Banned at the New York Film Festival! Acclaimed as an erotic masterpiece! Can any movie live up to decades of this kind of hype? Well ….What we have here, folks, is art-house hardcore porn. The first couple of instances of explicit copulation take you by surprise, but after a while the incessant rutting becomes numbing, as it’s probably meant to. It’s based on a real, notorious incident in Japan in 1936. Elko Matsuda is Sada, a former whore who goes to work as a geisha in the house of Tatsuya Fuji. He makes immediate advances towards her, having no idea what he’s getting into. Sada, it turns out, is sexually insatiable; he can never have enough erections to satisfy her. The affair turns sadomasochistic as the couple push themselves towards the ultimate ecstasy.
Actually, if you approach this as a sick comedy about a guy getting way more nookie than he can handle, right up to the gut-wrenching logical conclusion, the movie plays better. Director Nagisa Oshima manages many scenes of tender and dangerous erotica; the film isn’t bad by any means — never a dull moment, as they say — but neither is it the great radical work you may expect after all those years of awed reviews. At best it’s a thinking person’s XXX flick; at worst it’s as repetitive as a porn video with a title like Japanese Sluts Who Can’t Get Enough, Vol. 5.