If there’s any way that the world can be neatly divided into two groups, it’s to take a polarizing topic and say there are people who are for it or against it. There are people for and against abortion. There are Yankees fans and Dodgers fans. There are people who enjoy the vocal stylings of Barry Manilow and those that don’t. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to say there are people who enjoy porn and those who don’t. I’m one of the ones that don’t. I like scantily clad or naked women as much as the next straight guy, but it’s the way in which porn presents sexuality that doesn’t appeal to me. What’s so stimulating about looking at the human body in clinical frankness, magnifying every organ and orifice and follicle in mind-numbing detail? I prefer a little style and class. Give me a Victoria’s Secret catalogue over an issue of Playboy any day.
That brings me to In The Realm Of The Senses. (Hey, I just noticed something. When I’m composing my reviews, I often abbreviate the movie title, then use Microsoft Word’s replace function to fill in the title in its entirety. Abbreviated, In The Realm Of The Senses spells out “it rots.”) To fully tell this story, I’m going to have to reveal some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of DVD Verdict. Our intrepid editor receives copies of certain movies from the studios, then distributes them to the team members for reviewing purposes. When he ships them out, he updates the Docket on the main page of the site with the “screeners” we’ll be receiving. That’s when I find out what I’m going to be reviewing. When a movie shows up on my docket that I’m not familiar with, I look it up at the Internet Movie Database, read the plot summary, and often any reviews that are available on the web.
Every single review I read of In The Realm Of The Senses cast it in the light of the “art versus pornography” debate. Groan. To boot, it was rated NC-17 by those bastions of morality, the Motion Picture Association of America. Now, I don’t have anything against the NC-17 rating. Sometimes it seems rather arbitrary, what would cause the MPAA to dole out an R rating instead of an NC-17. Clerks, for instance, was slapped with an NC-17 rating, but (thanks to the efforts of Miramax head Harvey Weinstein) it was resubmitted without cuts and received an R rating. The rest of the world got to see Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut unedited, but we American troglodytes received a doctored version. I’m holding off on buying the DVD of that film until I can get it on a Region 1 disc sans editing. But, I digress.
With all of that said, I must now say that this review is based on only watching one-third of In The Realm Of The Senses (I’m still laughing to myself about that title in its abbreviated form). Like I said, I’m not a porn person, and In The Realm Of The Senses plays like Japanese porn…Boogie Nights with shamisen music rather than disco (and no Heather Graham). I took nothing from the plot, so here’s a snippet from a review by the Edinburgh University Film Society: “A servant and former prostitute, Sada, becomes infatuated with her employer Kizicho, a businessman, after seeing him and his wife make love. Soon Kizicho becomes obsessed with Sada as well. Their relationship becomes more and more intense, with Sada assuming the dominant role and Kizicho proving less and less able to match her sexual demands. Eventually he consents to being strangled whilst having sex in the hope of attaining ultimate sexual fulfilment [sic]. Sada then cuts Kizicho’s penis off, wandering around with it for a few days until she is finally found.” The review then goes on to discuss the film in bullshit academic terms of male/female roles; you can see in what regard I hold their opinions. In the half-hour I watched, here’s a short summary of what I got from the movie, and those who don’t want to know would be well-advised to skip to the next paragraph post haste. Kids throw trash at a homeless man’s exposed genitals. An experienced geisha fondles a new geisha against her wishes. The master of the whorehouse (sorry, I don’t know the Japanese term) forces himself on the new girl while she’s scrubbing the floor. She gives him oral sex (shown in extreme close-up), then lets his juices run down her chin (I had just finished eating a stack of pancakes when that scene came on…and it sure didn’t help my breakfast settle). A group of geishas essentially gang-rape a virgin geisha with a dildo. The last straw was when the couple (Sada and Kizicho, according to the gallant members of the Edinburgh University Film Society) is riding along in a horse-drawn carriage. She tells him she can’t have sex that day. He sticks his fingers into her vagina, pulls them out to reveal that they’re bloody, licks them off, and says he doesn’t mind. And I thought watching full-frontal urination in The Loss Of Sexual Innocence was bad.
If you skipped the naughty bits, thank you for rejoining this review, already in progress.
The DVD presentation of In The Realm Of The Senses is poor, even by Fox Lorber standards. The print used for the transfer is washed out and grainy. The bottom edge of the frame flickers continuously, which seems like a telltale sign of a VHS-to-DVD transfer. Audio is presented in stereo, and it may or may not be two-channel mono. There is a persistent hiss on the soundtrack, almost distracting enough to make you forget about the poor dialogue dubbing. Thankfully, there are no extras.
In The Realm Of The Senses is another in a long line of arthouse movies given positive reviews by critics to save face with other critics. I don’t feel the need to kiss butt, so I say…it rots.
A couple small notes. In The Realm Of The Senses was produced in 1976, but not shown theatrically in the United States until 1996. It was first shown at the Cannes film festival in 1976, which may explain why the opening credits are in French. The packaging has several quotes from major publications singing its praises, and one from Madonna. Try to guess which one is from the author of “Erotica” and which ones are from major newspapers. “Spectacularly erotic!” “A superior film about intense physical love!” “It turns me on because it’s real!” “Unique in the cinema as the expression of total passion!” Okay, are they talking about an arthouse film or Debbie Does Dallas?