Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Takahiro Tamura, Takuzo Kawatani
Written by: Nagisa Oshima, based on a novel by Itoko Namura
Directed by: Nagisa Oshima
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 05/20/1978
IMDB

Empire of Passion (1978)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Crime and Punishment

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Apparently director Nagisa Oshima intended this to be a companion piece to his erotic hit In the Realm of the Senses (1976), but distributors went one further by changing the title to "In the Realm of Passion." (The Criterion Collection has changed it back.) Tatsuya Fuji stars once again as Toyoji, an ex-soldier who nurses a crush on an older housewife, Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki). He manages to seduce her (amidst the strains of her crying baby), and it's not long before they start plotting the murder of her husband, rickshaw driver Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura). Oshima shoots the murder scene in a wide shot, with Toyoji and Seki each taking an end of the choking rope, totally equals in this enterprise. There's no cat-and-mouse game in which each tries to get a leg up on the other; they suffer each and every torture of the damned together. They toss the body down an empty well, and Toyoji becomes obsessed with dumping dried leaves down after it, while Seki begins seeing her husband's ghost. (In one creepy sequence, the ghost gives her a ride home and they get lost in the misty moors.) To be sure, while fans definitely get a share of sex and nudity, this movie is more about guilt and suffering than about all-encompassing passion. It's an interesting flip-side.

DVD Details: The Criterion Collection has released both films on new 2009 DVDs; the transfers are not only stunning, but also they put to shame the previous Fox Lorber editions from 1998. This disc comes with an interesting, scholarly comparison between the two films, and interviews. Tony Rayns provides an essay for the liner notes, and there's a reprinted interview with Oshima. Finally, we get the U.S. trailer and an optional English-dubbed soundtrack.