Empire of Passion (aka Ai No Borei), is the sequel to 1976’s In The Realm Of The Senses, but while it deals with sex, it’s not exactly as ground-breaking as its prequel.
In fact, it isn’t at all.
Set in Japan, 1895, the basic premise is that Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji) is a young man having an affair with a much older woman, Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) and neither of them think a great deal of her husband, Gisburo (Takahiro Tamura), so they hatch a plan to kill him off and throw him down the old well, with Toyoji raking up leaves and throwing them down the same well, apparently not knowing the reason why he does that, but we know why – he’s bumped him off and thrown him down there(!)
That last bit was one weird thing about this film which I didn’t understand. Another is that Seki is meant to be 26 years older than Toyoji, but they don’t look any different. In fact, Kazuko Yoshiyuki is only six years older than Tatsuya Fuji in real life, so no wonder and this doesn’t really help matters.
Earlier on, another odd moment was when Toyoji came back to Seki’s home to see her half-sleeping with a sheet over her and her baby lying next to her. Seeing how her breasts are almost exposed, he tells the baby to move over because *he* wants a sip!
Anyway, back to the plot: three years go by and all of a sudden one of the workers nearby have had a dream about the dead man, although someone else tells him he’s clearly dreaming because he’s been working so hard that he’s not right in the head. However, strange things start happening such as with Seki seeing his ghost and also his rickshaw’s wheel turning by itself…
Unfortunately, Empire of Passion fails where In The Realm of the Senses succeeded, in that the earlier film had an intriguing premise but this one doesn’t and it just plods along till the end. And I’ve seen some inept cops in films before, but to leave it THREE YEARS before investigating a disappearance?
Overall, I thought this would be of a similar nature to its prequel but that couldn’t have been any further from the truth. And even though it was meant to be a thriller about a loving couple trying to do away with the woman’s husband and what followed, it wasn’t at all intriguing, or thrilling or worth watching at all. The only interesting bit came when they bumped him off in the first place, at which point I thought it was going to step up a gear but it went back into neutral.
Filmed at a widescreen ratio of 1.66:1 and within a 16:9 frame, this release is in 1080p high definition. Compared to In the Realm of the Senses, while this is also an old film, the print is a great deal better. The print similarly shimmers early on, but soon settles down and looks superb and just as it should do after that.
My amplifier tells me that the sound is coming out in DTS, but it was made with a mono soundtrack which makes way for the occasional orgasmic gasp and that’s about it.
There aren’t as many extras on this sequel’s release, but we do have:
- Sur Le Tournage (13:07): This is a feature from 2003 containing interviews with production consultant Koji Wakamatsu and assistant directors Yusuke Narita and Yoichi Sai.
Sur Le Tournage, which means “On Turning”, whatever that’s supposed to signify. Anyone?
- Recalling The Film (38:40): This is a feature from 2003 containig interviews with consulting producer Hayao Shibata, line producer Koji Wakamatsu, assistant Director Yoichi Sai and distributor Yoko Asakura.
- Panel discussion at Birbeck College (53:21): Another critical discussion about sex in Japanese cinema between Julian Ross (Film historian and curator, Vertigo magazine), Jasper Sharp (Author of Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema), Roland Domenig (Japanese Film Scholar at the University of Vienna) and Mathieu Capel (Scholar of Japanese Cinema)
Again, like the prequel, this disc only has 8 chapters, which isn’t good. There are English subtitles which can be turned off if you want to guess what they’re saying and the menu is static with the theme tune playing over the top.
Empire of Passion (aka Ai No Borei) is out now on Blu-ray.
Running time: 105 minutes
Date of release: October 17th 2011
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Producer: Anatole Dauman
Screenplay: Nagisa Oshima (based on the novel by Itoko Namura)
Music: Tôru Takemitsu
Toyoji: Tatsuya Fuji
Seki: Kazuko Yoshiyuki
Gisaburo: Takahiro Tamura
Inspector Hotta: Takuzo Kawatani
Shin: Masami Hasegaw
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.