Censorship of In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

The complete version of Nagisa Ôshima’s IN THE REALM OF SENSES had festival screenings in 1977. However, for the next 24-years, only the censored version was available.

It was finally passed uncut in 2001.

In the Realm of the Senses

aka Dans l’empire des sens

aka The Realm of the Senses

Directed by Nagisa Ôshima / 1976 / Japan – France / IMDb

The Australian premiere of IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES was due to take place at the 1976 Perth Film Festival.

At the time, Cinema Papers magazine reported that the Film Censorship Board had ‘…strongly suggested that it not be imported’. However, it was threats from the Western Australian Government that finally saw it dropped from what would be the final ever festival.

The uncut premiere eventually took place the following year at the Sydney Film Festival.

May 31, 1977
Note: this film includes some scenes of an explicit nature which could possibly offend some viewers. Under no circumstances will latecomers be admitted after the start of the session.
AI NO KORÎDA – Tuesday 31st May at 9.30pm.

– 24th Sydney Film Festival program

Here is how the festival’s director, David Stratton, described the event in his autobiography.

January 2008
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 [Chief Censor] 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.

– I Peed on Fellini : Recollections of a Life in Film
– David Stratton

A second uncut screening followed in early June at the 26th Melbourne Film Festival.

The 1976 Perth Film Festival, where it was supposed to premiere, would turn out be the last.

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.

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 year’s 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.

– Perth Fest Nixed
– Cinema Papers No. 13

Censored R-rating

Following the uncut film festival screenings, Consolidated Exhibitors picked it up for distribution.

In August 1977, a 2946.9 meter (107:25) uncut print was Refused Registration due to ‘indecency’.

The following month the Films Board of Review upheld the decision.

October 1977
After successful and controversy-free screenings at the 1977 Melbourne and Sydney film festivals, Nagisa Oshima’s L’EMPIRE DES SENS was submitted for censorship registration. But despite a plea by filmmaker and critic Pierre Rissient, the film was banned.

The distributor, Richard Walberg, then lodged an appeal. This was rejected and Walberg is now faced with only two choices: appeal to the Attorney-General, Senator Durak; or attempt to cut an uncuttable film.

It is difficult to understand why Australia’s films censors have objected to L’EMPIRE. The film, undoubtedly, portrays explicit sexual activity, but it is never prurient. And while such explicitness is usually restricted to dubiously intended sex education films, there has been the recent example of Pasqual Festa Campinale’s THE SEX MACHINE [1975]. This amusing comedy about an Italian scientist who discovers a tappable energy source in an energy-starved world — a sexually mating couple — has more than one minute of hardcore sexual activity. Several commentators have suggested that the censor blinked when watching it, but the Chief Censor, Richard Prowse, did initially ban it. It was released uncut only after appeal. The sexual explicitness of THE SEX MACHINE is, therefore, no accident.

Why then is L’EMPIRE DES SENS deprived of a certificate? This refusal, combined with the furore over the attempts to show the film at last year’s Perth Film Festival, suggest Prowse is trying to make an example of it. But there is nothing in L’EMPIRE DES SENS that has not already been shown on Australian screens. The castration, for example, is no more explicit than that in LA DERNIERE FEMME [THE LAST WOMAN (1976)] and the dribbling semen only mirrors an equally frank close-up in BLACK AND WHITE EMMANUELLE [1976].

The Oshima film is the victim of censorship politics and is yet another sad example of how little the Appeal Board is prepared to ensure freedom of speech.

– Whatever happened to free speech?
– Cinema Papers No. 14

A 2821.50-meter (102:51) ‘reconstructed version’ was finally passed with an R-rating in November 1977.

January 1978
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.

– Cinema Papers No. 15

April 1978
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.

– Cinema Papers No. 16

Refused again

In August 1981, the National Film Theatre of Australia had a 1109.9-meter (101:09) 16mm print banned because of sex. It was described as being:
Frequency: Infrequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

It was also refused due to ‘sexual violence’.

The following month, the Films Board of Review upheld the decision.

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

Censored on video

In July 1982, a 94:03 (PAL) ‘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 it twice on their Star Video label.

The first has a warning on the cover that ‘this film contains explicit scenes’.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - VHS videotape 2
VHS – Star Video

The other was part of their ‘World of Erotica’ range that also included titles such as EMMANUELLE (1974) and THE STORY OF O (1975). An R-rating was now on the cover, under which it stated ‘uncut’. Although undoubtedly graphic, including scenes of fellatio, it is still censored. The English dubbed print is also very dark, which tends to obscure the more explicit moments.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – Star Video

Special Condition video

In August 1983, a 98-minute ‘reduced English language version’ of IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES was passed with the Special Condition ‘that this film/tape will not be exhibited in any State in contravention of State’s law relating to the exhibition of films’.

It was submitted as DANS L’EMPIRE DES SENS and the applicant was Chua Sim Kend.

Classified R again

In May 1985, a 95-minute video English dubbed version was once more passed with an R-rating. The actual running time was again 94:03 (PAL).

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - VHS videotape 3

The applicant, Communications and Entertainment Ltd (CEL) released it as part of a ‘Restricted’ line of tapes that also included BILITIS (1977) and FANNY HILL (1983).

Banned again

In March 1993, a 97-minute VHS was Refused Registration. Presumably, this was the uncut version.

The applicant, Forbidden Planet, was the Melbourne label that released the SHOCKING MARDI GRAS, SHOCKING THAILAND etc. series of documentaries. They were distributed by Home Cinema Group.

R-rated & uncut after 23-years

In January 2000, the Classification Board banned Catherine Breillat’s ROMANCE (1999) for depictions of actual sex. Following an appeal by Potential Films, the Classification Review Board awarded it an R (High levels sex scenes) rating. This was a landmark decision as it allowed, under some circumstances, ‘actual sex’ in the ‘R’ classification.

Their success prompted Potential Films to resubmit an uncut IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. In October 2000, this 102-minute print was awarded an R (High level sex scenes, Medium level violence, Adult themes) rating. A theatrical release followed.

Uncut DVD

In August 2001, Madman Entertainment released IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES on DVD.

Their cover played up the controversial history of the film.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - DVD cover 1
DVD – Madman

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
– DVD cover, Madman Entertainment

Uncut TV screening

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

New consumer advice

In October 2005, a DVD was rated R18+ (High level sex scenes, High level violence, High level themes). This compares with ‘High level sex scenes, Medium level violence, Adult themes’ for the previous October 2000 classification.

It is unclear why Madman Entertainment resubmitted the film, as they did not rerelease it.

Censored DVDs

In March 2008, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES was reissued on DVD by Umbrella. The cover listed the same R18+ (High level sex scenes, High level violence, High level themes) awarded in October 2005 but added ‘Sexual references’ to the consumer advice.

Despite having more extras than the Madman disc, this release was censored.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - DVD cover 2
DVD – Umbrella

April 1978
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 [Sada] 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 version originated in the UK where it had been released by Nouveaux. This sequence had been modified, in one way or another, in all British versions since 1978.

The distributor provided us with the following clarification.

April 1978
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.

– Umbrella Entertainment

They reissued it in November 2016 as part of their ‘World Classics’ series. Presumably, this was the same optically modified version as their previous disc.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) - DVD cover 3
DVD – Umbrella

The offending scene was complete on the 2001 Madman Entertainment DVD.

Nagisa Ôshima double-bill

In March 2022, Umbrella Entertainment released IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES on Blu-ray. Unlike their DVD, this was reportedly uncut.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) & Empire of Passion (1978) - Blu-ray cover 1
Blu-ray – Umbrella

Paired with EMPIRE OF PASSION (1978), it was No. 3 in their ‘Sensual Sinema’ series.