I hesitated for quite a while before deciding to include a review of this film. Not for reasons of the film's content, but because of the volumes that have already been written about it. Midnight Eye's main goal after all is to honour those Japanese films that do not already get heaps of attention in the Western media.
However, with the many times Ai No Koriida is mentioned in our other reviews it would be an oversight not to include it in this reviews section. Also, even though so much has been written about both the film's themes and its scandalous reputation, there is one question which cannot be argued about enough: is this film pornographic?
The story of Ai No Koriida is based on the true story of Sada Abe, a young chambermaid and former prostitute who falls deeply in love with her employer Kichi. Despite Kichi's marital status, the attraction is mutual and their adulterous affair soon evolves into one of unbridled and unbound passion.
Oshima focuses on the ever increasing passion that develops between the two lovers, reducing everything else to secondary status or less. This quite simply is a story about a love that knows no boundaries and grows all-consuming. It's a love that at first glance might seem more carnal than emotional, since the two spend nearly all their time together (amounting to months of almost non-stop lovemaking) in Kichi's bedroom, where all shame is left at the door.
As a result this film is explicit. There are close-ups of genitals, fellatio, penetration, et al. By Japanese standards (or at least by the Japanese ratings board's standards) this film goes very far indeed. Which is why Oshima partnered with a foreign producer, to officially make his film a French production. After the film was shot in the Daiei studios in Japan, it was shipped off to a Parisian editing suite, thus allowing Oshima to negate the Eirin censors entirely.
Ai No Koriida's explicitness is inherent to the story. Oshima didn't go to France because he wanted to make a hardcore film. He was looking for a way to film the story of Sada Abe and above all to truthfully depict the passion between her and Kichi. Those who claim that this films is pornographic know little about the art of cinema and, it would seem, even less about what it means to be human. I would like to think that those who yell 'porn' at the slighest sight of on-screen sexual explicitness have no emotional life of their own, but besides being unlikely, this is also too easy an explanation.
More likely it's a claim of hypocrisy. How can those chastising Oshima for making little more than arty porn live with the things that go on in their own bedrooms? Surely everyone who has ever known love can feel the emotional intensity in Oshima's film? Every act depicted in it springs forth from the characters and their motivations and as such is fully justified within the context of the story. Despite what the myriad of close-ups might suggest, this film is not about carnality. Oshima's approach was the right one, and the opposite choice - to not show - would have been far, far worse.
I think it was Edgar Allan Poe who said that only when an artist is truly honest can he create a masterpiece. Though I very much hesitate to call it a masterpiece, Ai No Koriida is certainly a work of honesty, and a valuable and emotionally rich piece of cinema.