Saturday, July 17, 2010

EMPIRE OF PASSION (Nagisa Oshima, 1978, Japan)

Eros and Thanatos subsume two star-crossed lovers whose crime begins with adultery and ends with murder, their conscience haunted by a presence that walks alone through a fog of denial. Nagisa Oshima directs a forlorn tale of corrupting passion, an empire of sand, a temporary respite that becomes a fatal attraction.

Toyoji becomes infatuated with Seki, a beautifully mature woman who is married to the local litter carrier who taxis customers about the village. Their relationship begins in a very frugal manner until it reaches a violent crescendo of murder, as both participate in a gruesome strangulation and dispose of the husband’s body down a forgotten well. Their secret affair becomes even more distant after the act, and they become unable to quench their sexual thirst as they now have a greater secret to conceal. As village life goes on, rumors spread about Seki’s missing husband, and she becomes a pariah, excised from the social graces. But in that sleep of death dreams do come, and Seki receives nightly visits from her dead husband while Toyoji fills the well with dead leaves, or stares into the gaping abyss of his guilty conscience.

Oshima begins the film by focusing upon a turning wheel and this circular theme remains a constant image. Or the circular maw of the well, seen from the bottom with the sky overhead, faces peering over the edge. Like the wheel of life, what goes around comes around: years later, Seki and Toyoji find themselves digging in the muck of the well to end the spectral haunting, to give the corpse a proper burial. This scene is eerily resurrected in the modern Japanese horror film RINGU. Though the film is richly textured, the fault of the story lies in motivation, where the sexual act becomes a mere substitute for passion. On the other hand, people have killed for less. Finally, the need to bury the past leads to their torturous confessions at the hands of the police; till death do they part.

Final Grade: (B-)

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