Archive for October 11th, 2012

Lowly rickshaw driver Gisaburo is away from his young wife Seki for many hours during the day whilst she stays at home looking after the home and his young children. A young soldier Toyoji starts to visit her home regularly and brings some treats to soften her up. Gisaburo suspects something is up between the two but on asking his wife she says he’s silly for thinking such things. But one day, Tojoyi brings more than treats to Seki and pounces on her sexually. Whilst struggling at first, she submits to his will and soon the two are lovers. Toyoji is eaten alive at the fact that he cannot be with Seki whilst Gisaburo is still alive so the two plan on murdering him. Seki plies him with saki to get him drunk one night and Toyoji comes into the house, grabs a strong rope and together with Seki they strangle poor Gisaburo before taking his body into the woods and throwing it down an abandoned well. Seki explains to her neighbours that her husband has gone to Tokyo to look for work. Three years pass and the neighbours are suspicious that Gisaburo has not returned to see his wife. His children are soon having bad dreams about their father being dead and his ghost starts to appear. The police are notified and start to investigate the reports of Gisaburo’s ghost. Will Tojoyi and Seki’s terrible secret reveal itself to the police or can they get away with it?

Director Nagisa Oshima is probably best known for his erotic movie ‘In The Realm Of The Senses’ which is famous for its unsimulated sex and a scene in which a man’s penis is cut off (in it’s uncensored form the movie is still banned in Japan). This movie which was the 2nd of a projected 3 picture deal Oshima had with French producer Anatole Dauman is a drama ghost story with the hardcore sex absent. Dauman was unhappy with the result of this movie, scrapped the agreement between the two and Oshima never had the chance to make the 3rd movie. Whilst there are some similarities between this movie and ‘In The Realm Of The Senses’ as both deal with lust and sex, the way the story is told is definitely different as it also contains a traditional Japanese ghost story. The spectre of Gisaburo constantly harasses his wife to the point that she starts to become petrified of staying in the house overnight to sleep. Even though I’ve mentioned there’s no hardcore sex in the movie, it does contain a couple of not so explicit scenes between the lovers. The movie is suitably creepy at times and as Gisaburo’s ghost appears more regularly the tension starts to build. There’s an air of dread in the air which preys on Seki’s mind constantly to the point of hysteria. Every time she’s at home she expects to see Gisaburo’s ghost though she gets no sympathy from her lover Toyoji as the ghost doesn’t appear before him at all. There’s quite a shocking scene right at the end involving the police which shows them brutally hanging Seki and Toyoji from a tree and smacking the two extremely hard with some canes to solicit a confession out of them for Gisaburo’s murder. Even if the two weren’t guilty of the crime, I’m sure anybody would confess to the police in order for them to stop the brutal punishment. Some viewers like myself that sees the deep dark well that plays a prominent role in the movie will immediately think of Ringu but there’s no Sadako-like demon crawling out of this well.

I liked what Oshima achieved with this riveting tale. It’s got a powerful story, capable acting by the cast, stunning cinematography and I just felt it was an improvement on it’s sister movie ‘In The Realm Of The Senses’.

Overall, Empire of Passion is a solid illicit love/vengeful ghost story. It’s true that it’s not quite as brilliant as Japanese powerhouse ghost stories like Kwaidan or Onibaba but it’s still worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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