In the Realm of the Senses/Empire of Passion (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus reviews two of Nagisa Oshima's movies on Blu-ray Disc...
In The Realm of the Senses 1976 (102 mins).
Considered by many as Nagisa Oshima's most memorable work, this erotically charged story, that is loosely based on real events, tells the story of Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), a former prostitute who now works as a maid for hotel owner Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji). After Kichizo tries it on with his employee the two begin an affair based on the exploration of their sexuality and their obsession with each other's pleasures lead to more extreme acts of love making.
Since its release In the Realm of the Senses has been a thing of legend really. I'm pretty sure I've never seen the movie in its entirety but over the years friends have shown me parts on video and elements like the boiled egg scene and of course the film's final scenes with the cutting off of a penis. In fact my biggest attachment of the film is probably the fact it came up in numerous pub conversations and if I remember rightly, I'm pretty sure there were even discussions about this when I was at school.
Anyway sitting down to watch the movie in full for the first time (and with this being the uncut version, it really is in full) this 35 year old movie has still got the initial shock value with its graphic sex scenes and its ability to string them together into large chunks without letting go of its characters' dramatic arcs. I mean, within minutes of the opening credits ending we are in a sex scene and as soon as we're done we get a snowball thrown at an old drunk's flaccid penis just to let us know that we're gonna be seeing a whole lot of genitalia.
Obviously this much sex, sexual aggression and the very open approach to showing the ins and outs of all of these acts (pun not intended) isn't going to get a mass audience, but those that see through the uproar and scandal attached to the film may actually get more than they bargained for. The sexual acts here are used to show the extreme nature of passion and the desire to please a sexual partner. Of course this really goes to the limits, but the film is focused on ecstasy and the addiction to it. The evil face of jealously or the ownership of another person is delved into and of course the extreme approach to sex can only lead to death and In the Realm of the Senses goes there in a big bad way in its final act but yet again it's handled with a romance as opposed to making it sinister even if it's not for the feint of heart.
Empire of Passion 1978 (105 mins)
Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) is the beautiful housewife of rickshaw driver Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura). When sexually aggressive neighbour Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji) seduces Seki and convinces her that they must murder her husband because he cannot live with his jealousy, the pair plot and carry out the evil deed, but when the ghost of Gisaburo begins to haunt the erotic couple their dark act may destroy them both.
Empire of Passion still has its erotic elements but they are nowhere near as extreme as In the Realm of the Senses. That said, I found the aggressive nature of Toyoji's advances on Seki a lot more uncomfortable to watch here and this film isn't about a romantic connection as much as it is about two people who can't hold back their passion for one another. This is nowhere near as graphically depicted as the In the Realm of the Senses but it still doesn't leave too much to the imagination.
Really this Nagisa Oshima film is a ghost story as opposed to an erotic drama and it's a very good one at that. The visuals of the white faced, slow moving ghost of Gisaburo are actually quite creepy and there's an eeriness about how the visuals are used here. The imagery of Toyoji or Seki visiting the old well (where they got rid of Gisaburo's body) is classic ghost story stuff and something about seeing these forbidden lovers' lives fall to pieces because their dark act is haunting them is thoroughly satisfying. Also their final fate as the village officials try to force them to confess to their crimes is an utterly brutal comeuppance that is handled so honestly that it was hard not to wince.
Both films come presented in a 1.66:1 ratio and both films look absolutely fantastic. Of course it's not quite on par with how modern filmmaking looks in HD, but for an upgrade to two 30 year old features it's very pleasing indeed.
In both films detail levels are high with facial textures and wrinkles looking great. Fabrics and clothing are well defined and all of the locations and sets are packed with fine detail and natural lighting. Woodern floors, fabric mats, tall grass in the gardens all look great and there are a few scenes in Empire of Passion where the raindrops on a rain cover made of woven leaves looks so good you could almost reach out and get your hands wet.
Colours are bold especially when it comes to the women's clothing. The purple in Sada's dress in Realm of the Senses is especially striking and the blues in all of the costumes in Empire of Passion are also very well presented. Also any slither of red, no matter how small, leaps off of the screen, even if larger areas can feel a little pinky.
As for skin tones (of which there are plenty to study), both films look great. There's a very natural feel to everything. Lighting is always fantastic and shows of the subjects well and small things like fine hair on bodies and goosebumps are clearly visable. Out of the two films I'd say Empire of Passion had the slight edge when it came to detail and colour presentation but there's not much in it and both films shine with their HD upgrades.
Really there's not a lot to be said for the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono presentation here. It's strong, has clear dialogue and has the occasional sound effect to add a little depth but generally it's quite flat, confined track that of course lives very centrally in the front speakers. All in all, it's very clean, has no obvious problems and fits the style of the films, so no complaints really.
In The Realm of he Senses gets a bigger chunk of extras out of the two films, starting with 'Once Upon a Time: In the Realm of the Senses' (52:14 SD). This is a great documentary that has critics and those involved with the film taking about the themes, such as absolute love and characters abandoning themselves to desire. It also covers the impact of showing these sexual acts on film for real. and we get a history of the Nagisa Oshima life and his films leading up to Realm.
'Recalling the Film' (38:40 SD) is a more specific look back at the film from those involved in its making.
The 'Panel Discussion at Birbeck College' (57:01 SD) is a much better overall look at the film's history. The four participants give their personal feelings on the film from the difference between the video viewing they had and the cinematic experience being overwhelming. It's absolutely loaded of information and the history revolving around erotic cinema and Realm itself and honestly for a beginner who knew very little about the director's work I now feel like I know loads.
Last up on Realm are the deleted scenes (12:19 HD).
As for Empire of Passion, we begin with 'Sur le Tournage' (13.07 SD) which includes some of those involved in the making of the film talking about its production as well as another 'Panel Discussion at Birkbeck College' (53:21 SD) which is more from the four participants giving us loads of details, facts and feelings about this movie and again it's great stuff.
Both of these Nagisa Oshima films had quite an impact on me. Of course for the obvious extremeness of the sexual depictions (especially in Realm of the Senses), but more for how much the characters and the intensity of the drama utterly justified the visuals and really how pretty Nagisa Oshima's visuals were. These films aren't for everyone but with presentations this good and with extras this detailed and interesting, anyone wanting to take a detour into some seventies erotically charged drama should look no further than these releases because you'll come away having learnt a great deal (including another odd use for a boiled egg).
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
In the Realm of the Senses
Empire of Passion
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 17th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono Japanese
Extras: Documentaries, Panel Discussion, Deleted Scenes.
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Cast: Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Takahiro Tamura,, Eiko Matsuda, Aoi Nakajima
Genre: Drama and Romance
Length: 207 minutes
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