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SADA (director: Nobuhiko Obayashi; screenwriter: Yuko Nishizawa; cinematographer: Noritaka Sakamoto; editor: Nobuhiko Obayashi; music: Sotaro Manabu ; cast: Hitomi Kuroki (Sada Abe), Tsurutaro Kataoka (Tatsuzo Kikumoto), Norihei Miki (Takuzo Abe), Kippei Shiina(Masaru Okada), Bengaru (Tachibana), Masaku Ikeuchi (College student rapist); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hisao Nabeshima/Kyoko Obayashi; Home Vision Entertainment; 1998-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Titillatingly bizarre.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi (“Song of Goodbye”/”The Reason”/”The Last Snow”) visits the Sada Abe (Hitomi Kuroki, Japanese TV star) scandal of 1936, the often filmed tale about the infamous Japanese geisha who strangled and castrated her lover for reasons that have puzzled the Japanese people ever since. Sada was found three days later wandering the streets, carrying his severed penis. It’s inspired by Nagis Oshima’s controversial arthouse masterpiece “In The Realm of the Senses (1976).” The erotic thriller is penned by Yuko Nishizawa and is beautifully photographed in both b/w and Technicolor, and features hyper-stylized sets, silent-movie accelerated motion (with Keystone Kop street chases) and pixellation (giving it a cartoonish look).

Obayashi traces Sada’s unfortunate life in a search for answers to her odd behavior, and starts when the merchant’s lower-middle-class virgin daughter was raped at 14 by a rich, cruel and arrogant college student (Masaku Ikeuchi)) and subsequently treated gently by a sunglass wearing medical student, Okada (Kippei Shiina). She becomes smitten with him, but he is never seen again by her as he abruptly leaves for an isolated island because he has Hansen’s disease (leprosy)–something he doesn’t tell her.After running around with a gang of teen street thieves, Sada becomes a geisha and then a successful prostitute. She becomes the kept woman of a wealthy politician (Bengaru), who arranges for her to get into the restaurant business. But Sada is smitten by the restaurant owner’s husband Tatsuzo (Tsurutaro Kataoka) and begins a destructive steamy affair with him that ends in a kinky sexual tryst going overboard.

The film takes this tragic subject matter and makes it feel artificially lighthearted, as if it were a slapstick comedy. Though pretty to look at and titillatingly bizarre, I found it gross considering the tragic real story and felt it hardly did justice in telling Sada’s story. It only adds to her mystery, because in the end we still know little of Sada’s mind-set and motivations.

The aesthetically pleasing but ultimately vulgar exploitation film, won the International Critics Prize at the 1998 Berlin film Festival.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”