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In the Realm of the Senses(1976)
A graphic portrayal of insatiable sexual desire, this film, set in 1936 and based on a true incident, depicts a man and a woman consumed by a transcendent, destructive love while living in an era of ever escalating imperialism and governmental control. Less a work of pornography than of politics, In the Realm of the Senses is a brave, taboo-breaking milestone.
For more about In the Realm of the Senses and the In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray release, see In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 6, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda, Aoi Nakajima, Yasuko Matsui, Meika Seri, Taiji Tonoyama
Director: Nagisa Ôshima
» See full cast & crew
In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 6, 2009
One of the most controversial films ever made, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses" (1976) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The disc contains a newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the complete, uncensored version of the film, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The Blu-ray package also includes a very informative and recorded exclusively for Criterion audio commentary by film historian and critic Tony Rayns. Region-A "locked". Please be advised that the film contains explicit footage that is not appropriate for minors!
There is hardly anything that I could write about Japanese director Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses that has not already been written by other critics. After all, for years this was the most explicit art film that was legally available in the United States and, for better or worse, many had an opinion on it before they had seen it.
Pre-war Japan. Sada, (Eiko Matsuda, Detective Doberman, Five and the Skin) a former prostitute now working as a maid, falls for her employer, Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji, Cherry Blossoms in the Air, Empire of Passion), after she sees him making love to his wife. The two begin a torrid affair where they explore their fantasies and push each other to the limit. The more the relationship progresses, however, the more Sada and Kichizo begin challenging each other, and eventually pain and humiliation replace pleasure.
There are two basic ways of explaining In the Realm of the Senses to those who wish to learn more about it without seeing it. The first, and more simplistic one, makes a point that In the Realm of the Senses is a pornographic film disguised as art (obviously, the non-simulated sex in the film has a lot to do with it). The second addresses the film as an unconventional form of rebellion that tackles cultural taboos and perceptions of the two sexes and their roles in the Japanese society in an extreme fashion (hence, the reason why it is Sada who initiates the scandalous relationship the film chronicles).
Even though it is Sada who serves as a catalyst for all the drama and controversy in Oshima's film, however, Kichizo is the more fascinating character to deconstruct. He undergoes a tremendous transformation that appears to be directly related to Oshima's intent to criticize the male-dominated societal structure of post-war Japan (despite the fact that the story is actually set during the 1930's).
Excluding the controversial finale, there are two key scenes in In the Realm of the Senses - Kichizo having an intercourse with an elderly geisha while Sada watches; Sada allowing Kichizo to taste her menstrual blood – that attack the very core of Japanese traditionalism. They are not easy to deconstruct by non-Japanese viewers, but are certainly very telling of Oshima's intent if viewed in the right context.
Technically, the film is just as fascinating as are the transformations Sada and Kichizo undergo. During the first half, Oshima's camera continuously observes the action from afar; there are no close-ups, which is one of the key reasons why In the Realm of the Senses does not arouse. It isn't until much later on - to be specific, not until the train scene where Sada dreams of Kichizo - that the audience is finally allowed to examine the faces of the two protagonists.
Note: In 1976, In the Realm of the Senses was awarded Sutherland Trophy, for most original and imaginative film, at the British Film Institute Awards.
In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The improvements this 1080p high-definition transfer reveals in practically every area that previous SDVD releases of the film struggled with are incredible. Detail is fantastic, clarity breathtaking and contrast simply astonishing. The color-scheme is also so beautiful, it is actually a bit distracting at times (I have an old Australian DVD of this film and the gap in quality is enormous). The high-definition transfer is also notably healthy – there are absolutely no debris, scratches, or stains. Additionally, I did not spot any traces of artificial sharpening to report in this review. Finally, I would also like to mention that Criterion's Blu-ray disc contains the original uncut (NC-17 rated) version of the film, which to the best of my knowledge is still banned in Japan. To sum it all up, this is the most dramatic improvement of a classic film previously available on DVD to be offered on Blu-ray that I have seen thus far. Given the fact that there isn't a single release of In the Realm of the Senses worldwide that is worth owning, Criterion's Blu-ray disc is practically invaluable. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Criterion have supplied a Japanese uncompressed monaural track for the Blu-ray release of Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses. As expected, the audio treatment matches the video presentation. The dialog is notably crisp, crystal clear and exceptionally well balanced (something that was a major issue with previous DVD releases of the film); the traditional Japanese songs the geishas perform for example sound terrific. Additionally, there are no disturbing dropouts, pops, or hissings. Indeed, it is very easy to tell that this new Japanese audio track has been meticulously restored. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Criterion fans will be delighted to know that the Blu-ray release of In the Realm of the Senses contains a very large 38-page booklet that rivals the type of booklets the distributors have been offering with their DVD releases. Our team certainly hopes that this is a new trend!
The booklet contains an informative essay by Donald Richie titled "Some Notes on Oshima and Pornography" where the controversial nature of the film is addressed in detail. Next is a "Nagisa Oshima on In the Realm of the Senses" where the director recalls how his film became a reality. The essay is divided into four chapters - Starting to work on In the Realm of the Senses, Joining forces with the man with magic touch, Koji Wakamatsu, The Selection of Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji for the principal roles, and On the universality of the filmmaking techniques.
On the actual Blu-ray disc you will a gallery with three interviews – Oshima and his Actors; Tatsuya Fuji; and Recalling the Film. The first, with director Nagisa Oshima and his leading actors, Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda, was recorded for Belgian television in 1976. In the second, Fuji is interviewed in 2008, exclusively for the Criterion Collection. The final program, Recalling the Film, features production coordinator Hayao Shibata, line producer Koji Wakamatsu, assistant director Yoichi Sai, and film distributors Yoko Asakura, and was created in 2003 by Argos Films (1080i). Next is a gallery with deleted scenes – with Nagisa Oshima's approval, In the Realm of the Senses producer Anatole Dauman shortened six scenes, to bring the film to his preferred length. The sections of deleted footage are presented here in the context of their original placement in the film. They appear in full color, surrounded by final-cut footage in black and white (1080p). The US trailer for In the Sense of the Realms is also included (1080p). Finally, this Blu-ray disc contains an incredibly informative commentary by film historian and critic Tony Rayns recorded exclusively for the Crterion Collection. Mr. Rayns provides a fascinating analysis of Oshima's film where he talks about its history, context of its story as well as the manner in which it was greeted by audiences around the world. Indeed, I strongly recommend that you find the time to listen to this most illuminating deconstruction of In the Realm of the Senses.
In the Realm of the Senses Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Criterion have provided yet another complete package for a film that never received a proper treatment on DVD. Furthermore, not only are the video and audio of top-notch quality, but so are the extras (the commentary by Tony Rayns is absolutely terrific). Bravo! Very Highly Recommended!!
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