Of all the categories of film ones depicting open sex are the most controversial. Trick people, steal their identities, wealth or children, make war, drop bombs or annihilate planets and it is all fine. Show two humans have sex for pleasure and millions will revolt. Although few deny that sex is exciting many assert it is not proper or art. Making the audience feel unsettled, uncomfortable and flinch is part of the intention here. Written and directed by Japan's Nagisa Ôshima's, 1976's In The Realm of Senses (Ai No Korida or 'love's/lover's bullfight') clinches the title as a risqué and explicit art film conceived to break taboos. Here is a film with full sexuality, nudity, penetration, S&M and more whose mission, for starters, is to push the boundaries, promote free speech and deconstruct obscenity. It is pornographic, but directed to be the opposite. Given the imagery and subject matter the film could easily be labelled pornography; however, the presence of respectable/mainstream/traditional cast, crew, studio and production values - not to mention anti-pornographic (pink eiga) film techniques - renders it enough of a something else to confuse most and push the boundary well back. Nagisa Ôshima saw obscenity and censorship as anathema to progress and indeed believed Japan has taken many steps backwards since the days of pleasure quarters, open prostitution in brothels, openness and individuality. His distaste for what he saw as the society's backward march, group-think and suppression of free speech is the driving force behind the feature. Indeed the old geisha who at one point entertains the main characters of this film, when the younger ones ended up refusing to return, proclaims "that's natural for a woman" to constantly have sex with a man. Oshima's statement in this regard sheds light on his intent. "The concept of "obscenity" is tested when we dare to look at something that we desire to see but have forbidden ourselves to look at. When we feel that everything has been revealed, "obscenity" disappears" He needed his powers of articulation because - and not for the first time - he would land in court in Japan defending his art. He would live to tell the tale, but to this day the film is only seen in Japan cut, censored and pixelated. The film unequivocally depicts one X-rated sexual act and thought after another. On a mission to make "obscenity disappear" one sees complete nudity, sex, an extramarital affair, S&M inclusive of pain inflicted with or without foreign objects (Kichizo: "it hurts but feels good"), exhibitionism, ingestion, prostitution, promiscuity/free sex, exposure of children and sex with the elderly. Having scratched items off its list the viewer is still ill prepared for the mutilation that follows. Such is the conviction of the writer/director and the ensemble around him. The film does not stop there. Caught in its crosshairs are Japan's pre-World War II militarization, Japanese traditional respect for one's seniors and tradition, male dominance in sex and pornography and crucially man's greater sexual appetite compared to a woman's. Any and all of these concepts would horrify the busybodies that constitute any society anywhere, but even more so in the Japan of 1976 with its induced promotion of group harmony and conformity. Based on a real story dating back to 1936 In The Realm Of Senses retells the story of Sada Abe (played by newcomer Eiko Matsuda) who bedded with her master (Kichizo Ishida played by Tatsuya Fuji) with their ending up stealing away from their lives in a Tokyo inn in Nakano while abandoning his wife. Scandal ensues when their indulgence intensifies amidst everything described above and more. The lovers completely give of themselves. Coincidentally, I had recently watched Akarui Mirai with Tatsuya Fuji who has had an acting career in Japan before and after this feature. It is worth noting this because In The Realm Of Senses features a range of established Japanese talent. Anywhere else in the world and this movie would not have attracted any takers. Apparently, many women had come to audition for a cinematic role, which involves full penetration. The same could not be said about the male talent. The director recounts many were worried about their phallus size or being able to perform on camera. Nonetheless, first there is Oshima's wife, the actress Akiko Koyama. She had volunteered to play Sada, although some speculate it was done to spur other actresses. She plays a geisha here. The old geisha is Kanae Kobayashi. She plays her actual real-life age. She was an established actress notable for the Zatoichi films. The old vagabond is Taiji Tonoyama whose over 200 credits include the brilliant Ningen No Joken (The Human Condition I). The innkeeper is played by established actress Aoi Nakajima herself the daughter of Masayuki Mori known for classics of cinema like Ugetsu or Rashomon. The crew was also an established team working in Kyoto on the set of many a Mizoguchi or Kurosawa film. It is an extraordinarily uninhibited and ground-breaking film. Yet, there are beautiful images of old-style Japanese rooms and decor, traditional outfits, melodies of the shamisen and muted but vivid colours throughout the film which is largely restricted to the indoors. The fox (kitsune) masks of the festival, the kites of the Children's festival and the bird dancer (mimicking the actual bird of earlier) colour the film Japanese further. Nonetheless, these are mere interludes amidst the subversive and often difficult viewing. Amazingly Oshima had sought out the real-life Sada Abe (Sada meaning 'chaste' in Japanese - although her name and the adjective have different Kanji) and obtained her permission to film In The Realm Of Senses. By this time she was ensconced in a Buddhist monastery. Whether one enjoys In The Realm Of Senses or not one has to tip his hat at the courageous and spirited Argos Films, the cast, crew, director, producer and Criterion video.