Sada Nobuhiko Obayashi

In 1936 Japan, a housekeeper named Sada Abe sexually strangled her lover and cut off his penis and testicles. When she was found three days later wandering the streets, Sada was carrying his severed parts. Her crime of passion sold countless newspapers and inspired three films over the decades, with this 1998 feature being the latest. The previous two were Nagashi Oshima's sexually explicit art house masterpiece In the Realm of the Senses, and the lesser known A Woman Called Sada Abe, both from the mid-'70s. Unlike its predecessors, Sada delves more into Sada's background. The film begins with Sada's (Hitomi Kuroki) rape while still a teenager and chronicles her unrequited crush on the medical student who helped her following the crime. As Sada matures into an adult she grows embittered and becomes a prostitute. To make ends meet, hotelier Tatsuzo Kikumoto (Tsurutaro Kataoka) hires her to work in his hotel. Their flirtation turns into tragedy. Sada Abe's story remains fascinating: a fragile psyche that commits a horrific crime in a highly constrained society for women. However, the film fails to do her story justice. Though director Nobuhiko Obayashi is clearly on Abe's side, the playful and sometimes comic tone of Sada is grossly inappropriate, insensitive and ultimately offensive. The liner notes state that the film depicts "in painful detail, Sada Abe's rape and humiliation," but the scene is artificially staged like a theatre production. In fact, the entire movie looks like it was shot solely on a soundstage and carries a fake, theatrical look. The Colours are gleefully bright and saturated throughout a drama that features rape and murder, and jump-cuts, colour changes and reverse angles are used excessively. Worst of all, the acting has all the depth of an American sitcom. The transfer to DVD is sharp and vivid, but aside from trailers and filmographies, there are no extras on this disc. (Home Vision/Criterion)