Whereas fellow Japanese New Waver Shohei Imamura sees it as the prime animal impulse weaving humanity together, sex for Nagisa Oshima is a conscious act of revolt, thus a political weapon. Yet, far from the no-hold-barrels liberation manifesto it's usually hailed as, his triple-X cause cÚlebre fuckathon is actually among the fullest expressions of the disillusionment already latent in even his early '60s attacks -- desire turned inwards, a couple's decision to drop out, tune off, and fuck into oblivion. The story, set in 1936, is fact-based, almost folk-mythology, as former prostitute Eiko Matsuda hooks up with master Tatsuya Fuji, who runs the inn where she toils as a maid; he hikes up her kimono as she cleans floors and they're off to the races, searching for the continuous orgasm. Death lurks in the Japanese title's reference to bullfighting (the lovers' room, increasingly so filthy that even their geishas get grossed out, stands for the arena), but the international title's emphasis on sensory immersion is no less apt -- the affair's all-consuming nature burns on all human cylinders, shamisen strumming and singing during intercourse, an egg sucked into a vagina before being shoved into a mouth, pubic hair trimmed and swallowed, menstrual blood licked from fingers. A slow track in a mock-marriage tableau is reversed to reveal an orgy barely paying attention to a pantomiming joker; yet Oshima's visual treatment, as limpid as Edo woodblock prints, shuns prurience, so that a Bazinian shot of Matsuda sucking off Fuji while he calmly smokes his cigarette (capped by cum dribbling down her chin in close-up) summarizes the medium's voyeurism while radiating passion, relaxed transgression and, paradoxically enough, chasteness. Their coitus non-interruptus utopia, however, is gradually revealed as a complacent refuge from the responsibilities of the world, ultimately unable to keep Thanatos from intruding upon Eros as slapping, pinching and strangling join the foreplay. Though not necessarily a feminist text, the film places the majestic-terrifying sexual motor in the women, whose force shifts the penis into their object of desire -- is it any wonder that Matsuda emerges as Oshima's survivor, welcomed back into society clutching her love's severed genitalia, dazed and mad and glowingly happy?
--- Fernando F. Croce