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In the Realm of Pornography?

In the Realm of Pornography? (photo)

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The Criterion Collection version of Nagisa Oshima’s controversial “In the Realm of the Senses” that came to DVD and Blu-ray this week is listed on Criterion’s web site as running 108 minutes long. That number corresponds with the length of the film’s “original version” given by IMDb, though the site also lists a 109-minute version from the U.K., a 107-minute version from Australia, and a 98-minute version from Argentina. There seems to be a different cut for every country that’s willing to show the film (unlike its native Japan, where it remains banned). The movie is almost an indecency Rorschach test — it’d be fascinating, if a little horrifying, to compare all the different cuts side-by-side, to see what each culture found unacceptable by its moral standards. (By the way, IMDb does not mention a 95-minute cut, which is the length of the film on the previous DVD edition from Fox Lorber that’s currently available from Netflix).

So what’s the big deal? Oshima’s film was made in 1976, relatively late in the decade’s wave of art films that dared to explore sexuality seriously — “Last Tango in Paris” and its notorious butter scene, for instance, came out four years earlier. One key difference, though, between “Senses” and most of its predecessors, was its degree of explicitness. Some of the sexual acts between stars Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji were simulated, but some were not. Nowadays, unsimulated sexual activity between actors in a non-pornographic movie isn’t all that uncommon; in just the last few years, the technique’s been employed in films like “The Brown Bunny,” “9 Songs,” “Shortbus,” “Ken Park” and “Anatomy of Hell.” But back in 1976, the line between pornography and art films with real sex was a bit fuzzier; or at the very least, the fact that there could be a distinction between pornography and an art film with real sex was a serious discussion.

The inexorable march of time and the accumulated effect of several decades’ worth of subsequent envelope-pushing cinema has neutered the impact of “Senses,” at least on a graphic level. Some of it remains skeezy — personally speaking, I do not need to see a woman stick an egg in her vagina, but maybe that’s just me — yet little of it remains offensive. What ability the film has today to shock audiences has as much to do with the emotional implications of the story as its more detailed imagery.

04282009_RealmoftheSenses2.jpgMatsuda plays Sada Abe, a former prostitute who’s become a servant to a hotel owner named Kichizo Ishida, played by Fuji. The two begin sneaking around behind Ishida’s wife’s back, and their affair quickly escalates in intensity. Their passion moves swiftly from all-consuming to self-destructive: hitting each other during sex leads to erotic asphyxiation, which leads to the film’s infamous finale, where Abe, after choking Ishida to death, severs his penis and writes “Sada & Kichi The Two Of Us Forever” on his lifeless chest in his own blood.

The story only becomes more unsettling when you discover it’s based on a true-life case that took places in Japan decades before Lorena Bobbitt’s name became a setup and punchline unto itself. The very last line of narration from “In the Realm of the Senses” tells us Abe’s final fate and informs the audience that “it happened in 1936.” And indeed it did — as in the film, the real-life Abe and Ishida embarked on a sexually adventurous affair that concluded with Ishida’s mid-coitus murder and castration.

Trump Funny or Die

Art of the Spoof

Watch Johnny Depp, Jack McBrayer, Patton Oswalt and More in Funny or Die’s Donald Trump Biopic

Johnny Depp just got very classy.

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Photo Credit: Funny or Die

We’re barely halfway through February, but this year’s Too Many Cooks Award for the most bizarre comedy project is already a lock. Blindsiding the world with greatness without any warning, Funny or Die released a 50-minute Donald Trump parody starring an unrecognizable Johnny Depp as Donny.

Ron Howard introduces this “lost” 1988 TV movie adaptation of Trump’s how-to manual The Art of the Deal produced with the retro quality of a Wendy’s training video. Along for the big hair and shoulder pads flashback are Patton Oswalt, Alfred Molina, Todd Margaret‘s Jack McBrayer, Andy Richter, Rob Huebel, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and Michaela Watkins as Ivana — as well as many Reagan-era surprises like a cameo from that loveable cat eater ALF and a theme song by Kenny Loggins.

Much like Eric Jonrosh of The Spoils Before Dying and The Spoils of Babylon fame, “Trump” writes, directs, and narrates his own epic tale of real estate wheelings-and-dealings. Check out the trailer below, and head over to Funny or Die to watch the full Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal movie before the real Donald sics his army of lawyers on Will Ferrell and company. (For more bizarro Johnny Depp characters, be sure to catch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this month on IFC.)

Into the Forest with Shimizu and Visconti

Into the Forest with Shimizu and Visconti (photo)

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Criterion does it again, rescuing a major filmmaker from the quicksand of neglect, happenstance and/or canonical prejudice, and shoving them into the spotlight with state-of-the-art DVD releases that virtually demand a reevaluative reckoning. As with Larisa Shepitko, Jacques Becker, Raymond Bernard, William Klein and Jean Painlevé, you won’t find mention of Hiroshi Shimizu in any major English-language film history text, and in each case the elisions are criminal. An almost exact contemporary of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse, from the beginnings of their careers in the mid-to-late ’20s to their last films, Shimizu echoes a good deal of their field of concerns — the plight of women in a patriarchy, the delicacy of the unsaid, the tragic spiral of romantic melodrama — but comes at them with a subtly distinctive way of observing his characters, similar to Ozu’s rigorous restraint but freer, more organic, less “perfect” and more spontaneous.

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Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop

When Eddie Was Raw

5 Classic R-Rated Eddie Murphy Moments

Catch Beverly Hills Cop this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: © Paramount Pictures / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Before becoming the voice of Donkey in the Shrek movies and every family member of The Klumps, Eddie Murphy exuded raw comedic genius on the big screen. His rock star magnetism was so big in the ‘8os, he was up there with Prince, Michael Jackson and E.T. Before you catch Eddie in Beverly Hills Cop this month on IFC, take a look at some hilarious moments from his wilder, raunchier days. Put the kids to bed, because this is NSFW Eddie we’re talking about.

5. Billy Ray shows off his kung-fu moves, Trading Places

In this scene, Eddie Murphy as Billy Ray Valentine shows off his impressive karate skills to some tough guys, one of whom is Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus Fring from Breaking Bad. It is doubtful that Mr. Miyagi would be able to talk his way out of getting a prison shiv in the gut the way Eddie does here. Luckily for Billy Ray, his hilarious antics let him avoid a confrontation with a Barry White look-alike before a guard arrives.


4. Akeem says good morning to the neighbors, Coming to America

Prince Akeem bids good morning to his neighbors the Big Apple way in this memorable scene. We think he’ll fit in just fine.


3. Impersonating a Rocky fan, Eddie Murphy: Raw

In this R-Rated story, Eddie captured the essence of a testosterone-filled ’80s Rocky fan stupid enough to pick a fight and demand some Jujubees from a much taller man. Eddie Murphy is probably the only comedian who could’ve pulled off wearing a blue and black leather jumpsuit on stage.


2. Posing as a building inspector, Beverly Hills Cop

Beverly Hills Cop is filled with hilarious moments that showcase Eddie’s improv skills. This scene finds Axel Foley reading the riot act to some builders and delivering the classic line, “What are you, a f–ing art critic?”


1. Messing with rednecks, 48. Hrs.

From the moment Eddie Murphy takes the badge from Nolte and enters the redneck bar until he puts the cowboy hat on his head at the end of the scene, he was perfect. This is the moment Eddie went from being the funniest cast member on SNL to a full-fledged movie star. While pointing out how much he enjoys messing with rednecks, most of whom are clearly too stupid to have jobs, he matches Nick Nolte’s intensity throughout. The scene announced that there was a new Comedy Sheriff in town, and his name was Eddie Murphy.

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