French-produced, as “In the Realm of the Senses” (Ai no bôrei) had been, the 1978 “Empire of the Passions” is the second panel of a diptych, without the graphic sex. There are still many sex scenes, but no genitalia or pubic hair is on display. Fuji Tatsuya’s character, Toyoji, shaves the pubus of Seki (Yoshiyuki Kazuko), but the scene is shot discreetly.
“Empire” is set in 1895 in a village rather than in the Tokyo pleasure district in 1936—after one war (Sino-Japanese) in contrast to at the start of another (the annexation of Manchuria, leading on to WWII; the backdrop for “In the Realm of the Senses”). There are many scenic shots of rain, fog, autumn leaves rather than ornate inns. And, whereas the woman soon becomes the sexual aggressor in “Realm,” Toyoji rapes a quite unwilling Seki in “Empire,” though she eventually responds and develops a sexual passion for her husband’s murderer. Though she eventually confesses to guilt for the murder (after both are tortured, hanging on the same oak branch), he did it without her participation.
As in James Cain novels (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity) the newer, younger couple does not get away with murder. With the aforementioned police torture supplementing local gossip, Seki and Toyoji are executed (off camera, mentioned in the final voiceover). Aside from being shot in color, “Empire” is not a noir because it is a ghost story (even if ghosts are created by feelings of guilt). I think both movies move too slowly/ are too long.
Between watching the two, I watched a recent interview of Fuji in which he reported that he was fasting during the shooting of “Realm” and lost ten kg of weight. He looks tired and haggard by the end, when he assents to being strangled. Fuji was and is cheerful, and more genial than driven. It is the women who seem driven and obsessive in both movies.
I can’t say that I understand what is Marcusean about Ôshima’s movies. In a 20-minute essay primarily on “Realm,” Catherine Russell says Ôshima said he was following Marcuse’s analysis of repression (and repressive desublimation à deux?)
©2016, Stephen O. Murray