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.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was written, produced, directed and narrated by Robert Evans. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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