Film #178: EMPIRE OF PASSION (aka FANTOME AMOUR aka IN THE REALM OF PASSION aka THE GHOST OF LOVE)
Empire of Passion (aka Fantome Amour aka In The Realm of Passion aka The Ghost of Love)
3.5 out of 5 stars
The great Japanese director Nagisa Oshima (MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR LAWRENCE, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES) delivers this fascinating tale of passion, guilt, and murder. Visually stunning, but narratively a bit flawed, the film is set up on what is an admittedly a wonky premise (a married woman is wooed by a younger man and the two plot to kill her husband). The weird thing is that the attraction between the married woman and the younger man is poorly laid out and occurs far too easily and without much of a foundation. The husband is way too trusting and the wife accepts the planning of his murder all too readily. But Oshima uses the screen as a canvas, arranging his elements – much like say Kobayashi – in way that both further the story and presents a beautiful image. Once the evil deed is done, the story becomes a very beautiful and unconventional ghost story, but not in the sense of a Western ghost story. The tension is slowly ratcheted up, but done so with great subtlety and grace. EMPIRE does run on a little long and its resolution is a bit abrupt and a tad unsatisfying, but the overall effect is stunning (especially when you consider that it was made in 1978). Highly recommended for fans of “out of the box” ghost stories, fans of Japanese cinema, and those who appreciate filmmaker’s with a painterly eye.