Saturday, August 22, 2009

263) Empire of Passion (1978)

263) Empire of Passion (1978) Dir: Nagisa Oshima Date Released: March 1979 Date Seen: August 22, 2009 Rating: 3/5

There's not much writer/director Nagisa Oshima's adaptation of Itoko Namura's Empire of Passion has to say that Oshima hadn't already said in a more engaging way in his notorious In the Realm of the Senses. The most interesting thing about Passion is how it varies from the type of passion play Oshima was interested in. Typically, Oshima's films follow people faced with the choice of either taking what they believe is their only course of action or living miserably. Naturally, because they're always already backed into a corner when they have to make these decisions, they act and suffer the consequences, which are always self-inflicted. The ghost that plagues the doomed lovers in Empire of Passion is thus just Oshima's way of intellectually tweaking the traditional Japanese ghost story's moralistic use of the supernatural. The difference is that in Oshima's film, the morals and the ghost in question are conjured up by the people being judged and not some higher power. 

Save for that generic variation on Oshima's central theme, Empire of Passion is just a less ambiguous version of In the Realm of the Senses. It strips Senses' story of tragic lovers whose growing taste for hedonism makes them condemn each other and tweaks it--Tony Rayns lists the various ways in which Passion's characters are just* the "converse" of Senses'. Though Oshima claims that he made Passion's sets to counter the artificial sets of Sense, the ornate attention he lavishes on Passion's lush, "natural" setting makes it look just as gaudy as any of the operatic sets from Mishima: A Life in Four Parts. It overtly spells out what In the Realm of the Senses left mostly up to the audience, namely whether there is a clear line between the characters' passions and their anguish over being enslaved by them. The difference in relative bluntness should impress even the most casual viewer seeing as how it's inscribed in the respective films' aesthetics, Senses being comparatively more flat while Passion has a depth-of-field that makes it beautiful but not necessarily more thoughtful. 

*I added the just part; Rayns believes the fact that Passion is Senses' mirror image to be a sign of its complexity, hem hem, haw haw. My favorite Oshima is still Pleasures of the Flesh.

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