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Empire Of Passion
cast: Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Tatsuya Fuji, and Takahiro Tamura

director: Nagisa Oshima

101 minutes (18) 1978
widescreen ratio 16:9
Nouveaux DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by John Percival
Empire Of Passion is an interesting, if overly long, cautionary tale. Set in a small village in 19th century Japan, it is a story of love, murder and ghostly justice, centring primarily on the character of Seki, a wife and mother who serves in the local Sake house. Her husband Gisaburo works hard as a rickshaw driver and has a habit of drinking hard too. He is a stern 'man of the house' and Seki attends to his needs as the dutiful housewife.

Seki has also caught the eye of another man Toyoji, a solider just returned from the war. Toyoji is some 20 years younger than Seki and while her husband is out he often makes visits to her bringing gifts. There is no doubt that Seki enjoys the attention. Toyoji makes no attempt to hide the fact that he loves her and intends for their relationship to become physical and when it does, it is in an unsettlingly violent way. However, Seki accepts that she loves Toyoji too.

Obviously the fly in the ointment is Seki's husband Gisaburo and if he were to discover the affair then the result would be extremely violent through the shame bought on the family and Gisaburo's sense of male pride. So the two lovers conspire to kill Gisaburo and dispose of his body in an old well, the cover story would be that Gisaburo has gone to Tokyo to work. This is not something they enter into lightly and with Toyoji guiding Seki they do the deed. But Seki is wracked with guilt.

All is well for a while and even though the local gossips are curious they have no evidence. Three years pass and strange things begin to happen. A drinking buddy of Gisaburo, unaware that the rickshaw is dead, dreams that Gisaburo visits him and asks for clean clothes as he has been wearing his current ones for a very long time. This is dismissed, but then Toyoji develops a compulsion of dropping leaves down the old well. Leaves are a fuel source and this is odd behaviour. When the local Master catches Toyoji in the act, Toyoji must think quickly and states that he was just disposing of spoiled leaves.

The true beginning of the end is when the ghost of Gisaburo makes the first of many terrifying visits to Seki. Soon enough the cracks start to appear in her composure and this is further compounded by the arrival of a police inspector investigating the reports of Gisaburo's ghost. The panicking pair decided to try and locate Gisaburo's body in the well, in the process the ghost visits again this time blinding Seki. This forces Seki to ask the question about their physical relationship and if Toyoji still wants to be with her now that she is 'damaged'. Their erratic behaviour gives the Inspector enough suspicion to arrest the lovers and 'beat' a confession out of them. They are then forced to witness the retrieval of Giasburo's body before being taken away for execution. The events then fade into village folklore and serve as a cautionary tale for cheating lovers.

Empire Of Passion is quite watchable, from the great vision of 19th century rural Japan to some pretty good acting. It also helps to illustrate that regardless of culture, crimes of passion have always occurred and that they also have a cost. The 18 certificate on this DVD does not relate to the ghost/horror element of the story as it is not scary or gory at all. It does however refer to the sexual activity and nudity elements, however I doubt that this film would really be of interest to anyone under 18 anyway.

The quality of film is good for the time with plenty of shadow and mist to add atmosphere. The Japanese language soundtrack can feature a lot of shouting but otherwise is acceptable. Extras on the disc include a documentary on erotic cinema in Japan, and a picture gallery.

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