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Review: Sada

Sada is based upon the same infamous true crime that inspired In the Realm of the Senses. Of course, director Nobuhiko Obayashi (best known for the hallucinatory horror flick Hausu) puts his own unique spin on the lurid material; whereas Nagisa Oshima’s earlier adaptation was relentlessly naturalistic (to the point of featuring explicit onscreen intercourse), this interpretation veers towards the opposite end of the spectrum, embracing the inherent artifice of the medium.

Stylistically, Obayashi borrows liberally from silent movies (complete with a Keystone Cops homage), slapstick comedies, and musicals—all genres rooted in theatrical traditions. Additionally, he intentionally subverts the conventions of modern visual storytelling: he freely alternates between shadowy black-and-white and vibrant color cinematography, blatantly violates the 180-degree rule, frequently jump cuts, shatters the fourth wall—both figuratively (such a when a character kicks a door with enough force to knock the camera askew) and literally (when a thrown brick appears to smash through the lens)—and even changes the frame rate mid-scene (in a particularly memorable sequence, this technique causes the actors to move in a jittery, uncanny manner reminiscent of stop-motion animation). As a consequence of this formal experimentation, the tone of the narrative doesn’t “shift” so much as it swerves violently and unpredictably from one extreme to another; melodramatic tragedy bleeds into absurdist comedy until the two become indistinguishable—poignant meditations on the imminent threat of ultranationalism/imperialism and cartoonish, animé-esque catfights coexist in perfectly chaotic harmony.

Despite these surreal, impressionistic qualities, Sada feels more honest and authentic than Oshima’s comparatively grounded, “realistic” approach. Obayashi immerses the audience in the protagonist’s perspective; we experience her traumas and tribulations through her point-of-view, seeing her numerous “lovers” exactly as she does: as bloated, grotesque beasts hovering over her, their faces contorted into obscene masks of ecstasy.

And that subjectivity creates a significantly stronger emotional connection than simply depicting uncensored penetration.

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