Directed by: Nagisa Oshima
Countries & Regions: France, Japan
Studio: Studio Canal
Length: 101 mins
Region: Region B
Released: 17 October 2011
Cat No: OPTBD2111
Screen ratio 1:1.66
DTS Digital Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 2.0
If you are unhappy with your purchase, you can return it to us within 30 days. More Details
In the Realm of the Senses
Nagisa Oshima’s notorious masterpeice tells the story of the obsessive affair between a young servant girl and her master which ended in... Read More
Yes, it's out on video, even in Pudding Island, the most ferocious film ever made about sexual obsession.
Watch it in the light of the following touchstones: 'Pornography is an appropriate means to cure our society from its genital panic' (Otto Muehl); 'To imagine is no crime' (The judge in Bunuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz).
See if you agree that Ai No Corrida measures up to the highest standards of great cinema as laid down by Jean Vigo, when he said of Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou: 'Although primarily a subjective drama fashioned into a poem, it is nonetheless, in my opinion, a film of social consciousness', and 'too arid an analysis, image by image, is impossible in a good film whose savage poetry exacts respect.'
I believe Ai No Corrida matches up to these touchstones. It is not just saki and saliva: it is a work of genius comparable to the 'naked and angry' mad lovers in The First Lady Chatterley, to the mad love in Wuthering Heights, and to the amour fou to be found above all in L'Age d'Or, but also in Genet's Chant d'Amour. But, as is often the case, especially in Britain, all this comes in the wrappers of censorship.
THE BBFC, PORNOGRAPHY AND CENSORSHIP
In 1930 Eisenstein visited London, failed to get Potemkin unbanned, and lampooned Britain's censors: 'One of them is blind and probably deals with the silent films; another one is deaf and so gets the sound films; the third one chose to die while I was in London.'
In 1976 Ai No Corrida, with its erections, non-simulated fucking, fellatio, egg in vagina, heroine yanking little boy's penis, children throwing snowballs at old man's genitals, was banned in England. It was shown in a London cinema club in 1978 with penis yank cut, and briefly unbanned with 8 seconds of penis yank zoomed out of frame in 1991. In Japan, where pictures of pubic hair are banned, every explicit scene was air-brushed into a white haze by the censors. Oshima was prosecuted and only found innocent after 4 years in court. Briefly in 1982 a video of the film was available for rental from corner shops in Britain.
In 1985, in a fit of Orwellian newspeak, the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) renamed itself the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).
In 1989 Genet's gay classic, Un Chant d'Amour (1950) was banned by Hull City Council.
In 1992 the BBFC rule on male erections was refined/defined as the Mull of Kintyre test (i.e. the male performer's penis must never appear more than slightly tumescent).
In 1994 The Guardian reported on the BBFC's so-called ILOOLI rule ('inner labia is out but outer labia can be in, but clear distension of labia would still be cut').
In 1998 Lars von Trier's The Idiots passed the British censor with a very brief shot of penetration not cut.
In 1999 Catherine Breillat's Romance, with scenes of non-simulated penetration and fellatio, passed the British censor with only very small cuts (including one real ejaculation which, believe me, does have some artistic/symbolic significance).
And in 2000 Ai No Corrida is at last released on video in Britain (albeit with the 1991 penis yank still zoomed out of frame).
These are the facts. They are worth knowing. But the personal is also political. Personally, I don't understand why the BBFC cut the penis yank (presumably on the grounds that it constituted paedophilia) and not the snowballing of the old tramp's genitals; this could be construed as ageism!
I saw the film once in Paris, once in London, once on video. In Paris the film had a special dispensation from the Minister of the Interior to be shown in public. The queue outside the cinema was harangued by Maoists who objected to bourgeois people paying to see 'illusions in colour'. In London we were not allowed in till the previous showing had finished. I still remember the haunting music audible from behind the curtain. It was shown in a cinema club. You had to wait 24 hours after joining. One woman couldn't wait that long and in radical protest against Pudding Island protocol proceeded to pee all over the foyer carpet. As for the video, that was quickly regulated out of existence.
THE DIRTIEST GREAT FILM EVER
Oshima's film is dirty, like all dirty films, a product of the sexual fix. It is also a dirty film, unlike most dirty films, a product of the poetic imagination. Yes, as Susan Sontag has shown us in her work on Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye, there is such a thing as the pornographic imagination. And Oshima's film tackles what is normally brushed under the carpet: sex and death, sado-masochism, totem and taboo, jouissance and transgression, perversion and fetishism. And incorporating all these all too human characteristics, there is the overriding rhythm of Tenderness (which you may recall was Lawrence's original title for Lady Chatterley's Lover). Not that Oshima is a Lawrentian, given that in his film the life-force moves inexorably to the death-wish.
This is not the place to rehearse these themes image by image, but viewers may wish to anticipate some of them: Sada's slow dribble over Kichi's penis; Kichi licking Sada's menstrual blood; the mock wedding ceremony when a virgin is deflowered with a bird-shaped dildo; Sada sniffing Kichi's kimono in a train toilet; Sada forcing her bespectacled old teacher to slap her face and pinch her nipples harder; Sada laying a hard-boiled egg; Sada munching a tuft of Kichi's pubic hair; the penis and knife in Sada's hands in extreme close-up; the prick that springs to attention and 'speaks'; Kichi finding the taste of Sada's tears very salty; the intercourse between Kichi and a 68 year-old woman who looks happy, then serious, then very serious, then dead; soldiers on the march (make love not war, a subversion of Japanese militarism); the long, carefully crafted sex and strangulation scenes (a reprise of the jouissance in L'Age d'Or when we hear 'Mon amour, mon amour, mon amour' as blood streams down Modot's face in extreme close-up); the porcelain stoppered saki jar, spinning like a top in close-up (recalling the sexually symbolic tap earlier); Sada yanking Kichi's overworked flaccid penis (recalling the earlier scene with the little boy); the mysterious stadium sequence (what does it mean?); and, of course, the ultimate castration and death ('when arrested Sada was radiant with joy').
The whole film is saturated with colour and sound. You never forget those kimonos, or the haunting melody of the theme music (3 rising notes, then one falling, on a wind instrument).
John Hoyles is Professor of English at Hull University