14 December 2008 | Rapeman13
Arty Love/Ghost Story
Empire of Passion is Nagisa Oshima's follow up to his infamous 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses. Based on a novel by Itoko Namura, Empire details the love affair between a young soldier and an older woman.
Toyoji is becoming more and more obsessed with Seki, the wife of a rickshaw jockey. He begins by bringing her little treats and having tea with her while her husband is at work, then eventually works his way up to raping her. Of course, seeing as this is a Japanese film, Seki ends up enjoying the rape and falls head over heels for Toyoji.
The only problem facing the newfound couple's domestic bliss is Seki's husband, Gisaburo. Fortunately, Toyoji thinks of a solution - homicide. So the pair hatch a plan wherein Seki will ply her husband with sake, then when he is well and truly sloshed, Toyoji will pop in for a drive-by strangulation, thus leaving the two in peace.
Everything goes according to plan and the couple dump Gisaburo's body in a disused well. Now they are free to live happily ever after
or are they? When the village-people begin to gossip about Gisaburo's death and his ghost starts appearing to Seki, her daughter and random townsfolk in their dreams and, finally, reality, Seki and Toyoji begin to get a little worried.
Intertwined with the doomed lovers scenario is a traditional Japanese ghost story. Gisaburo returns as a vengeful ghost and harasses Seki while having her serve him sake and gives her a ride in his rickshaw, but in the end gets his retribution.
Empire of Passion is an entirely different film than In the Realm of the Senses, for one it has none of the explicit sex, perverse fetishes or indeed the powerful emotional pull that Senses has (no penis-lopping here folks). It's true that both films portray fanatical love affairs and show the lengths two people bloated with love can go to but they do it in two completely different ways.
In contrast to In the Realm of the Senses, which had an obsessive/possessive female lead, Empire of Passion has a young male playing the role of the infatuated lover. But once Toyoji conquers Seki and has her all to himself he begins to loose interest and she becomes the insecure one. The couple of sex scenes that are shown are not shot from an intimate, candid angle like Senses but more from a voyeur's point-of-view.
All in all Empire of Passion is a decent portrayal of illicit love set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Japanese forest. See this if you have a fondness for arty love stories and/or vengeful ghost tales.