Thought: In the Realm of the Senses and the World in 1936

Great art lingers. I only saw Nagisa Oshima’s controversial In the Realm of the Senses once and it left me an impression for years. The film was an excellent excuse for my young self to watch explicit sex scenes and call it art. Great art surprises. After a few shots (pun intended) that shocked my innocent mind, the sex in the film became tedious, numbing and depressing. In spite of the emotion and the intensity, there was no pleasure between the two lovers; at least, I did not recall any. Based on the true story of Abe Sada, the film is a nuanced critique of Japan.

Abe’s lover was Ishida Kichizo. He owned some properties, was financially secured and seemed to have lots of free time. Had Netflix, Pornhub and video games been created in the 1930s, he would be one who would binged watch shows and videos, or playing games all days, all nights. Given the reality, he had to settle with a sex work irl, unfortunately. When I started writing this post, I was trying to equate him to a modern day shut-in or Hikikomori. The analogy fails because Ishida was a middle-aged man and what he was running away from were not exactly the same, even though it is possible that the suppressing societal culture has not changed in the past 80 years.

In the film, Ishida seemed to be middle class and educated, some sort of a bourgeois. I recall the mentions of his socialist/communist friends who were either on the run or had already arrested by the government. [Spoiler alert] Before he was killed by Abe, he walked passed a group of young soldiers and he turned his head away. It was 1936, the war drum was loud, and the young men were marching for the hope and glory of the country under a nationalist narrative. When what you said meant nothing, when what you did would be lost, when your individual identity was denied, what would you do?

(From Wikipedia. The photo was taken when she was arrested. Everyone was smiling. Twitter would have a field day if it were available.)

I don’t know how one would feel in the first half of the 20th century. I could never understand why, if I were a Canadian, would volunteer to fight in a trench thousand miles away where both sides would gassing each other with the newly invented chemical. I am lucky that I do not find myself in trenches. Nevertheless, the shocks and the following uncertainty since the Great Recession seem have created a new world that we do not understand. This is how I imagine one would feel in 1936, or in 1911, 1914, 1929, etc.

Now, time for internet shopping.

Disclaimer: Great art makes you think. I have not rewatched the film, so many of the details in this post may be a mere creation in my own mind.

Note: This post was inspired by an article on the relevance of Akira.

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