Brian’s Review – “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976)


What’s it About?

Based on a true story set in pre-war Japan, a man and one of his servants begin a torrid affair. Their desire becomes a sexual obsession.

In the Realm of the Senses (aka Ai No Korida)

Directed by

6 out of 10

By Brian

I really had to think about this one for a few days before I wrote the review. It would have been easy to dismiss this film an an artsy hardcore pornography that explores nothing but ways to make you cringe. I think if I had gone with that original line of thought without giving my brain a few days to digest what I’d seen, I would have done the filmmakers a dis-service. There is more going on here than meets the eye even if it is both shocking and repellent along with being semi-well executed. Pornography is meant to turn on and involve the viewer for the purposes of sexual gratification.

This film pushes the viewer away and makes them feel distant and cold to their sexual experiences. The main couple here may constantly have sex but their moments in the bedroom are filled with anger, jealousy, contempt, and self-loathing. Sada (the female lead) and Kichizo (the male lead) do not enjoy one another as much as they take out their frustrations through sex. He is an experimenter that has no lines on what he will tolerate and she is a sadomasochistic and jealous lover who wants to possess him mind, body, and spirit.

The sex in the film is largely un-simulated and contains actual oral and vaginal penetration. It was banned in several countries and it wasn’t until Criterion decided to do a film restoration that it actually got its day in court with art film fans. Many will try to dissect is as if it was a loftier and more pretentious movie than it really is. This is not a complicated subject. It basically asks the question: “When can a person truly say they possess another completely?”

The answer is obviously: Never.

So, the pain and anguish it takes in watching the vile acts performed on each other in the name of control is quite disgusting. If I’m constantly pointing out what a terrible movie this is to experience, why did I rate it a 6? Well, the performances are terrific, the pacing is perfect for the subject matter, and the direction is very brave. This is certainly a film that laid all its chips on the table for a boom or bust scenario.

Can I recommend it? I have to say no despite feeling more positive than negative because most viewers would rather not put themselves through this. It’s a harrowing experience. Also, I don’t think it’s a particularly deep film even though it is part of the Criterion Collection. But, at the end of the day, I have to rate a film by how well it executes what it set out to do and for the most part, they’ve succeeded.


  1. Nice review Vic! I actually owned the Criterion release of this film at one point and contemplated watching it before ultimately deciding the pornographic content would outweigh and muddy any message(s) it would try to convey. Sounds like you felt the same.

    Have you heard or seen the director’s ‘sister’ film Empire Of Passion (1978)? Supposed to be a ghost story with the sex toned way down. This might be more up your alley.

  2. I believe that “EoP” is the only Oshima film that I have ever watched back when I lived in NYC a million years ago. I saw it screened at a revival house once. I do recall enjoying it but I may have to track down the Criterion release and give it a re-watch. The film had great atmosphere. It was banned for some time, no?

    Oshima has an impressive filmography. I really enjoyed “M.C. Mr Lawrence.” It has been a little over a year now since he died, I believe.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Brian’s review. Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it very much.

    • What I love about Brian is his ability to sit thru and watch some of the best and worst of various foreign films in different genres.

      I must admit, myself, that this film doesn’t sound quite appealing to me either. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it!

  3. Excellent review of a movie I have pushed back on my queue for a long time. Yet, you have me intrigued to dive in…

    • There was another flick he did that I actually saw called Empire of Passion from 1978 that was very cool but I need to re-visit it. Don’t recall it much. I have yet to see this one though.

      Glad you liked Brian’s review, Bill. Thanks for stopping in, man!

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