The Last of the 'Isagiyoi' Plays
20 Years in Paris

Porn in Japan is Psycho in Paris, Nearly Forever

by Makiko Suzuki

Paris:- Tuesday, 15. October 1996:- I love going to the movies. I think I saw more than a hundred films during my stay in Paris. Among them there are several movies I saw more than once, and one of them was 'L'Empire des Sens' (Ai no Corrida), directed by Nagisa Oshima.

It first played in Paris around 1973, but it could - and still can - be seen. I went to see the movie for the first time in 1980, in March.


I went there with a couple of French girls and a Japanese woman. We met at the cafe "L'Ecritoire" in the Place de la Sorbonne. I was recently told that this cafe was still at the same place, which I was really happy to hear. It had been one of my favorite cafes; its location is ideal, and its name sounds really nice. Yves Duteil sang a song entitled 'L'Ecritoire' and I bought an album which included it.

Anyway, in 1980 we went to the movie theater 'St. Andre des Arts' near métro Saint-Michel, which was the only place that 'L'Empire des Sens' could be seen.

In Japan, this film was categorized as 'pornographic' and Oshima, who was not satisfied with this government decision, fought against it. Unfortunately, the decision was not changed - so around 1973, many Japanese were coming to Paris just to see this movie 'without any modification', that is, the director's version.

St. Andre

'Pariscope,' one of Paris' weekly program magazines, did not categorize this movie in as 'porno' but as a 'psycho,' and I wanted to watch it myself to see if it was a porno or a psycho. The result - was one of the most beautiful movies I had ever seen; including the story, music, camera angles; the visual effect of it all. It was based on a true story, and I was curious to see how Oshima had made it artistic.

The story is rather simple. A girl, a housemaid - Sada is her name - falls in love with her master - Kichi, an innkeeper - and Sada kills Kichi by strangling him.

The scenes of them making love are passionate, sometimes crazy, but sad at the same time - because they knew their destiny would not be a happy one. When Sada kills Kichi, Kichi lets her do so; Kichi knows he is being killed, but does not protest at all. Afterwards, silently, Sada cuts off his penis and holds it as if it were her baby or something, cherishing it until she is arrested.

When I saw this movie for the first time, I could not grasp its theme, perhaps because there were so many shocking scenes. In Japan, 'officially' and 'legally' pornographic films are banned, and I had never before seen such scenes as a woman and a man making love.

drugstore logo

I still thought, however, it was a sad love story. After the movie, we walked a few blocks silently. We could not find suitable words to express our thoughts. It was cold, so we entered the Publics Drugstore at the corner of St. Germain des Prés.

"Well," one of the French girls said, "it surely was a beautiful film, but I wonder what Oshima wanted to express."

"It's true," I said, "I cannot see the subject of the movie. Sadness? Well, it's a sad story, but it's not enough."

Then my Japanese friend said, "Why don't we see it again? Next time we'll be able to see it more calmly; we'll get used to those sensual scenes." We laughed and agreed with her.

A week later, we went to see it again. We could see it more calmly, as my Japanese friend suggested. After the movie, we went to the Drugstore again. Drinking beer, we discussed a lot, but nobody could find suitable words to express its subject.

"Anyway," one of the French girls said, "I cannot believe that a guy lets his girlfriend kills him even if he loves her."

"Oh," I said, "Then how about Sada? Can you believe a girl kills her lover?"

"Yeah," she answered, "Sometimes love makes a woman mad. Don't you think so?"


"I think that's the point! Kichi is a typical Japanese guy. I can understand why Kichi let Sada kill him, but Sada is a typical woman," I cried and continued, "You see, any woman in the whole world can be like Sada, can act like Sada, but no other guy but a Japanese can act like Kichi!"

"Why is that?" the French girls asked me with curiosity.

"Because it was Kichi that made Sada like that. Sada was certainly sensual, but she was still virgin and hadn't experienced anything sexual before she knew Kichi; it was Kichi who 'trained' her."

"That's why Kichi let Sada kill him, you mean?" they asked.

"Yeah!" we Japanese answered together. "But how come?" the French girls asked again.

"Kichi is a typical Japanese guy. We may use the word 'ideal' instead of 'typical.' Anyway, Kichi thought he was responsible for what Sada had become, so he didn't do anything when Sada started killing him. Listen, can you imagine any French guy letting his lover kill him? Oshima wanted to show us a typical Japanese guy and - let's say - an universal woman," I said. We were silent for a while.

One of the French girls said, "I want to confirm it. Why don't we see it again next week?" This is the reason we saw the movie three times.

I still believe the conclusion we reached is 'one' of the themes Oshima wanted to show us. He might also feel sorry about the fact that there were very few Japanese guys like Kichi nowadays - guys who are 'isagiyoi.' Most of the Japanese guys of today would protest very hard to stop Sada, just like any other guy in any other country.

Mr. Oshima lives in my city, Fujisawa. He had been in the hospital for several months, but has just recovered from an illness. I am really looking forward to the new movie he will be directing next year, because he says his near-fatal illness will have an influence on it.

The film is not banned, but it is still considered a 'porno' in Japan. I wonder how long it will continue to play in Paris.

The End

Editor's note:- I did not know what a 'typical' Japanese man is like, so I asked Makiko Suzuki to tell me. She wrote,

"I use the word 'typical' to mean that he was responsible enough to let Sada kill him. In Japanese there's a word 'isagiyoi.' When you look for this word in a 'Japanese-English dictionary,' it says 'sportsmanlike,' but it is not correct, because 'isagiyoi' is unique to Japanese. There is no notion of 'isagiyoi' in English, French, or other Asian languages.

You've heard of the word 'seppuku' (the French call it 'harakiri,' but it is not correct either). 'Seppuku' is an action that clearly shows the meaning of 'isagiyoi.' Before one does 'seppuku,' one should not make any excuse or explanation for doing it. If you do, you are despised, and it becomes a horrible dishonor for your whole family.

This spirit was certainly alive before World War II. Since the war, especially after the 60's, you can hardly find Japanese guys who are 'isagiyoi.' They make a lot of excuses, try to avoid the responsibility for what they've done.

I think Kichi was mentally like a samurai who was told to do 'seppuku.' He was partially guilty for the fact that he had trained Sada - but Oshima supposed, I imagine, that Kichi was also happy to be killed by Sada."

Makiko Suzuki©1996

Editor's extra note: About a month ago when Makiko first proposed this story, 'L'Empire des Sens' was playing at a cinema in the Latin Quarter, quite near the the café she mentioned - but not at the 'St. Andre des Arts' cinema. The famous 'Drugstore' at the St. German des Prés intersection closed in December 1995, and is now, again, a ordinary pharmacy.

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