In the Realm of the Senses

In the Realm of the Senses (French: L'Empire des sens, Japanese: 愛のコリーダ, Ai no korīda, "Corrida of Love") is a 1976 French-Japanese art film written and directed by Nagisa Oshima.[1][2] It is a fictionalised and sexually explicit treatment of an incident from 1930s Japan, that of Sada Abe.[3] It generated great controversy during its release;[3] while intended for mainstream wide release, it contains scenes of unsimulated sexual activity between the actors (Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda, among others).

In the Realm of the Senses
Japanese theatrical poster
Directed byNagisa Oshima
Produced byAnatole Dauman
Written byNagisa Oshima
StarringEiko Matsuda
Tatsuya Fuji
Music byMinoru Miki
CinematographyHideo Ito
Edited byKeiichi Uraoka
Argos Films
Oshima Productions
Distributed byArgos Films
Release date
  • 15 September 1976 (1976-09-15) (France)
  • 16 October 1976 (1976-10-16) (Japan)
Running time
104 minutes
Box office1,424,906 kr


In 1936 Tokyo, Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) is a former prostitute who now works as a maid in a hotel. The hotel's owner, Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji), molests her, and the two begin an intense affair that consists of sexual experiments and various self-indulgences. Ishida leaves his wife to pursue his affair with Sada. Sada becomes increasingly possessive and jealous of Ishida, and Ishida more eager to please her. Their mutual obsession escalates to the point where Ishida finds she is most excited by strangling him during lovemaking, and he is killed in this fashion. Sada then severs his penis. While she is shown next to him naked, it is mentioned that she will walk around with his penis inside her for several days. Words written with blood can be read on his chest: "Sada Kichi the two of us forever".


  • Eiko Matsuda as Sada Abe
  • Tatsuya Fuji as Kichizō Ishida
  • Aoi Nakajima as Toku
  • Yasuko Matsui as Tagawa Inn manager
  • Meika Seri as Matsuko
  • Kanae Kobayashi as Old geisha Kikuryū
  • Taiji Tonoyama as Old beggar
  • Kyôji Kokonoe as Teacher Ōmiya
  • Naomi Shiraishi as Geisha Yaeji
  • Komikichi Hori as Mitsuwa Geisha


The film was released under In the Realm of the Senses in the U.S. and the U.K., and under L'Empire des sens (Empire of the Senses) in France. The French title was taken from Roland Barthes's book about Japan, L'Empire des signes (Empire of Signs, 1970).[4]


Strict censorship laws in Japan would not have allowed the film to be made according to Oshima's vision.[3] This obstruction was bypassed by officially listing the production as a French enterprise, and the undeveloped footage was shipped to France for processing and editing. At its première in Japan, the sexual activity was optically censored using reframing and blurring.[5][6]

In the United States, the film was initially banned upon its première at the 1976 New York Film Festival[7] but later screened uncut, and a similar fate awaited the film when it was released in Germany. It was also banned because of a scene in which Kichi pushes an egg into Sada's vulva, forcing her to push it out of her vagina, with Kichi eating the egg. The film was not available on home video until 1990, although it was sometimes seen uncut in film clubs.

At the time, the only European country in which the film was banned was Belgium, where it was originally banned for its explicit sex scenes.[8][9][10] The ban was lifted in 1994,[11][12] and the country has not censored a film of any kind since.

At the time of its initial screening at the 1976 London Film Festival, the British Board of Film Censors recommended it be shown under private cinema club conditions to avoid the need for heavy cuts to be made, but only after the Obscene Publications Act had been extended to films (in 1977) to avoid potential legal problems.[13] The film opened at the Gate Cinema Club in 1978. It was given an official countrywide cinema release in 1991, though the video release was delayed until 2000 when it was passed with an "18" certificate (suitable for adults only). All of the adult sexual activity was left intact, but a shot in which Sada yanks the penis of a prepubescent boy after he misbehaves was reframed, zooming in so that only the reaction of the boy was shown.[14] In Australia, the film was originally banned because of obscenity; a censored version was made available in 1977. Only in 2000 did it finally become available in its complete cut.[15][16] The pornographic content of the production also caused it to be banned in the land of Israel in 1987.[17][18]

The film is available in uncut form in France, Germany, the United States (including The Criterion Collection), the Netherlands, Belgium and several other territories.

In Canada, when originally submitted to the provincial film boards in the 1970s, the film was rejected in all jurisdictions except Quebec and British Columbia. It was not until 1991 that individual provinces approved the film and gave it a certificate. However, in the Maritimes the film was rejected again as the policies followed in the 1970s were still enforced.


Due to its sexual themes and explicit scenes, the film was the cause of great controversy in Portugal in 1991 after it aired on RTP.[19] Some deemed it inappropriate even for the watershed slot, while others actually appreciated its airing. The Archbishop of Braga D., Eurico Dias Nogueira, who watched the first half hour of the film, expressed his disgust, saying that he "had learned more in 10 minutes of the film than in his entire life" about sexual practices. The film aired again on RTP2, almost unnoticed.[20]

Chaz Jankel of Ian Dury and the Blockheads fame, along with Kenny Young (Under the Boardwalk) made a pop song in 1980 called "Ai No Corrida" based on the movie's Japanese title. This song has since been recorded by many different artists, including Quincy Jones, whose version was a Top 20 hit in the UK.

British Industrial band Clock DVA reference the movie on their song 'Blue Tone' from their 1981 album 'Thirst'.

See also


  1. Richie, Donald. "In the Realm of the Senses: Some Notes on Oshima and Pornography". Criterion. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  2. Fountain, Clarke. "In the Realm of Passion". Allmovie. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  3. Sandra Buckley, ed. (14 December 2001). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 0-415-14344-6.
  4. Turim, Maureen (1998). The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-520-20666-5.
  5. "In the Realm of the Senses: Some Notes on Oshima and Pornography". The Criterion Collection.
  6. "Nagisa Oshima's Realm of Restraint and Precision". The New York Times. 26 April 2009.
  7. "In the Realm of the Senses director Nagisa Oshima dies at 80". BBC News. BBC. 15 January 2013. Retrieved 16 May 2019. The film fell foul of censors in Germany, the UK and the US - where it was seized by customs officials ahead of a planned screening at the New York Film Festival.
  8. "Cinemazuid". 25 April 2013. Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  9. "Video: Op 17 november 1977 zond de VRT dit uit". (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  10. "Ons Erfdeel. Jaargang 29 · dbnl". Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  11. "Nova Cinema".
  12. "Adieu Nagisa Oshima (1932–2013) - Filmmagie".
  13. Case Study: L'Empire des Sens (In The Realm Of The Senses) Archived 13 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Students' British Board of Film Classification page
  14. Wurm, Gerald. "In The Realm of the Senses (Comparison: BBFC 18 - US Blu-ray) -".
  15. "In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - Censor -".
  16. "Offensive to a Reasonable Adult".
  17. "Censorship".
  18. "Director of banned film nixes accord". latimes.
  19. What Culture#15; In the Realm of the Senses
  20. "O Império dos Sentidos".


  • Buehrer, Beverley (1990). "In the Realm of the Senses (1976) Ai no Koriida". Japanese Films: a filmography and commentary, 1921–1989. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland. pp. 222–225. ISBN 0-89950-458-2.
  • Marran, Christine (2007). "Why Perversion Is Not Subversion: Tanaka Noboru's The True Story of Abe Sada and Oshima Nagisa's In the Realm of the Senses". Poison Woman: figuring female transgression in modern Japanese culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 150–161. ISBN 0-8166-4727-5.
  • Kenny, Patrick T. M. (2007) Conflicting Legal and Cultural Conceptions of Obscenity in Japan: Hokusai's Shunga and Oshima Nagisa's "L'Empire des sens". Earlham College thesis
  • Durgnat, Raymond (1985). "In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no Koriida)". In Frank N. Magill (ed.). Magill's Survey of Cinema: Foreign Language Films; Volume 3. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press. pp. 1475–1479. ISBN 0-89356-243-2.

Further reading

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