Film Censorship: In the Realm of the Senses (1976)





In the Realm of the Senses

Directed by Nagisa Oshima / 1976 / France-Japan / IMDb

Even before it was presented to the censors, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES was already causing controversy.

The Australian premiere was due to take place at the 1976 Perth Film Festival, but was pulled following threats from the Western Australian Government.



1976: Dropped by the Perth Film Festival

Empire of the Senses
Cinema Papers issue 10, September 1976

EMPIRE OF THE SENSES was to have been shown at this year’s Perth Film Festival, but the Commonwealth Censor strongly suggested that it not be imported. Given this attitude by someone who has yet to see the film, and whose knowledge is limited to sensationalistic reports from overseas, it is important that a case for Oshima be heard.

Perth Fest Nixed
Cinema Papers , July 1977

The recent demise of the Perth Film Festival has proved a sad, though perhaps inevitable, development, and could foreshadow similar problems for the world's small, independent festivals.

Bursting onto the festival scene in 1972, it quickly established itself as a highly innovative event which vigorously promoted the independent film. Initially set up by David Roe (who later joined the Australian Film Institute as its director), it was run for the past three years by Sylvie Le Clezio, with Roe as chairman.

The ability of the organisers to piece together an exciting program was evidenced in their securing the world premiere of Louis Malles Black Moon in 1975; the screening of A Woman Under the Influencece, which John Cassavetes gave Perth after New York but denied Cannes; and the championing of Werner Herzog in Australia. Other Perth firsts included Fears Eats the Soul (Fassbinder), La Maman et la Putain (Eustache), Pastoral Hide and Seek (Terayama) , Grey Gardens (Mayles Brothers), Serail (de Grigorio), Souvenirs D'en France (Technine), and Death of a Director of a Flea Circus (Koerfer)

It was, moreover, the only festival in Australia to gain admission to the International Federation of Independent Film Festivals, along with the Directors' Fortnight’ at Cannes, the Edinburgh Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film International.

Not at first endeared to the more established festivals, Perth made noises about what it called the lack of purpose and their poor record in helping films find distribution And while Perth's programs were too specialist to clash with the other festivals, there existed an apparent lack of co-operation. However, this eventually changed and the Sydney and Melbourne festivals leapt quickly to Perth's defence when it ran into censorship trouble in two consecutive years

In 1975, Perth successfully appealed against a ban on the Belgian entry, Vase de Noces, which the Western Australian government pressured the Commonwealth Censor into refusing registration, in a move that pre-empted the agreement guaranteeing freedom of censorship for festivals.

Not to be outdone, in 1976 the W.A. authorities threatened Perth with the physically impossible burden of having to submit every entry to the censor if it persisted in its intention of importing Nagasi Oshima's Empire of the Senses. The festival withdrew the film, only to see it shown without any fuss at this years Melbourne and Sydney festivals

The Perth Festival was forced into demise by its financial position, a state of affairs not helped by an unsympathetic Stale government which has said that it doesn't consider Perth's programming sufficiently middle-of-the-road. If it is, the government says, it will make money and won't need to be subsidized anyway

Although there are rumours that the festival may move interstate, both Le Clezio and Roe have declined to comment In the meantime, the numerous "letters to the editor" printed in The West Australian suggest a growing awareness of what has happened, though the chances of the organisers consenting to the revival of the festival - in Perth at least - must be counted as slim.



1977: Uncut in Sydney and Melbourne

The uncut premiere finally took place at the 1977 Sydney Film Festival, followed a short time later by Melbourne.


Here is how David Stratton describes the Sydney Film Festival screening in his 2008 autobiography I PEED ON FELLINI. At the time Stratton was the Director of the festival and had been a long time campaigner against film censorship in Australia.

I invited Nagisa Oshima's very controversial Ai no corrida (In the Realm of the Senses) to the 1977 SFF. When we announced that this Japanese film, which was notorious for its actual sex scenes, was to be part of the programme, I received a call from Richard Prowse telling me he wanted to see it prior to the Festival screening. I pointed out to him that his request was not in accordance with the agreement we had with what was now the Attorney-General's department (responsibility for censorship had shifted from Customs to the AG under the Whitlam Government). In my view, I did not have to let Prowse see the film in advance of the Festival screening and I had no intention of doing so. Instead I invited him and every member of his Board to attend the screening at the Festival, which he agreed to do.

Before the film commenced I warned the audience about its content and announced that latecomers who had missed my warning would not be admitted. The reason for this was so that subsequently nobody would be able to claim they had been subjected to material they hadn't been warned about in advance. The film screened without any incident and afterwards Prowse told me he thought it would have been even more explicit. When it was submitted for commercial distribution it was cut to shreds and then given an R-rating.



1977: Censored version passed with R-rating

Following uncut screenings at the 1977 Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, the film was picked up for distribution by Consolidated Exhibitors. In August 1977, the submitted 2946.9 meter (107:25) print was Refused Registration by the censors for reasons of 'indecency'. The following month the Review Board upheld the decision of the Film Censorship Board, and the film remained banned.

Following the failure of the appeal, the distributor cut the print and resubmitted it. This 2821.5 meters (102:51) Reconstructed Version was finally passed with an R-rating in November 1977.


Here is how CINEMA PAPERS described the censorship.

Oshima's L'empire des sens, the troubled history of which has already been well documented in Cinema Papers was finally passed by the Censorship Board. This apparently necessitated three cuts: the climax to the fellatio sequence; a shot of some geisha's impregnating a virgin with the tail of a china bird; and one close up of an erection.

The major censorship decision of November - January period was the passing of L'Empire des sens (Empire of the Senses) in a cut version. Originally listed, and rejected at 2946.90m. It has since been cut by its distributor Richard Walberg to 2821.50 mtr. These deletions total 125.40m or 4 min 34 sec. As mentioned in the previous issue of Cinema Papers, the cuts were of explicit, though never prurient, sexual scenes.



1981: Banned again

In August 1981, the National Film Theatre had an 1109.9-meter (101:08) 16mm print banned because of sex, which was described as being:
Frequency: Infrequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

In addition, it was also banned for 'sexual violence'.

The Films Board of Review upheld the decision in September 1981.

It was submitted under the title DANS L'EMPIRE DES SENS.



1982: VHS #1 Censored

In July 1982, a 94:03 'reconstructed English language version' was passed with an R-rating. It was awarded for sex, which was described as being:
Frequency: Frequent
Explicitness/Intensity: Medium
Purpose: Justified


Publishing and Broadcasting Video released the film twice on their Star Video label.

One was part of their 'World of Erotica' range. Despite the cover claiming it to be 'R uncut', it was actually censored, and dubbed into English. This version was actually quite graphic, including scenes of fellatio. However, the print is dark, which tends to obscure the more explicit moments.

The other Star Video release drops the uncut claim, and simply says:

WARNING this film contains explicit scenes.

It is unclear which of these tapes was released first.



In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - Star Video [au] VHS 1In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - Star Video [au] VHS 2



1983: VHS #3 Special Condition

During the early 80s, there was no law that compelled distributors to have video tapes classified. For a period, the Censorship Board simply viewed the tapes and passed them as 'Special Condition', the definition of which was:

That the film/tape will not be exhibited in any State in contravention of that State's law relating to the exhibition of films.

In August 1983, A 98m 'reduced English language version' titled DANS L’EMPIRE DES SENS was passed with this Special Condition. The applicant was Chua Sim Kend.



1985: VHS #3 Censored

In 1985 a 95m videotape was once more passed with an R-rating. In this case the applicant was Communications and Entertainment. Like the Star Video VHS, the CEL Video release also ran 94:03, and was dubbed into English.



1992: VHS #4 Banned

In October 1992 Forbidden Planet had a 97m videotape Refused Classification.



2000: Uncut R-rated Theatrical Release

In January 2000 the Classification Board awarded an RC-rating to the film ROMANCE for depictions of actual sex. Potential Films appealed against the decision, and later in the month they were awarded an R-rating by the Review Board. This was something of a landmark decision, because for the first time actual sex could be depicted in an R18+ film.

This success prompted Potential Films to re-submit an uncut version of IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. The 102m 35mm print was passed with an R18+ (High Level Sex Scenes, Medium Level Violence, Adult Themes) rating on October 9, 2000. A theatrical release followed.



2001: Madman Entertainment DVD #1 Uncut

In August 2001 the film was released uncut on DVD by Madman Entertainment. The cover played up controversial nature of the film.


Madman Entertainment DVD
August 2001.

Often described as one of the only masterpieces of 'hardcore' cinema, Nagisa Oshima's Ai No Corrida (In the Realm of the Senses) has had a chequered history.

The film's artistic merit is judged to be beyond question in most western democracies. This hasn't prevented it being banned in Australia, and the uncut version featured on this DVD is in fact the version originally intended by Oshima.

Based on one of Japan's most notorious scandals, In the Realm of the Senses is the story of an ex-prostitute who becomes involved in an obsessive love affair with the master of the household where she is employed as a servant. What starts as casual diversion escalates into a passion that holds no bounds.

After screenings at 1976 Melbourne and Sydney International Film Festivals, the film was banned for 12 months then released with cuts. When it initially reached the home entertainment market in Australia, it was in this cut form, with a dubbed English soundtrack.

This DVD release is the first to feature the film fully uncut and with its original Japanese language soundtrack intact, supported by subtitles.

Belatedly granted an "R 18+" certificate in Australia in its uncut form, the film's radiant beauty and impeccable portrayal of sexual politics deserves a warmer and more sensitive reception this time around. You be the judge.


In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - Madman Entertainment [au] DVD



2003: Uncut TV Screening

In June 2003 IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES premiered uncut on the World Movies pay-TV channel.



2005: New Consumer Advice

Madman Entertainment had IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES rated again on October 20, 2005. It was passed with an R18+ (High level sex scenes, High level violence, High level themes) rating.

This compares with an R18+ (High level sex scenes, Medium level violence, Adult themes) rating awarded in October 2000.

It is unclear why Madman Entertainment resubmitted the film as they did not go on to give it a second release.



2008: Umbrella Entertainment DVD #2 Censored

In March 2008 Umbrella Entertainment released the film on DVD. Despite having more extras than their 2001 DVD, this release was censored. This version would seem to be the same as the UK DVD released by Nouveaux.


Thanks to Umbrella Entertainment for the following clarification.

We had several reasons for opting for this print, namely the transfer quality, and did not mention that the film was Uncut or Uncensored anywhere on the DVD.


Michael D's Review
Technically this is an uncut version of the film, however the print has been modified in the form of a brief digital zoom (optical reframing). This zoom lasts for eight seconds and occurs at 55:04 during a scene with a young boy and girl playing naked. The offending eight seconds has an adult woman pulling on the young boys penis as a form of punishment. Although the scene remains intact, the frame has been zoomed to obscure the act from the audience.


This censored scene was complete in the 2001 Madman Entertainment DVD.


In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - Umbrella Entertainment [au] DVD



2016: Umbrella Entertainment DVD #3

In November 2016, Umbrella rereleased IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES on DVD as part of their World Classics series. We presume this is the same censored print that they used in 2008.


In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - Umbrella Entertainment [au] DVD 2



Next Films: Irreversible (2002)  or  A to Z Listing