Empire of Passion (1978)

aka Ai no borei
Article 3502 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2011
Posting Date: 3-17-2011
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Featuring Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Takahiro Tamura
Country: Japan
What it is: Erotic ghost thriller

The wife of a rickshaw driver has an affair with a man 26 years younger than her. Her lover talks her into helping him kill her husband and dump his body in an old well. But afterwards, the fear of discovery keeps the lovers apart, and people are starting to dream about the fate of the rickshaw driver… and his ghost begins appearing.

Nagisa Shima is an important Japanese new wave director who is best known in the US for having directed the controversially explicit IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. This movie was screened at Cannes and won Shima the Best Director prize. This was his only foray into the Japanese ghost story genre, and some of the scenes are quite spooky; I’m particularly partial to the scene where the ghost appears to his former wife with his rickshaw, offering her a ride which she initially rejects, but then changes her mind. Overall, the movie is good, but I’m afraid I came away slightly disappointed, because I was expecting something that would be a little bit more than merely good. As it is, the movie gets a too mired in the theme of the guilt that the lovers feel (there’s a chance that the ghost may be part of their overactive imaginations). It’s interesting when they do such things as try to remove the body from the well; it’s dull when they endlessly argue with each other, fall into despair, have sex, and offer to take the blame for the murder so that the other will be let free. In short, the movie spins its wheels a bit too much, and the potentially shocking ending loses its punch because it was simply too long in coming. I don’t find the movie quite as interesting as some of the other Japanese ghost stories I’ve seen.

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