Nagisa Oshima’s controversial 1976 film is an intensely erotic tale based on some factual incidents that occurred in Japan in 1936. A well-to-do man (Tatsuya Fuji) discovers that he has an ex-prostitute geisha girl named Sada (Eiko Matsuda) working for him. Soon the two are engaged in an obsessive sexual affair.
The man sets Sada up as his mistress, and the two are soon neglecting the outside world for their pied a terre, literally inseparable and in a state of constant arousal. The pair eventually push past conventional sexual stimulation and delve into erotic asphyxiation, leading the pair on an inevitable journey into dangerous territory where the only thing remaining is the sensation of death to enhance the orgasm.
The film is much more erotic than a quick synopsis would suggest, and Oshima has made this beautiful and oddly affecting film much in the style of Japanese erotic art. The photography is gorgeous. As a kind of warning, it should be mentioned that the film ends with an extremely graphic scene wherein Sada cuts the dead man’s penis off. This will doubtlessly send most viewers diving for the off button on their VCR, but the gesture makes sense in the context of the film, and is perhaps one of the most sincere (if not unconventional) gestures of true love in cinema.
Oshima’s film is proof that eroticism and hard core sexual imagery can co-exist with serious cinema. While Bernardo Bertolucci made a good case for eroticism in his 1972 classic Last Tango in Paris, Ohsima took cinema even farther – and cinema has yet to catch up with him.