“In the Realm Of The Senses” (1976)

6It might feel like unsimulated sex scenes in serious arthouse cinema is a relatively recent invention in light of films like “The Idiots,” “9 Songs,” “The Brown Bunny,” “Shortbus” and “Nymphomaniac.” But “In The Realm Of The Senses,” from the late Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, caused significant fuss four decades ago. Technically a French production (Japanese laws only allowed the explicit film to be made as a foreign production), it’s set in Tokyo in 1936, as the owner of a hotel (Tatsuya Fuji) begins a boundary-pushing relationship with a maid (Eiko Matsuda) who used to be a prostitute. Based loosely on a real-life event involving a woman named Sada Abe and with the Japanese title “Ai No Corrida” (which translates literally as “Bullfight Of Love,” which is rather more fitting), it’s a portrait of an all-consuming love affair. But while it has political (and particularly in the context of the others films on this list, feminist) overtones, this film manages to effectively mix the sensual and the disturbing. Though obviously there’s more of the latter in the film’s famous finale, in which Fuji is strangled to death mid-coitus and Matsuda then cuts his penis off. It’s a tremendous example of using real sex as a storytelling technique rather than as pure titillation.

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