Empire of Passion 愛の亡霊 (1978) – Japan
The film's goal, design, direction and pacing are solid.
The film's ending is weaker than its other parts.
Their needed discretion, of the film’s characters, builds a boiling pressure in the relationship, to the point where confession seems inevitable, but they find more trouble in abandoning the plan, still bound by some love, even when an officer exhaustively questions the town. But for what, they begin to ask each other, when time permits, have they acted out, to have ridden their tiny world of passion a living obstacle, her husband? It seems all their deeds for paradise provide no benefit in Oshima’s Empire of Paradise, and the fact that they can’t open up to others what they feel, of guilt and how it has chipped their every ounce of want for life, gives an entertainment that should be viewed many times, distinct in its elements for Poe-ian horror.
Two Tell Tale Hearts
A middle-aged woman, Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), wife of the local rickshaw driver and mother of two, falls in affair with Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji), a very young, recent soldier returning to his home in town after war. She is much older than him, but he loves her for showing him youthful love anyway. They lust and indulge together, finding pleasure in hiding scandal, for days, until they can’t, when Toyoji marks Seki in a revealing way. With her husband, Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura), soon to discover, they must make haste to kill him and discard of his corpse, down a deep well, bound by a promise, for silence in despair.
The film follows them again after three years pass. They aren’t close as before, rather, the opposite is true, as Seki and Toyoji seclude themselves from the public near completely, with town suspicions too high. Where is Gisaburo, supposedly away for far-off work in bustling Tokyo, with his rickshaw still at home, they ask, and what does Toyoji do by the well in the woods at dawn, throwing leaves down its depths?
The narrative follows a framework often used with short story horror, with supernatural events unfolded for the sake of explaining hasty, immoral decisions of characters. Of kaidan, a folkloric sub-category of Japanese ghost tales in literary fiction and film, Empire of Passion is remarkable example of style over substance, with its viewtiful scapes of grassy town land and rustic interiors layered with bold colors of composition, and a wistful score behind. making a hell of an atmospheric impact and stunning motion picture.
And, though the story is lacking, what with its ending predictable and waning in overall quality when compared to its visuals, it achieves a somber stroke upon completing its arcs, slowing down so as to induce a dreamer’s drunk lingering of events unto your mind rather than haunt.
The lead performances, of Fuji and Yoshiyuki, craft Toyoji’s and Seki’s descent into identity mutation, from their pleasant, public selves for isolate, lonesome ones, with appropriate grimness, and it’s a reward that feels so good to get, with them convincing us of their dire need for speaking out when they can’t. They fear persecution than Gisaburo’s ghost, and it’s a unique lore to watch.
The pacing hugs the set designs with compliment, growing the places more with time, molding a fitting claustrophobia of Seki and Toyoji. They are small and feeble and worthless as the acts paint distance of their town places through progression.
After director Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976) received deserving accolades of fresh provocativeness and much controversy, an ill consensus came on Empire of Passion for being a tamer, less revolutionary work. And it does shy from its sibling’s rebelliousness, but not for trying.
It’s a different picture altogether, and so it deserves a different approach. It plays to conform with tradition of expressionism dread, exaggerating a length of a usual The Twilight Zone episode, for you to savor again and again, with detail and added emotions soon to be enjoyed in devoured consumption.