16 Jun 2024

The Empire of the Senses. The Film Without Shame

The Empire of the Senses offers an innovative experience even today, proposing an exploration of prejudice and sexual obsession that surpasses love.

Attraction has never looked more real than this. Even nearly 50 years after its release in 1976, The Empire of the Senses (In the Realm of the Senses), Nagisa Ōshima's masterpiece, remains a benchmark for eroticism in cinema. Inspired by a true story from 1930s Japan, the film follows the love and obsession story between Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) and Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji), abandoning idealized romance in favor of the most transparent representation possible.

From their first meeting in Ishida's brothel, where Sada is employed as a maid, to the blossoming romance between the two, Ōshima chooses to show unsimulated sex scenes, at the borderline between pornography and conventional cinema.

However, their relationship is not hidden, shared only with the audience, but rather reshapes their lives and relationships with those around them. When the sexual act knows no limits and surpasses any taboo of the time, how will the lovers be viewed by the rest of society? By explicitly displaying these events—also seen by the secondary characters—Ōshima proposes a double articulation of voyeurism.

In turn, we are the ones who watch those who watch Sada and Kichi-san. Their relationship simultaneously questions both the taboos of their society and those of the society in which the film is projected (or banned from projection, as was the case in the United States). Revolutionary, dramatic, and certainly erotic, The Empire of the Senses marks one of the boldest explorations of the limits of sex, love, and obsession.

An article by Șerban Mark Pop