In the Realm of the Senses / Empire of Passion [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th March 2022).
The Film

“In the Realm of the Senses”「愛のコリーダ」 (1976)

On May 19th, 1936, police officers went to an inn where suspect Sada Abe was supposedly staying at under a pseudonym. When the police entered her room, she was not surprised and calmly said that she was Sada Abe and she was the one they were looking for. To provide her own proof, she showed them the severed penis and testicles of her lover Kichizo Ishida, who was killed the day before. The story of her act of sexual dismemberment and murder filled the newspapers of the day to an almost mythical way. The trial a few months later was the talk of all the public, in which she was only given a sentence of six years in prison for murder in the second degree and mutilation of a corpse, though she served only four of the scheduled years. With the incident and the sentencing, Sada became a figure for feminists, artists, philosophers, people dismayed with the judicial system, and even avid readers as her confession transcripts became a bestseller.

While people were fascinated, shocked, and disgusted about the incident, the bigger story was why it happened. Sada was a 30 year old prostitute in Tokyo where she met the 42 year old married Kichizo Ichikawa, a restauranteur. Their sexual relationship started in April of 1936 and for the month they were together they were nearly inseparable. Their encounters started as short flings but later became days on end holing themselves up in inns around Tokyo, with Kichizo not returning home. Their sessions became more aggressive and dangerous, experimenting with asphyxiation and bondage, and according to Sada the final act of strangulation was in part due to her jealousy of Kichizo going home to be with his wife. As for severing his penis and testicles, it was a way of her to be with him forever and not to be shared with anyone else. After the act of dismemberment, she wrote with his blood on his chest:

「定、石田の吉 二人キリ」 (Sada, Kichizo Ishida alone together)

40 years later, filmmaker Nagisa Oshima took to making the Sada Abe story into feature film. While visiting Europe for film festivals, Oshima met French producer Anatole Dauman who was interested in financing and producing a film for Oshima. One of the ideas Oshima had was to make a film about the “Abe Sada Incident” in 1936, but was not sure about how to make the film around it and with restrictions of nudity and sexuality on film in Japan. By the early 1970s erotic films started to dominate the theatrical market due to the rise of television taking over the viewership market share. There were guidelines such as no pubic areas or genitals of men or women could be shown, but that led to filmmakers to become creative in their ways to “not show” sex on film. But when in 1975 the laws for pornographic material eased in France, Oshima felt he could truly make a film about the incident without restrictions. As he wanted to concentrate on the passion of the two characters and their intense sexual encounters with the final act of violence as the ultimate sexual act, he felt the sexual acts had to be portrayed without masking or cutaways - by having unsimulated acts on film. Finding actors to play the parts would prove difficult do to the sexual acts that had to be truly portrayed. For the part of Kichizo, producer Koji Wakamatsu pushed to get established actor Tatsuya Fuji to play the role. Already a veteran of films for almost 15 years, the actor was first hesitant about the part but agreed because of the script and the chance to work with the established Oshima. For the role of Sada, Eiko Matsuda was chosen. While she was acting in underground theater she had only two film acting credits to her name in minor roles (one of them being “Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal” (1970) which co-starred Tatsuya Fuji), Matsuda was given her first starring role as Sada.

The film was titled “Ai no corrida” in Japan - meaning “Bullfight of Love”, with the word “Corrida” being Spanish. In France it was titled “L'Empire des sens” - meaning “Empire of Senses”, and the official English title was “In the Realm of the Senses”. “Love” and “Sensuality” were the main feelings behind the production rather than the grotesqueness that some may envision. Oshima focused on the one month relationship between Sada and Kichizo and not including backstories or about the aftermath, therefore the sex was in full focus and nothing was censored. Full frontal nudity with penetration and fellatio scenes were filmed, and while that itself may have been taboo-breaking for Japanese film, there were a few other sexual scenes that may even surprise viewers to this day - such as when Kichizo licks his fingers which have blood from Sada’s period, when he inserts an egg into her vagina, and some of the rape scenes. Even though the film is filled with sex, it is in context with the story and it does not feel gratuitous or sexually arousing. The viewers are more in tune with the feelings of the two protagonists rather than an average pornographic movie which story and acting are virtually non-existant. Oshima’s film is about the characters - how they evolve into sexual deviants and their reflection of frustration turns to violence as they experiment more with harder and more violent acts on each other. Not all is simply love with the couple. Sada is jealous that Kichizo is still married. Kichizo also turns to jealousy when Sada still has clients to serve. Oshima tried to contact the real Sada Abe who became a nun and was 75 years old at the time. She was not to return to the limelight and it is unknown when (or if) she died.

There are some changes from the true story and the film’s version. In the film Sada is a young newcomer in her early twenties (as was the actress) while in real life she was already 30 and had been in the business for some time. The client that Sada must meet is a school principal in the film but in reality was a politician whose career was essentially destroyed after the incident. Regardless of the minor changes, the story of their intense encounters was left mostly as is. Oshima created an unusual work of a hardcore sex film that is equally an art film. The finished product was unlike the sleazy European films of the 1970s and was unlike the erotic films of Japan as it included unmasked hardcore scenes. The finished film was screened at various festivals in 1976 including Cannes, Berlin, Chicago, and New York where it met with controversy in almost every place it was screened. The film was banned from screening in several countries or with cuts in place. In the UK, the scene of the young boy having his penis tugged by Sada was the main source of controversy with the Protection of Children Act. The same scene had to be cut for the US release. Australia had 4 minutes removed. The "producer's cut" which was approved by Oshima had about six minutes of footage removed and became the most commonly seen uncensored version of the film. When returning to Japan after the Cannes premiere, the film was confiscated by customs, deeming it illegal to be shown. Eventually the film was released in Japan but it had optical censorship applied with masking or zooming on some sex scenes and blurring in others. In later years, many of the cuts or bans have been waived. The US has had an uncut release in addition to the X rated (later NC-17) release. Australia passed it uncut in 2001 and the UK passed it uncut in 2011. In 2000, the film was restored and reissued to theaters in Japan in a “complete” form which meant the scenes removed from the "producer's cut" were reinstated, but unfortunately all scenes featuring genitalia were still censored. To this day the fully uncut version of the film is not available in its home country. Even though the film is still mostly known for the penis dismemberment scene and intense sexual scenes along with the controversy, it still had very positive reviews and became a financial success around the world. In Japan it was successful even in its censored form, but it was beaten to the race by another film made about the same subject by Nikkatsu studios, titled “A Woman Called Abe Sada”, which focused on the life of Abe in flashbacks and not being as explicit. Both films were highly praised adult films with both productions being within the top 10 grossers of the year.

Tatsuya Fuji would later work for Oshima again on the director’s subsequent film “Empire of Passion” and furthering his career with more than 100 film and television productions to date, working with directors such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takeshi Kitano in the more recent years. Eiko Matsuda’s career stalled unfortunately, and she disappeared from the entertainment world a few years later. She died on March 9th, 2011 from cancer at the age of 58. Line producer Koji Wakamatsu was already a controversial figure as a producer and director since the 1960s and he continued making provocative independent work throughout the years with his latter films such as “United Red Army” (2007), “Caterpillar” (2010), and “11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate” (2012) being highly regarded works both in Japan and abroad. Sadly he was killed on October 17th 2012 after being hit by a taxi. Nagisa Oshima had already been a controversial filmmaker by the time he made “In the Realm of the Senses” with films such as “Death by Hanging” (1968) in which he looked at racism and the death penalty and “Night and Fog in Japan” (1960) taking a stab at politics. Following “In the Realm of the Senses” and its controversy, Oshima received some of the biggest attention in his career both commercially and critically, which also led to his next project also being a French-Japanese coproduction. But rather than going over the top in sexual boundaries, he decided to make an intimate film of jealousy, murder, lust, and paranoia with "Empire of Passion".


“Empire of Passion” 「愛の亡霊」 (1978)

Taking place in 1895 in a rural village in Japan, Gisaburo (played by Takahiro Tamura) and his wife Seki (played by Kazuko Yoshiyuki) live a seemingly normal life with their two children. Gisaburo is a rickshaw driver bringing goods from town to town while Seki works at the local restaurant as a waitress. Things start getting complicated when the youthful and rambunctious Toyoji (played by Tatsuya Fuji) comes back to town. Gisaburo even jokes around that Toyoji might have an eye on his wife, as she looks much younger than her age and is a beauty. While Gisaburo goes out of town for work, Toyoji slowly makes his move on Seki and while she is hesitant at first, she slowly caves into the man 26 years her junior.

As Toyoji cannot bear to have her continue the relationship with Gisaburo, they plan a way to get rid of him - to strangle him while unconscious from alcohol and dump his body into a deep well. To cover up the murder and disappearance of the corpse, the villagers are told that Gisaburo had gone off to Tokyo to look for better work. As time passes and the guilt starts riding on their consciences, government officials start investigating the disappearance, and unsuspectingly the ghost of Gisaburo starts to haunt the town…

In 1976 director Nagisa Oshima became one of the most internationally well known filmmakers from Japan with his sensational and controversial work “In the Realm of the Senses” which pushed sexual content, violent content, and moral taboos seen on screen. It proved critically and financially successful worldwide but it also caused a great deal of trouble in many countries including a lawsuit for indecency in his home country of Japan. Not for the film, as the film was heavily cut, but a book that was published with the contents of the film including still photographs of the production. While film fans and critics were eager to see what Oshima would do next for a film, it was increasingly difficult for him to get financing through production companies in Japan. Anatole Dauman, the French producer who helped get “In the Realm of the Senses” produced helped with the production of a follow-up film, “Empire of Passion” which would be a spiritual successor (literally) to “In the Realm of the Senses” but an entirely different work of its own.

Adapted from the story “The Incident of Gisaburo the Cart Puller” written by Itoko Nakamura, this was a fictional story of a murder and the consequences. In the film version the sexual angle was played highly with a number of lovemaking scenes and nudity, but the amount shown was not the same style as “In the Realm of the Senses” which had hardcore unsimulated scenes. In “Empire of Passion” the sex scenes were not as shocking as it as simulated and genital nudity was never shown. Rather the main focus of the film was about the tension that was built between the characters of Toyoji and Seki both at the start of their relationship and their eventual guilt that overpowers them, it is a moral tale rather than what “In the Realm of the Senses” was. The guilt is presented in supernatural form with the ghost of Gisaburo frequently haunting Seki and making her go insane, and it plays off the countless supernatural ghost tales that have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. Toyoji was played by Tatsuya Fuji who previously worked with Oshima on “In the Realm of the Senses”, again playing the lead role. While the character is animalistic in the way that Toshiro Mifune character was in “Rashomon”, he does seemingly have a side of sensitivity and love in which he genuinely cares about the Seki character. The scene with the house burning and Toyoji tries to bust the door down by ramming into it several times - the doors were supposed to break down rather easily but it was accidentally built stronger than it should have been. Fuji rammed into the door which didn’t break, so he kept slamming into it again and again until he passed out. He severed all his tendons in his right arm which then he was sent to the hospital for recovery. During some scenes you can see that he is not able to move his right arm as he had to have a hidden cast on. Even the ending scenes, the guards were careful not to inflict damage on his right arm as it was still healing. Kazuko Yoshiyuki who was a veteran actress played Seki and for her it was the first time to work with Oshima on a film. She said she was at first quite hesitant to work with the director but she felt comfort as she had previously worked with Fuji on other productions and was enamored with the script.

For a story involving supernatural activity, there were not a lot of special effects used. There were the occasional superimpositions but most of the effects were practical - with the dry ice and smoke machines, the real fire to burn down the house, and the makeup on the Gisaburo ghost character. There was one effect in which Seki smashes a bottle over the ghost of Gisaburo making the faceless ghost bleed and it was one that tried to do something shocking and the finished shot makes it look a little amateurish taking the viewer out of the film for a moment. This was not the only weak point in the film. The character of the inspector Hotta (played by Takuzo Kawatani) does not seem like much of a threatening character but more of a slight comedic relief. The inspector should have been a much more serious character to show an impending doom forthcoming but the scene of him asking questions to the nearly deaf old man sticks out as being the wrong tone. Oshima has said that the does not see law enforcement as serious people in his movie and he saw the police as “comical” both in cinema and in real life, so this was a directorial choice. Toyoji’s mentally challenged brother Denzo (played uncredited by film critic Osugi) was another part that didn’t seem to fit well as his character did not have much purpose nor did his disability. It might seem strange to mention the few negatives when the film has so many positives.

The cinematography is magnificent, lensed by Yoshio Miyajima and shot on location in rural Japan rather than on soundstages for the most part, but that also meant enduring bad weather of the differing seasons and the bugs and other issues by nature. There are some unforgettable shots including the scenes from within the well and the magnificent shot of the final embrace. Colors are strikingly used from the blood reds, changing leaves of the seasons, and the greens of the nature. The score by Toru Takemitsu is a hauntingly beautiful one that is worthy of repeated listens. For the story it may lie in convention, but the execution is wonderful. It’s a masterful work though not Oshima’s best is still an excellent film, and one worthy of being a follow-up to “In the Realm of the Senses”.

The film debuted at Cannes in May of 1978 followed by theatrical releases in France and Japan a few months later. Some critics argued that it stayed too much on the conventional side and did not have the shock value of his previous film. Others saw the similarities between the film and the prior one which paralleled many actions while taking a very different and unsuspecting direction. As it did not have the controversial nature or bannings in countries, “Empire of Passion” did receive awards recognition and critical praise in many circles, with a “Best Director” award at Cannes and 8 Japanese Academy Award nominations though with only a single win with the “Best Music” award for composer Toru Takemitsu. As the film is always compared to “In the Realm of the Senses” it has always had difficulty standing on its own. It is often lumped together in the same conversation as it shares its theme of violence and sex, the same lead actor, same producer, and same director. Oshima’s other work such as “Violence at Noon” or “Cruel Story of Youth” are always discussed on their own and sometimes “In the Realm of the Senses” is talked about without mentioning “Empire of Passion”, and that is a shame. It is usually treated like “the other child” but it certainly shouldn’t be. “Empire of Passion” has legs of its own and stands proud as a supernatural erotic ghost story. Flawed, but still beautiful and amazing.

Oshima would continue on with works dealing with sexuality in very differing ways, with “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), "Max, mon amour" (1986) and in his final film “Taboo” (1999). Oshima died on January 15th, 2013 from pneumonia at the age of 80.

In 2009, "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Empire of Passion" received great restorations, with "Realm" having an HD transfer from the 35mm interpositive and "Passion" having an HD transfer from the original negative. These would see excellent DVD and Blu-ray releases around the world in varying editions. 4K restorations of both films were done in 2016 and 2017, which made theatrical screenings at some festivals. Umbrella Entertainment has now packaged together the two films with transfers from their 4K retorations in this Blu-ray release.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents both films in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. "In the Realm of the Senses" comes from a 4K restoration from the original negative, completed in 2016. "Empire of Senses" comes from a 4K restoration from the original negative, completed in 2017. Both were supported by the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée) and restored by Eclair (for image restoration) and L.E. Diapason (for sound restoration). While they have "4K" and "original negative" attached to them, there are good as well as bad news for the presentations here.

On the positive side, both films look exceptionally clean in their restorations, removing damage marks and looking incredibly sharp with detail, while also keeping film grain and without digital artifacts. Stability is also strong without problems of wobble or warping. For the slightly bad news, the overall transfers for both films look too "blue", with whites such as the snow having a bluish hue, and reds being toned slightly down. Things look noticably darker compared to older transfers and skintones are not as vibrant as they used to be. As many of the technical staff including Oshima have passed away, it's hard to say if this blue hue was intentional, but it does look off compared to what audiences have been used to. Not at all the fault or decision of Umbrella Entertainment, but the choice of Argos Films. Both films come with the original French language credits.

This seems to be the second time that the 2016 4K restoration of "In the Realm of the Senses" has been released on Blu-ray, following a Taiwanese Blu-ray from last year (which we do not have concrete specs for) and also following a DVD release from Arte in France from 2016 which they curiously didn't release on Blu-ray. The uncensored producer's cut on the disc has a runtime of 102:15. The previous Umbrella Entertainment DVD edition was the producer's cut but was the UK cut version which optically zoomed on one scene involving children. Here on the Blu-ray it is presented without any censorship.

For "Empire of Passion", it seems the 2017 4K restoration has never had a home video release until now, with this release which has a runtime of 105:12. The film never had any censorship issues so there is no issue of cuts.

Audio

Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Both films have had their mono tracks restored, and presented here in lossless form. Unlike the image, the sound seems very faithful to their original forms and have been restored very well. Dialogue is always clear and easy to hear, well balanced with the effects and music, with the excellent haunting traditional based scores by Minoru Miki for "In the Realm of the Senses" and Toru Takemitsu for "Empire of Passion". Hiss, pops, crackle, and other damage have been completely removed while keeping the mono fidelity without loss, and no new added or enhanced effects can be found for authentic sounding audio tracks. Excellent job on the sound restoration.

There are optional English subtitles for the main features in a white font. They are well timed and easy to read, though there was one odd missing translation from "In the Realm of the Senses". When Sada asks the elderly geisha how old she is, she replies “I’m 68.” The subtitles on the disc are incomplete as the subtitles just say “I’m.”. As for "Empire of Passion" there are no grammar or spelling issues to speak of, and the one gaffe with a character's name that was on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD edition has been fixed here with the newly translated subtitles.

Extras

"Cinema and Censorship: The Films of Nagisa Oshima" a discussion with Solrun Hoaas (41:10)
Norwegian born Hoaas studied in Kyoto during the 1960s and later became a lecturer on film and filmmaker in her later years. In this video essay and interview from 2008, she talks about Oshima’s life, his filmography, and about the changing attitudes in Japanese society and in Japanese cinema during the time period. Hoaas died on December 11th 2009 at the age of 66. There are multiple clips of Oshima’s films in this video essay but many of the films are squeezed, stretched, or cropped to the wrong aspect ratio. Note this was originally included in the Umbrella Entertainment DVD editions of "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Empire of Passion".
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Recalling the Film" documentary (40:18)
In this retrospective documentary for "In the Realm of the Senses" produced in 2003, we get insight from the film's production manager Hayao Shibata, production manager and uncredited cowriter Koji Wakamatsu, assistant director Yoichi Sai, and representative for GAGA Yoko Asakura which distributed the film theatrically for revival screenings. Discussed about are the French-Japanese coproduction process, the writing and the themes the film presented, the dangers of working in a secretly filmed environment in Kyoto, the difficulty in finding the male lead, behind the scenes stories, the censorship troubles in Japan and abroad, and more. Shibata and Asakura speak French in their interviews while Sai and Wakamatsu speak Japanese. This was originally included in the French Arte DVD.
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French/Japanese with optional English subtitles

Deleted Scenes (12:19)
Presented here are six uncensored deleted sequences from "In the Realm of the Senses", which were part of the original cut as well as the Japanese theatrical cut but deleted from the “Producer’s Cut”. They are presented with context by having the deleted sections in color and the bookending portions in the producer’s cut in black and white. The deletions are not full scenes but extensions of existing scenes - mostly lovemaking scenes and do not particularly slow the film down so it’s curious as to why they were removed. The image has not been restored like the main feature but come from an HD master from the 2000s, so it does look quite good with only minimal amounts of damage marks to be found. Strangely, there is a spelling error with the word “shamisen” in the first deleted scene as “samisen”, even though in the main feature it was spelled correctly. These scenes have always been present in the Japanese DVD editions (in optically censored form). They were presented uncensored for the first time with the US DVD and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in 2009. Note the runtime here is twelve minutes, but there are in fact about six minutes of deleted footage in total, as the additional runtime includes the bookending sequences.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"On Set" featurette (13:41)
In this 2003 restrospective for "Empire of Passion", we hear recollections from production assistant Yusuke Narita", as well as from Koji Wakamatsu and Yoichi Sai who were not directly involved with the production. Discussed are about the higher profile crew that could be gathered due to the success of "In the Realm of the Senses", the modification of the village set, the decision of not pushing the sexual envelope for the film, the reception, and more. The Wakamatsu and Sai interviews were from the same session as the "In the Realm of the Senses" documentary, as this and the other were both produced by Arte, and this featurette being included on their DVD edition of "Empire of Passion".
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in Japanese with optional English subtitles


The Umbrella DVD editions of both films only featured the Solrun Hoaas interview, so the additional content above is obviously a big step up from those older editions. But there are a lot of notable extras found on other DVD and Blu-ray editions of "In the Realm of the Senses" and DVD and Blu-ray editions of "Empire of Passion" from commentaries, interviews, panel discussions, and others.


Other notable clips:

Director Takashi Miike on Nagisa Oshima from the Toronto International Film Festival (with English subtitles)


Due to age restriction, the "In the Realm of the Senses" trailers cannot be embedded so they are instead linked here:
- Original US Trailer
- Japanese Revival Screening Trailer from 2000
- Japanese 2K Restoration Trailer from 2021

"Empire of Passion" 1978 Japanese Theatrical Trailer

Packaging

This is #3 in Umbrella Entertainment's "Sensual Sinema" series, which includes a uniform pink slipcase. The keep case inlay has artwork for both films as well as reproductions of the original Japanese theatrical posters.

The slipcase states the disc is region B only but is in fact region ALL.

Overall

"In the Realm of the Senses" was and still is one of the most controversial works of all time with its sexual and violent content, though it is hard to deny the artistic merit in the contruction and performances while challenging every aspect of the conventions of traditional filmmaking. "Empire of Passion" does stay closer to tradition and convention, but it is still a wonderful work of storytelling and filmmaking. Umbrella Entertainment has lovingly released the two Oshima films on one Blu-ray with a good selection of extras with sharp 4K restorations of both films, though the 4K restoration color balance does seem a little too blue for my eyes.


The Blu-ray can be purchased at various retailers as well as from Umbrella Entertainment directly.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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