L'EMPIRE DES SENS - IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES | British Board of Film Classification
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L'EMPIRE DES SENS - IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES <span>[Abridged version]</span> artwork


Type of media Film

Approved Running time 101m 0s

Release date 28/08/2009

Ratings Info Contains strong real sex, bloody mutilation and sexual fetish theme

Genre(s) Drama, Romance

Director(s) Nagisa Oshima

Cast includes Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda, Aoi Nakajima, Yasuko Matsui, Meika Seri, Kanae Kobyashi, Taiji Tonoyama, Kyoji Kokonae, Naomi Shiraishi, Shinkichi Noda, Komikichi Hari, Kikuhei Matsunoya, Akiko Koyama, Yuriko Azuma, Rei Minami, Machiko Aoki, Mariko Abe, Kyôko Okada, Kiyami Yasuda, Hiroko Fuji

Cut This work was passed uncut.

  • Suitable only for adults icon18

Ratings info

Ratings info publication date 18/08/2009

Note: The following text may contain spoilers

L'EMPIRE DES SENS -IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES is a 1976 Japanese period drama telling the story of a man (Kichizo Ishida) and his geisha (Sada Abe) who embark on an obsessive sexual relationship. Gradually their relationship escalates into dangerous sexual activity (consensual strangulation during sex) and this leads to the murder of Kichizo (through strangulation) and finally his castration by Sada after his death. The film was classified '18' uncut for strong real sex, bloody mutilation and sexual obsession theme.

Although the present submission has not been cut by the BBFC, the distributor chose to remove one scene in its entirety prior to submission. The scene in question had been optically censored (by visual reframing) when the work was previously classified '18' for cinema release in 1991 and '18' for DVD release in 2000. The missing scene shows Sada tugging the penis of a young boy and was felt to be potentially indecent within the meaning of the Protection of Children Act 1978. The previous cinema and DVD releases dealt with this problem by reframing the scene so that the actual contact between hand and penis was below screen, allowing the meaning of the scene to remain (through facial reactions) whilst removing the potential indecency. On this occasion, however, the distributor has chosen to delete the entire sequence.

L'EMPIRE SES SENS - IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES contains several scenes of unsimulated sexual activity between the two lead characters, as well as between some of the other house geishas, including close up sight of masturbation, oral-genital contact, fellatio, vaginal penetration and ejaculation. The BBFC's Guidelines at '18' state that the Board is likely to require cuts 'where there are more explicit images of sexual activity which cannot be justified by context' and that such images would normally be confined to the 'R18' category in the case of 'sex works'. However, L'EMPIRE DES SENS is not a 'sex work' as defined by the BBFC's Guidelines in that its primary purpose is not to sexually arouse or stimulate the audience. Rather, its purpose is to explore a sexually obsessive relationship between two people and to examine how such a level of obsession can lead to tragedy. Furthermore, the images are justified by the narrative context of the work, which seeks to present the relationship - and its consequences - in a detailed, unflinching and open manner.

The scene of bloody mutilation occurs at the end of the film when, having killed Kichizo during an act of erotic asphyxiation, Sada cuts off her partner's penis as a keepsake. The castration is shown in explicit detail, with the knife cutting into the penis and blood flowing and then sight of the bloody stump and the detached member. This scene clearly transgresses the Board's Guidelines at '15' where violence 'should not dwell on the infliction of pain and injury' and 'the strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable'. However, the scene in question is unlikely to raise a risk of harm at the adult level, not only because it is presented in a manner that is extremely unattractive but also because it occurs as the culmination of what is clearly a very specific and dangerous relationship between two obviously damaged individuals. Previously Sada has threatened that, were Kichizo to leave her, she would kill him and cut off his penis. This final scene illustrates both the extent of her grief and the extent of her obsessiveness and it is fitting that the culmination of their relationship is presented as graphically as the sexual activity in the rest of the work.

L'EMPIRE DES SENS - IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES also contains a scene of sexual violence in which Kichizo grabs an elderly geisha and penetrates her from behind. This act leads to her death, albeit through exhaustion rather than violence. However, the scene (which does not include any explicit detail) is discreetly presented and does not eroticise or endorse what is being shown. Rather, it illustrates the increasing sexual obsession of the main couple and their mental and moral degeneration. At '18', the BBFC's Guidelines state that intervention is most likely with 'portrayals of sexual or sexualised violence which might, for example, eroticise or endorse sexual assault'. That is not the case with this brief scene, which must also be seen in the light of the very specific culture of the time, in which the master was very much free to do as he wished.

The film also contains scenes of a sadomasochistic nature, including Sada and Kichizo experimenting with consensual strangulation during sex but also Sada asking one of her other clients (whom she leaves in favour of Kichizo) to pinch and slap her during sex. Although the BBFC considered carefully whether such scenes might have the potential to promote or endorse such activity, it was concluded that the risks of the activities shown are clearly demonstrated (not least through Kichiko's death) and that they occur within the context of a narrative about what is shown to be a dangerous and unhealthy relationship.

L'EMPIRE SES SENS - IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES additionally contains a number of strong verbal sex references. It also contains scenes of smoking, including smoking during sex.

Finally, it is worth noting that the film exists in two different versions - a 108 minute version and a 102 minute version. Although the version classified for cinema release in 1991 was the full 108 minute version, on this occasion the shorter 102 minute version was submitted. This shorter version was also the version classified for DVD release in 2000. The only differences between the original 108 minute version and this version are that six narrative scenes have been removed and/or shortened. None of the explicit content present in the original version has been removed and the edits appear to have been made for pacing reasons rather than censorship reasons. Of course, the present version runs at approximately 101 minutes (as opposed to 102 minutes) because of the deletion of the legally problematic scene discussed earlier.


Title Information
Abridged version
Also known as
BFI Films
Classified date(s)
Main language
Submitted run time
101m 0s
Approved footage
BBFC reference
Registration number

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