Release date: September 6th, 1978
Running time: 101 minutes
Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese
Writer and director: Nagisa Oshima
Cast: Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Tatsuya Fuji, Takahiro Tamura
Love and lust are powerful emotions that can drive us to actions we wouldn’t normally even consider committing. How often have we felt a burning desire, especially toward an object of affection that’s forbidden – one that belongs to another? What would you do in order to have that person all for yourself, what would you do to free yourself of one in order to leap into the arms of another? Perhaps more importantly, what consequences would such crimes of passions have?
One particular crime of passion turns to murder in Nagisa Oshima’s follow-up to the hugely controversial In The Realm of the Senses (1976). Made while the director was still being prosecuted for his earlier film, Empire of Passion sets the stage for breaking even more taboos.
Set in Japan in 1895, the story centres on a young soldier, Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji), and an older married woman, Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), who begin an illicit affair. Driven by lust and jealousy on Toyoji’s part, the couple decide to murder Seki’s husband, Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura). They ply him with alcohol, once drunk; they then strangle him to death and dispose of his body.
Free to now carry on their sexual escapades but still in secret, Seki tells anyone who asks that Gisaburo is away on business. Time goes on and soon three years have passed but rather than living happily ever after with the crime they’ve committed, something else happens. Gisaburo returns from the dead to wreak his revenge. With his pale face and ghostly eyes he haunts them, taunting them and playing on their guilt, he pushes them to the brink of insanity.
It’s a frightening tale at times and the atmosphere is tense as Oshima unfolds a traditional ghost story mixed with erotic elements. In a film where love and rape seem to go hand in hand it raises questions early on as to how Seki could fall in love with Toyoji. Was her rape a necessary element in Toyoji breaking down her defences or is it a misogynistic element of Oshima’s storytelling, also present in In The Realm of the Senses?
Either way, he’s a filmmaker who knows how to touch audiences’ nerves and Empire of Passion weaves revulsion, arousal and fear together in a compelling narrative. As the guilty couple are slowly driven mad, Gisaburo’s ghost can be seen both as literal and figurative. Is he really there or is he a by-product of their guilt?
For fans of traditional Japanese ghost stories and Nagisa Oshima, Empire of Passion is a film that should be seen and then discussed for its many interesting points as well as its influence on contemporary Asian horror.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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