Empire Of Passion

"OK"

Empire Of Passion Review


Love does funny things to men. Logic and reason go out the window to satisfy an emotional craving -- up is down, together is apart, and death is life. To quench Toyoji and Seki's lustful thirst in Empire of Passion, it means killing Seki's alcoholic, rickshaw-pulling husband and then barely seeing each other for three years. If that weren't bad enough, the locals are starting to talk, and the ghost of Seki's husband begins showing up in dreams. Set in a small Japanese village in the late 1800s, Empire of Passion's bizarre passion is thinly veiled by its kaidan story. Western eyes would likely equate the pale-faced, dark-hair apparition to the ghouls of popular J-horror, but traditional kaidan play more on a character's writhing guilt than on typical cinematic scares -- Seki's husband, Gisaburo, doesn't crawl out of any TVs or screech like a cat (he does, however, escape the well that Toyoji and Seki used to dispose of him). Before horror fans start lapping at the freshly spilled blood, Empire of Passion's ghost story is a diversion from Toyoji and Seki's shocking and, at times, brutal sexual relationship.

Gisaburo was always in the way of Toyoji and Seki, but murder wasn't an option until Toyoji decided to restrain Seki and shave her. Of course, Gisaburo would eventually see Seki's smoothness and know that she's been with another man. And that just won't do. The interesting thing isn't that the two commit the murder together, but that Toyoji's single, selfish desire of the flesh motivates it. When he's with Seki, he's only concerned with dominating her submissiveness. His lustful passion blinds him to the consequences of his actions. And the trouble for the two lovers, and the film alike, begins with Gisaburo's death.

While the ghost story plays out by the numbers -- the town's folk rumors grow, the police get involved, and the undead Gisaburo appears until his secret is revealed -- questions about Toyoji and Seki's relationship haunt us. Why is Seki willing to die for a man who forces himself upon her? Does Toyoji feel any guilt for Gisaburo's? What is the driving force behind Toyoji's need for control? Empire of Passion gives us plenty of questions, but not enough answers. After showing a passionate and violent exchange between Toyoji and Seki, director Nagisa Oshima pushes the characters to the background in favor of plot-driven mystery with the town's folk and police hot on the missing Gisaburo case. That's not to say that the sexuality should hit as hard as Oshima's acclaimed In the Realm of the Senses (a film that features graphic sex and is still censored in Japan). The problem is that in Empire of Passion there is no power in its sex. Instead of understanding why Toyoji and Seki need each other, their violent sexual desires are merely an interesting character motivation within a ghost story, rather than being a sexual exploration story with a ghost in it.

With Oshima more interested in what's happening rather than why it's happening, the predictable plot is lifeless. Luckily, the film's vibrant visuals pulsate on screen, bringing the film some blood. As Empire of Passion moves through the seasons, Oshima brings a new palette of colors to paint on the screen. Spring rain saturates the mud browns, red and yellow fall leaves glitter as they float down the well, and white blankets of winter cool and isolate the two lovers. Oshima's rich blacks and foggy blues even send a chill sprinting down the spine during scenes with Gisaburo's ghost. Though visuals are an unsatisfying substitute for character, they are still effective, especially in contrasting physical beauty with the emotional brutality of Toyoji and Seki. Even if Empire of Passion's story is forgettable, you'd be hard pressed to forget the stunning images of Oshima's brutal world.

Aka Ai no borei.



Empire Of Passion

Facts and Figures

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Monday 26th March 1979

Distributed by: Barbary Coast

Production compaines: Toho-Towa, Argos Films, Oshima Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Toyoji, as Seki, as Gisaburo, Takuzo Kawatani as Inspector Hotta, Masami Hasegawa as Oshin, Akiko Koyama as Mother of Landowner, Osugi as Dancer, Sumie Sasaki as Odame, Taiji Tonoyama as Toichiro

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