NAGISA OSHIMA'S "IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES": THE MOST UNSEXY SEX MOVIE EVER
On to Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses.” The most unsexy movie filled with about 80 percent if not more of sex. I felt at the end like I’d watched cats mate for half an hour. But this odd effect I am still sensing is why I think there is something brilliant about this film with the simplicity of the coverage, the fearless close-ups, and exploration without frills of something this culture if completely obsessed by: fucking. And how ultimately, it had the complete reverse effect of titillation and arousal that most sex scenes attempt to evoke. (Well, at least for me. I find pornography boring, and feel neither disgust or arousal from it, so perhaps I am not a good example.)
This film essentially explored the obsession of a couple that does pretty much nothing but have sex with each other. It was like watching two heroin addicts shoot up in a tiny room while you are strapped to a chair in the corner, forced to watch them suffocate themselves, dominated by their addiction to the point where they do not eat, they do not bathe, and they rarely leave the room. I think most directors would have injected their own moral and visual agenda quite heavy-handed into the treatment of this film, especially as it deals with the most sensitive subject in art: the depiction of sex. But Oshima was so simple and light-handed with the visual treatment of the film, that the agenda, if there was one, was so transparent and fluid. Some might argue that the use of close-ups on body parts and the general focus on the female’s experience of orgasm make it less light-handed than I suggest, but I think Oshima was attempting to not hide or amplify certain things that pornography tends to do. He captured scenes with straightforward still shots and close-ups. Bodies were as they were. Sex, the large amounts of it, was just as it was. The result of having such a transparent agenda, without the director telling us what to feel emotionally or physically, was the viewer was left to experience the sexuality of this film in a very personal manner. We were each left to bring our own various sexual ideas and psychology to this film, and that is where I feel this story had a level of brilliance rarely seen with sex scenes or films where sex plays a huge role.
Too often, viewers are told to feel aroused by the sex they are watching in movies, experience reassurance of their masculinity or femininity, or watch their fantasies unfold with movie stars who look nothing like the person we sleep next to each night. That is because movie sex, like movie life, is always bigger and grander than the real thing. “In the Realm of the Senses” evoked something of the opposite reaction, something of disgust and amazement at the levels this couple went with their obsession. If one were to just walk in to the middle of the film, it could be arousing briefly, but sitting through the whole experience leaves a sense of emptiness and the sad reminder that beneath our well-constructed façades of intelligence and politeness, we are fundamentally selfish animals driven by primitive impulses and the rewards of pleasure. It is our personal conflicts with this level of ourselves that gives the rise to all the fascinating and fruitful realities of obsessions, addictions, religion, and...well, art.