Tag Archives: militarism

Oshima’s notoriously graphic “In the Realm of the Senses”


I knew where Ôshima’s notorious “In the Realm of the Senses” (Ai no korîda, 1976) was going long before starting to watch it.  After years of avoiding watching it, I buckled up my seatbelt and screened it. I found it excruciatingly slow and just plain excruciating. Not arousing at all, though it ignored the Japanese ban, even in pinku eiga/ poronographic films, on showing pubic hair, not to mention erect penises; there was also a dildo unmistakable shown penetrating another woman (a geisha being initiated by geishas). The movie has never been publicly shown in Japan even forty years after it was made. (The film stock could not even be processed in Japan and Ôshima was prosecuted, though acquitted, of obscenity.)

Some of the woman-riding-the-man scenes must have involved a prosthesis. Though Fuji Tatsuya’s member is not small, it is not big enough to be visible in some of the shots of intercourse with Matsuda Eiko. Oddly, to me it looked circumcised.


I don’t know that Ôshima intended a cautionary tale about s&m getting more and more extreme. That in the movie may be consensual, but is definitely not safe or sane. Rather, it is desperate and compulsive and surely must disgust males, however voyeuristic (maybe not all females).

 One might ask if Kichi is any more self-destructive than the nation, ca. 1936, and the soldiers he meets marching in one scene. The kamikaze pilots and soldiers determined not to surrender also consented to their annihilation, I guess.

Donald Richie, ca. 2006, wrote: ‘It is this insistence upon alienation that makes In the Realm of the Senses one of the least sexually exciting of sexually explicit films. The couple does not, despite the frequency of their couplings, intend to inflame their audience. It is their political predicament that Ôshima wishes to portray. Sada and Kichizo may have found their sexual identity, but they are alienated from their society. They find security only at an inn where they are not known; he does no work at all, she “works” only just enough to keep them alive. They are indeed antisocial and engage in antisocial acts.’

 Richie also reported that the real Sada and Kichizo were together only for six days; Ôshima lengthened that time period to six months.


©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s portrayal of wartime internal exile: “Shônen-ki” (1951)

Kinoshita Keisuke shot two movies between “Carmen Goes Home” (1951) and its sequel “Carmen’s Pure Love” (1952). The historically more important one, is “Shônen-ki,” called in English “Boyhood” (by Janus-Criterion-Hulu”, “A Record of Youth,” and just “Youth.” (The other was the incoherent “Fireworks Over the Sea.”)


I found  the patriotic music difficult to bear in Konoshita’s  1951 “Boyhood (Shônen-ki), even if its intent was ironic (about which I’m not entirely sure, though I think it was, though I think it was; against that is the rarity of Kinoshita being on the side of a father rather than a son).

I wanted to identify with the liberal scholar father (Ryû Chichû), but Kinoshita portrayed him as self-centered, which is also the critical view of the more fascist of his son Ichirô (Ishihama Akira, a decade before dying agonizingly in Shinoda’s “Hara-kiri”).


Ichirô was 16 when the war ended, restive in the countryside, to which he had resisted going when the rest of the family evacuated Tokyo, but he eventually rejoined them there after Japan’s surrender. Ichirô remains dubious about his father’s patriotism, though his father tries to explain that, not knowing at what moment he/they may be killed by US bombs, he wants to spend all his waking time reading.


Kinoshita’s (1943) “The Living Majoroku”


“Ikite iru Magoroku” (The Living Majoroku, 1943), the second film directed by Kinoshita Keisuke is rather opaque to 21st-century American viewers. I don’t know if it seemed as schizoid to Japanese viewers as the tide was turning in the Pacific War (WWII). On the one hand, it advocates dispensing with superstitions, in this instance stemming directly form a military engagement three and a half centuries earlier that gave a field to the Onagis (for service in a battle on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu with a curse on anyone digging into it (with, say, a hoe). And there are feudal obstacles to the marriage of a pair who work on the local bus (driver and conductor). On the other hand, it honors the cult of old swords—and a new one to cut down Americans in the war raging to the south. Militarist myths about the divine Japanese spirit were not treated as superstitions.

The fulcrum of the struggle to cultivate the Onagi field that has been covered with weeds (the same pampa grass that covered it back in the day of the now legendary battle) is Yoshihiro (Hara Yasumi), who is convinced that he is dying of the curse on Onagi males (form his grandfather’s affront to the sacred battlefield) and that letting the field be turned to food production will kill him. A visiting physician (Hosokawa Toshio), who is there seeking the heirloom sword (the titular Magoroku) the family has, tests the young Onagi’s lungs and realizes that they are unusually strong, that the failing lungs have no somatic basis. (“Nervous breakdown” is the translation provided by the subtitles.)

There are some strikingly beautiful outdoor scenes, reminiscent of Murnau. I didn’t notice any shots from above, but there are quite a lot of closeups (in rapid succession before the heretofore neurasthenic head of the Onagi family pronounces his decisions).

The valorization of clinging to the past and of taking action to help the nation in its struggle seems schizoid to me. At least there is nothing I see in the way of an explanation of what distinguishing should be preserved from past (feudal) lifeways, what jettisoned.

BTW, the pressure to increase production on the virgin soil comes from local fervor rather than down from the militaristic government. I wondered why Yoshihiro had not been drafted by 1942.

“The Living Majoroku” is available on the Criterion Eclipse (barebones) boxed set “Kinoshita and World War II.”


©2016, Stephen O. Murray