Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
In the Realm of the Senses October 8, 1976
In the Realm of the Senses released in Japan

On this day in 1976, one of the most controversial movies of all time, Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (aka Ai No Corrida), opened in Oshima’s native Japan. The sexually explicit film told the real-life tale of the torrid love affair between hotel maid Sada Abe and her boss Kichizo Ishida, which famously ended when Abe asphyxiated Ishida during sex, and then cut off his penis and testicles (which she then carried in her handbag). Any film tackling this subject would inevitably been mired in controversy, however Oshima pushed the envelope even further during the production of the movie by having his actors Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji engage in unsimulated sex for their highly charged love scenes. To get around Japanese censorship laws, In the Realm of the Senses was deemed a French film, with the footage being sent to France, where it was subsequently edited. When Oshima had completed the film, he premiered it in May 1976 at the Cannes Film Festival, where interest was so great that an unprecedented 13 screenings had to be organized. When the film was released in Japan in October of that year, five minutes had been cut from the original 113 minute version, and many shots had been blurred to obscure the actors’ nudity. The fact that Senses was released in Japan at all was impressive: it was banned after screenings at the New York and Berlin Film Festivals (though both rulings were later overturned), and wasn’t publicly shown in Britain or Canada until the 1990s. In 2000, a full-length version entitled Ai No Corrida 2000 was finally released in Japan, although the actors’ genitalia were still obscured, this time by pixelation.


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Harold and Maude Dec. 20, 1971
Harold and Maude Opens

Hal Ashby's iconic black comedy Harold and Maude opened in theaters on December 20, 1971.

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December 20, 1979
Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

For denizens of the New York theater scene, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All that Jazz provided them the guessing game of the season. What scandals was Fosse going to spill in his expose musical? The film, which tells the story of a Broadway choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), whose excesses in life and work bring him to the edge of a collapse, was clearly modeled on Fosse’s own life. Some actors (like Ann Reinking) play characters very similar to themselves; other figures (like ex-wife Gwen Verdon, producer Hal Prince, and others) are played by others; and other actors (like Jessica Lange) who were close to Fosse play oddly mythic figures. Fosse, who’d started choreographing for film in 1954, was soon pulled to New York to choreograph and eventually direct such musicals as Pippin, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. In 1969, he started making films as well, winning an Oscar in 1972 for Cabaret. A demanding taskmaster and infamous womanizer, the chain-smoking Fosse suffered a heart attack in 1975. It was during this period that Shirley Maclaine (according to her) suggested he create something about his brush with death. The resulting film is a breathtaking musical sleight of hand as Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon reveals his innermost fears and desires only to cover them in the next moment with all that jazz––surreal show stopping dance numbers and Felliniesque romps into his libido and unconscious. In 1987, life imitated art as Fosse died from a heart attack, just moments before his revival of Sweet Charity was to open at the National Theater.

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