In the Realm of the Senses (Ai No Corrida) Nagira Oshima (Japan 1976) Tatsuya Fuji; Eiko Matsuda
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema, Northern Light Film Festival 26 March 2010
Ticket price: £4
Les Enfants Terribles
‘I had resolved not to make that kind of film if there were no possibility of complete sexual expression. Sexual expression carried to its logical conclusion would result in the direct filming of sexual intercourse.’ Nagira Oshima (Writings on Cinema)
Nagira Oshima’s (NO) film, ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ (IRS) is a film from which the audience emerge looking slightly bemused hushed and avoiding prolonged eye contact. What they have seen is a dark fable which is hard to understand. There may be a few prurient comments or bald dismissals: “It’s just pornography”. The film is hard to discuss because it is not a film that’s fun. It’s a film that has a point to make, and like most of NO’s work it is made with a moral purpose. NO’s choice of film to exercise this moral purpose is deliberate, exploiting the use of a sexually explicit mis en scene whose purpose is to provoke thought in the viewer.
I think that responses to films like IRS can only be personal. What I saw on the screen was not pornography although graphic sexual activity did occupy a considerable percentage of the film’s time. I don’t think IRS is erotic, though it is so described, because nothing is left to the imagination, and eroticism needs completion in the mind. The reason IRS not being porn has I think to do with NO’s moral purpose and his understanding of sexuality and its effect upon human behaviour. NO understands that sex when detached from instrumental fertility, becomes potentially a force in which the emotional needs of the child quickly rise to the surface and form the affective language of the adult sensual response. In sex there often is a process of becoming at work in which the adult becomes child, the adult psyche slips into an expressive infantilisation of desires.
The movement by individuals into the realm of sex initiates relationships of dependence that revolve about stimulation of erogenous intensities which expand to fill and become the sole object of consciousness. Look at the baby with its lips clamped to its mother’s tit. It is in a world is totally filled out by that physical relationship, where the child’s consciousness is reduced to the experience of satisfying its body. Take it from the breast before satisfaction: screaming rage and anger. As adults, one of the common ways(sic there are many forms of sex) in which we use sexual relations is to make a sort of return to being a child. Sex as a kind of parachildhood. In this parachildhood we have license to be child: to engage in baby talk and treat give and take our bodies freely and innocently as the untroubled child. It is a special realm where we have no responsibility except to the desires of our body; a special realm partitioned off from the rest of the world; a special realm where we have the privilege of children to exist only in the immediate here and now, there is no time. (lovers resent the clock, or the disguised glance at a wristwatch). Which brings me back to the lovers in IRS, Sado (sic) and Kichizo. They don’t watch the clock.
As we watch S and K’s behaviour, their genital play, their lips and eyes, the totality of their pleasure in each other, we are watching two children engaged in creating a world in the den of their sexuality; a world that comprises a game of gestures, calls and responses: game with serious intent. As Cocteau and Hartley understood, children are natural obsessives, able to close down the world and exclude everything extraneous to the current dominant game. When S and K meet they renounce everything except the game, which like the child involves the whole of their consciousness and its expression. Everything is reduced and focused upon mutual satisfaction of needs. It is this pact of the child, or the child archetype as made by many lovers, that NO takes and exploits without compromise and develops it to its ultimate logic, death. And what is death to a child? A child in the game does not understand death as something that happens outside the game: nor can Sado. K realises he has committed and penetrated too deeply into the game to even begin to understand how to escape: all he can do is surrender to its logic.
Watching EOS, I do not see pornography because I see and recognise in S and K, the child. In their performances and in their direction, it is this quality of child innocence that is realised and expressed throughout the film. It is impossible to reconcile innocence with pornography. As I watch K and S, I see something of myself, not in the external acts of masturbation fellatio penetration strangulation, but a self who recognises the nature of the world they have chosen, the type of game they elect to play. And like all gameworlds of the senses, or indeed spirit, it contains the seed of its own destruction.
Starting from an old Tokyo story of the 1930’s about a demented woman found wandering the streets holding in her hand her lover’s dismembered penis, NO has fashioned in film a contemporary parable. Observing the world about him he witnessed a change in the nature of society: in the mid 1970’s people were turning inwards on themselves. Society changed from being an active space to a passive space. It became a world of consumption, a world of material desires; a world in which sex was the prime driver of the selling of self identity. Society was turning away from politics and social functions towards the satisfactions of the body. It was the dawning of the era of the YUPPIE. As the world looked to find identity in lifestyles patterns of consumption and relationships, so NO saw an increasing infantalisation of the people and the culture. It is all in the big sell of tits ass and cock, and we are become children, like Sado and Kichizo without even realising it.
IRS is a dark fable. Not an erotic tale or a piece of porn. It is NO’s fable of psychic regression and its consequences. If we allow the game of the child to overwhelm us, if we allow consumption to subjugate us to its erogenous play, we will end up castrated or mad or both.