Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Empire of Passion

Based on the novel by Itoko Nakamura, Empire of Passion is the story about a married woman and her younger lover conspiring to kill the woman’s husband where they deal with the horrifying consequences. Written for the screen and directed by Nagisa Oshima, the film explores the world of extramarital affairs at its most intensity where two lovers deal with their passion and the aftermath of murder. Starring Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Tatsuya Fuji, Takahiro Tamura, and Takuzo Kawatani. Empire of Passion is a chilling yet evocative film from Nagisa Oshima.

A former soldier named Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji) who has arrived in a small town as he finds himself attracted to an older Japanese barmaid named Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki). The two eventually have an affair as Toyoji wants to get rid of Seki’s husband Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura) where Seki buys numerous amounts of alcohol to get Gisaburo drunk where Toyoji later kills him. After dumping him in a well, nothing happens for three years until Gisaburo’s ghost starts to appear scaring Seki as their secret affair become troubling. Even worse is when an inspector named Hotta (Takuzo Kawatani) arrives to asks questions where Toyoji tries to figure out what he’s doing leading to he and Seki to give in to pressure about what really happened.

Extramarital affairs often make stories that are interesting when it involves an older married woman and a younger man. When it involves murder during the late 1890s in Japan, that’s when things get really interesting when this couple have this very passionate affair that they try to hide from the locals. Yet, three years would pass as the locals begin to ask many questions while rumors would also swirl about the appearance of a man’s ghost that starts to haunt his wife and later her lover while a police inspector also arrives to cause trouble.

Nagisa Oshima’s screenplay not only explores the world of extramarital affairs but also the guilt that starts to come for these two people once they kill the woman’s husband. Notably as the appearance of Gisaburo’s ghost and the arrival of a police investigator starts to arrive in the film’s second act where it definitely has Seki delve into paranoia along with other strange situations. Even as she tries to stay away from Toyoji in order to keep both of them safe but events would happen where the town begins to learn about their relationship. Toyoji even starts to have things around him come into question where he would do things that would raise the suspicion of the entire town as it leads to some serious revelations about what happened to Gisaburo.

Oshima’s direction is very stylish in terms of his presentation of late 19th Century small town Japan where it is about this community of people that know each other. When this affair starts to happen in secret, things become questionable to the locals as the film features brief voiceover narrations from an unseen local. The look of the small town is lush and gorgeous in its many seasons but in the aftermath of Gisaburo’s death, there is a sense of disturbance by the array of mist that appears in the town in the mornings and at night. It’s part of the atmosphere that Oshima wants to create where this affair and murder eventually starts to seep into this small world where everything is peaceful. Things eventually get more intense by the time Inspector Hotta arrives where there’s moments where Oshima places the camera around a trio of old ladies gossiping about what is happening.

The direction also has Oshima create some chilling moments of suspense such as Seki accepting a ride from the ghost of Gisaburo that would have some eerie implications into whether she’s dreaming or not. It’s Oshima maintaining that unsettling atmosphere where he would even create some exotic moments such as the scenes at the well where the camera is placed looking at the sky. There’s a moment at the well where it would play to this sense of horror and intrigue where Oshima would find ways to not delve into convention about what is there or what’s going to happen. The film’s ending is poignant for not just what Seki and Toyoji do but what they have to face once a lot of truths are unveiled. Overall, Oshima creates a very captivating yet hypnotic film about guilt and passion.

Cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful photography from the exotic look of the daytime exterior scenes with the sun and at the forest during the fall to more eerie looks at night and at dawn along with some gorgeous shots of the scenes at the well. Editor Keiichi Uraoka does brilliant work with the editing to play up the suspense as well as slowing things down to build it up along with some rhythmic cuts for the more intense moments. Production designer Jusho Toda does superb work with the set pieces from the look of the houses and places the characters interact to the eerie look of the well where Seki and Toyoji dump the body.

The sound work of Tetsuo Yasuda and Alex Pront is terrific for the mood it creates in some of the film‘s chilling moments such as Seki‘s ride with Gisaburo as well other key scenes such as a dinner between Seki and Toyoji. The music of Toru Takemitsu is amazing for the mood it creates with its intricate and unsettling approach to string instruments along with the eerie sound textures it uses to maintain that air of suspense.

The film’s cast is wonderful for the small ensemble that includes notable small roles from Akiko Koyama as a landowner’s mother and Takuzo Kawatani as the very determined Inspector Hotta. Takahiro Tamura is excellent as the husband Gisaburo who is a kind man that gets killed as he would create this very eerie presence to haunt his wife. Kazuko Yoshiyuki is superb as the wife Seki who is reluctant to kill her husband as she becomes consumed guilt once his ghost arrives as she starts to lose it. Finally, there’s Tatsuya Fuji in a terrific performance as Toyoji who leads the plan to kill Gisaburo only to be consumed by all of the problems that is happening around him as he does whatever he can to save the love he has for Seki.

Empire of Passion is an eerie yet remarkable film from Nagisa Oshima. Armed with dazzling visuals, an ominous soundtrack, and stellar performances. It’s a film that explores the dangers of extramarital affairs and the guilt that eventually comes in. It’s also a film that has a unique take on the Japanese ghost story as it plays to the traditional schematics of horror. In the end, Empire of Passion is an extraordinary film from Nagisa Oshima.

Nagisa Oshima Films: (Tomorrow’s Sun) - (A Street of Love and Hope) - (Cruel Story of Youth) - (The Sun’s Burial) - (Night and Fog in Japan) - (The Catch) - (The Rebel) - (A Small Child’s First Adventure) - (It’s Me Here, Bellett) - (The Pleasures of the Flesh) - (Yunbogi’s Diary) - (Violence at High Noon) - (Tales of the Ninja/Band of Ninja) - (Sing a Song of Sex (A Treatsie on Japanese Bawdy Songs)) - (Double Suicide: Japanese Summer) - (Death by Hanging) - (Three Resurrected Drunkards) - (Diary of a Shinjuku Thief) - (Boy (1969 film)) - (Man Who Left His Will on Film) - (The Ceremony (1971 film)) - (Dear Summer Sister) - In the Realm of the Senses - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence - (Max, Mon Amour) - (Taboo (1999 film))

© thevoid99 2012

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