Those of you whose only experience of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima is through watching Tom Conti and David Bowie in "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence" will sit bolt upright very shortly after "In the Realm of the Senses" begins. Set in Japan in 1936, it concerns the passionate but destructive nature of obsessive sex and is filled from first frame to last with - er - obsessive sex. Even though Oshima's early work was shot through with violence and sex, "In the Realm of the Senses" caused his fellow countrymen to drop their collective jaw and he was consequently prosecuted for obscenity, with the charges against him finally being thrown out. Just after a screening at the 1976 New York Film Festival, the film was seized by US customs officials, while it only managed to make British screens in 1991. In the interim, it had in fact been playing in the UK but only under club conditions. It has finally made it into our video stores in the last month, and the reason for this big screen re-release is to toast and promote that fact. Some journey, what?
And what of the film itself? As an innkeeper and a servant begin to consume each other sexually, he gives up his wife and, in fact his life, and the couple increasingly drift through their days with only sex to galvanise them. They finally slip towards a situation of extreme violence.
Oshima certainly has a passion for a passion, which he depicts in extraordinarily vivid detail, always beautifully, even though the necessary repetition might shock some and bore others. By contrast with the athleticism on screen, his critique of Japanese society - woven into every moment - is subtle but no less powerful.
Read a review of the DVD.