Nagisa Oshima

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John Simon

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[Too much of a muchness is one of the problems] with In the Realm of the Senses, although that is only one trouble with Nagisa Oshima's dreadful movie….

[Oshima] has tried to tell a story about a man and a woman who love each other with such an insane passion that, as it becomes ever more fanatical and all-consuming, nothing will satisfy it except death. Well, why not? Such tales have been a staple of literature since narration began…. But Oshima set out to do something more difficult: to concentrate almost entirely on the two lovers, show their passion in constant closeup, as it were, and deal with the matter realistically, head on. A gallant conception, but one for which he is quite the wrong man, having neither the artistry nor the psychological insight. (p. 53)

It will not do, I think, to talk of cultural differences and the inscrutable East…. Nor will I be swayed by the contention that Oshima looks at passion dispassionately, and so deliberately keeps the temperature level down. In the first place, any number of needlessly graphic details leave little doubt about Oshima's pornographic intentions; in the second, what would be the point of making a film about passion in which one set out not to convey what passion is like? As soon make a film about beauty in which all the sights are ugly.

Rather, judging by several other films of his as well, Oshima strikes me as a profoundly untalented director who can even take such fascinating material as that which went into his movie Boy and come up with only one or two scenes that have any life in them….

[An] able director would have understood that the film, for aesthetic as well as psychological reasons, cannot be all sex scenes, many of them involving group sex or exhibitionistic copulations before various observers, unless there were other things revealed to us about the principals as well. But no such information is forthcoming, and we might as well be expected to care about the obsessions of cockroaches….

You might hope for some humor to relieve the aridity, or even to provide some ironic commentary. Well, the most Oshima can muster is Kichizo's comment after Sada eats some of his public hair, "Careful, you'll grow a beard."…

If indeed this were a story about passion that could find its fullest expression only in death—as it is being touted—then, surely, some kind of joint Liebestod would be in order at the end. Instead, we get, in hideous detail, Sada's [act of murder and castration]…. Clearly there is vindictiveness and perversion at work here rather than romantic heightening.

It is typical of Oshima's feeble imagination that he ends his film here, where he ought to have started it. For if anything could have been interesting, it would have been the trial: What the woman said, why they acquitted her, how she became a national heroine, and how, if at all, she made good on "the two of us forever." Instead, we get this inept attempt at pornography that would justify its failure at eroticism by calling itself art. (p. 54)

John Simon, "Eye Poppers," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1977 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 10, No. 32, August 8, 1977, pp. 53-4.∗

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