[The intent of In the Realm of the Senses], as the title indicates, is to submerge us in a sea of sensuality. Two professionals of sex are surprised, after their extensive experience, by the intensity of their response to each other. They move, almost transcendentally, to the utmost limits of physical experience, until he wants to die, in the literal as well as Elizabethan meaning, and she seals off their union at its height, so to speak, by severing his penis (with his dreamy consent)….
[The] idea of the film exists in one place, figuratively, the film in another, and there is a great gap between. First, it's full of heavy symbolism. Example: when the man first meets the woman, she is quarreling with another woman and has a knife in her hand; he laughs and says she should have something else in her hand. Second, the color photography is of the most blatantly Beautiful kind—dime-store shades of red and gold, unsubtle contrasts—and the compositions could not be more corny…. Third, because of our constant awareness of various contrivances, we never do sink into the sea: we watch. And merely to watch a series of sexual encounters in an allegedly serious film soon gets as dull as watching such encounters in unpretentious porn.
Far from being any kind of love story, as the two characters claim, and as some outside the picture have claimed, Realm registers only as the record of physiological coincidence: a woman of insatiable appetite meets a man of indefatigable potency. The fancy décor, the geisha trimmings, the cinematic attitudinizing don't elevate it beyond a demonstration of stamina that finally reaches the pathological.
And that last prolonged moment of amputation is unwatchable…. Realm has been only in the realm of the clinical for some time before the finish, varnished with the glibly poetical. So here the amputation is not only sickening, it's sententious!…
Realm is at best a sentimentally fallacious film, an Oriental Elvira Madigan undressed, exalted for some by its closeups of screwing. (p. 26)
Stanley Kauffmann, "Senses and Nonsenses" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1977 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 177, No. 27, July 2, 1977, pp. 26-7.∗