In the Realm of the Senses ★★★½

The phrase "based on a true story" has been drained of all meaning lately, but at least in 1976 it still had a bit of power, especially when the true story inspired at least three movies in its native Japan.

In 1936 a young lady named Sada Abe accidentally killed her lover while engaging in some kinky breathplay. She then proceeded to castrate the body and carry the dead man's privates around with her for several days, until the police caught up with her. Remarkably, public opinion came in on her side, and after five years in prison, she was released to some notoriety and celebrity.

Most of the movies concentrate on her career as a grotesque sort of pop star, but Nagisa Oshima's version is singularly about the relationship between Sada and her lover, Kinichi. A former prostitute, Sada starts as a serving girl at Kinichi's inn, where she catches the randy owner's eye. Soon, they are heavily engaged in the making of the beast with two backs, even setting up shop in another inn where they can enjoy each other without interruption.

Their lives become entirely about lovemaking, about each other's pleasure. At first, Kinichi is more than a match for the insatiable Sada, but as time passes and his life erodes, all the exhausted man can offer to his lover for her pleasure is his life.

Oshima, who had made some pretty racy material before this, finally found the freedom to make a movie exactly as he wanted, due to the French-Japanese production. Make no mistake, the sex in this movie is not simulated or obscured; it is explicit, and though it is technically "hardcore", it is light years away from any of its grimy sex film brethren. To this day, apparently, it has not been shown in Japan in an unedited or unblurred version - largely because Oshima also wanted to use his artistic freedom to bust as many Japanese taboos as he could, and one can almost imagine him with a notebook, cackling at the end of each day's shooting as he ticked off "Taboos Broken".

Frequently shocking, yes. Highly artistic, yes. If sex shocks you, however...well, you wouldn't be reading this, anyway.