story. Set in 1895 rural Japan, Seki (Yoshiyuki) a married peasant woman becomes involved with a younger man (Fuji). As their infatuation with one another grows, they plot to murder Seki’s husband Gisaburo (Tamura). This has a profoundly paranormal outcome, on both of their lives. Mixed with an overbearing level of guilt, the two lovers soon suffer.

A more mainstream narrative approach, the film highlights some stunning set pieces. Coupled with the overall subtle nuances that unfold gradually, Empire of Passion gives the audience what is inherently a more accessible film from Ôshima’s career. Not so much as graphically explicit as In the Realm of the Senses, the tension lies in guilt and conscience taking its toll on Seki and Toyoji. The lovers are tested, both from the accusations of the tangible world and the specter of Gisaburo that seems to question them spiritually.

If you enjoy early Japanese cinema, I urge you to give this a go it’s slow in pace, but takes shape gracefully. Empire of Passion is a criminally underrated and unseen item from the vault.

4/5

Transfer
The transfer is unbelievable. Probably one of the best I have seen for an pre 1980s. The look of the image is very similar to the transfers commonly of the likes of BFI releases like Schroeder’s The Valley. It manages to maintain a distinct 1970s aesthetic whilst looking absolutely crisp and sharp.

4.5/5

Extras
The features on this release are exactly the same to that of Realm. A doc ‘Sur Le Tournage’, deleted scenes and a conversation with the Birkbeck lot. All in all an okay set but we would have wanted more.

2.5/5

Empire of Passion is available on Blu Ray/DVD double play from 17/10/2011

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