24 March 2013 | m-sendey
It never feels really convincing
A young man called Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji) has an affair with a married woman, Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), who is twenty years older than him. Nonetheless he isn't preoccupied with it. Toyoji gets increasingly jealous of her husband, thus one day, when her husband is out, Toyoji shaves her pubic hair, upon having sex with Seki. Thereafter, she is agreeable to assist him in killing her husband, not wanting her consort to see her being shaved. They succeed, notwithstanding, after some time, bizarre phenomena begin to transpire
Empire of Passion (1978) aka Ai no borei has a potential that is sadly wasted. The film of Nagisa Oshima, the director of controversial In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), is a mishmash of stronger and weaker ideas. Despite having an interesting concept, which merges erotica as well as kaidan-eiga genre, and a good production design, the flick never manages to be particularly memorable and on the whole it appears very uneven. To start with, the beginning seems very rushed and mauled, scenes rapidly skip from one to another, giving it a rather undisciplined appearance and a textural balance is upended. The character of Seki's husband lacks depth, thus a viewer fails to get acquainted with him and feel pity for him, when he is actually killed. After Seki's consort demise, the pace swiftly slows down and the action drags. At this point, the problematic editing is even more visible, since the content consists of some good scenes as well as totally unnecessary ones and Oshima doesn't fully succeed in focusing on more significant moments, polishing them to perfection. The oneiric parts are neatly handled, nevertheless they don't make a viewer's blood curdle since the tension never becomes overwhelming and there is no real climax of terror. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't send chills down one's spine. The psychological aspect of the two key characters and their carnal obsession remains undeveloped and ineffectively explored. The emotional background which forces Toyoji and Seki to slaughter her husband is rather lame just like the ending which is also executed in an uninspired way which renders the flick even more distant and the story which is intended to be spicy isn't sufficiently sensual. Mise en scène is flawed throughout the whole movie and the paltry writing punctuates it. Notwithstanding, it isn't without its merits. Cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima is tremendous and gives this film a bleak zest and the lighting is pure visual poetry. Sets and costumes look realistic. Peasants' shacks and long grasses swaying in the wind all shrouded in the mist are ravishingly portentous.
Two actors playing Toyoji and Seki i.e. Tatsuya Fuji and Kazuko Yoshiyuki give satisfying performances. There is a fine chemistry between them and their emotions are well exposed. It isn't anything exquisite though and there isn't too much to gloat over since the acting still isn't anything remarkable.
The soundtrack by Toru Takemitsu is absolutely staggering and it is a true work of art that is probably the best aspect of the entire movie. It adds traditional Japanese atmosphere to the movie and folk flutes, which are frequently exploited, stun in their own, ghoulish way. This decidedly belongs to one of the composer's best creations.
It may be stated that it is a bewildering and delightful flick. Notwithstanding, the amazing framing and aesthetic beauty cannot replace the true cinematic value and outshine its multiple flaws. The erratic pace, the ineffective storytelling and writing result in creating an uneven ensemble. It isn't a bad film though – it has a great deal of neatly crafted sequences, some interesting visuals and above all it implicates the phenomenal soundtrack. This simply isn't flabbergasting in terms of high quality. If one is capable of overlooking its numerous shortcomings, it is going to be a decent pastime, however, nothing more than that.