INDEFINITE

In recent years, Japan has earned a reputation as the world capital of conspicuous consumption, so it’s hard to recall that just two decades ago—when writer/director Nagisa Oshima made In the Realm of the Senses—there was a strong radical impulse. Based loosely on the true story of a prostitute who strangled her married lover and then severed his penis, the film quickly became notorious for its almost nonstop sex and lurid finale. Both are still striking, if not so astonishing as they were in the days when a print of the film was seized by U.S. Customs en route to the New York Film Festival. In hindsight, though, it’s clear that Realm is a tale of political rather than sexual perversion: The erotic idyll of Sada and Kichizo (Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji) ends in violence just as the natural sensuality of old Japan is trampled by the fascist troops marching in the streets. (In the most blatantly symbolic scene, children poke at a derelict’s genitals with miniature Japanese battle flags.) Of course, Oshima’s idea of natural sensuality now seems a bit quaint; the obsessive Sada clearly owes more to the overheated male fantasies of the sexual-liberation era than to Japanese tradition. At the Key Theater; see Showtimes for times. (Mark Jenkins)

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