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EMPIRE OF PASSION(AI NO BOREI) (director/writer: Nagisa Oshima; screenwriter: from the novel by Mrs. Itoko Namura; cinematographer: Yoshio Miyajima; editor: Keiichi Uraoka; music: Tôru Takemitsu; cast: Tatsuya Fuji (Toyoji), Kazuko Yoshiyuki (Seki), Takahiro Tamura (Gisaburo), Takuzô Kawatani(Inspector Hotta), Akiko Koyama (Mother of Landowner), Taiji Tonoyama (Toichiro), Sumie Sasaki (Odame), Eizo Kitamura (Grocer), Masami Hasegawa (Oshin), Kenzo Kawarazaki (Landowner), Takaaki Sugiura(Denzo); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anatole Dauman/Shigeru Wakatsuki; Janus; 1978-Japan/France-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“Never is truly enjoyable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It won Best Director at Cannes in 1978 for controversial Japanese film-maker Nagisa Oshima (“Cruel Story of Youth”/”Death by Hanging”/”Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence”). It’s a less sexually graphic companion piece to In The Realm of the Senses, but one that is equally bold and wicked. The ghost story is from the novel by Mrs. Itoko Namura.

In a country mountain village in 1895, Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji), an idler demobilized soldier returns to his hometown village and has an affair with Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), an attractive but weak-willed married peasant woman with two children who is twenty-six years older. When the grasping soldier shaves her pubic hair on a whim, he then fears her elderly rickshaw driver husband Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura) will learn of the affair and talks her into getting hubby drunk and then they both use a rope to strangle him to death. Toyoji then disposes the body down a well, and she tells neighbors that hubby left the village to find work. Three years later, the ghost of Seki’s husband appears and begins haunting the guilt-stricken lovers to the point they lose their nerve and start acting peculiar. With the appearance of a ghost reported, Inspector Hotta (Takuzô Kawatani) takes charge of the investigation and suspects the couple of murder.

The film is pleasing because it’s technically sound, visually stunning and well-acted. But it never is truly enjoyable or poignant, more of an artistic accomplishment that aims to be a crowd-pleaser. But by cutting down on the sex exploits, a disappointed French producer Anatole Dauman cut ties with the film-maker after also producing In The Realm of the Senses.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”