Empire of Passion (1978)

empire of passion poster 1978 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking, interesting story

The movie moves at a slow pace

Movie Info

Movie Name: Empire of Passion

Studio: Argos Films

Genre(s): Horror/Drama/Romance

Release Date(s): May 19, 1978 (Cannes)/September 6, 1978 (France)/October 28, 1978 (Japan)/March 26, 1979 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

empire of passion seki toyoji kazuko yoshiyuki tatsuya fuji

It was so romantic how you forced yourself on me…how could I say no to loving you?

Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) looks young for her age, and she has caught the attention of a younger homeless man named Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji).  When a relationship starts between the two, Toyoji decides that he cannot live with Seki’s husband Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura) in the picture and plots to kill him with Seki’s help.  Crimes have consequences and the appearance of the ghost of Gisaburo begins to cause Seki to unravel…the dead walk and the truth can’t stay hidden.

Directed by Nagisa Ōshima, Empire of Passion (愛の亡霊 or Ai no Bōrei) is a joint Japanese-French ghost story romance.  Itoko Nakamura originally told the story and Nagisa Ōshima adapted it.  Nagisa Ōshima won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for the film.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #467).

The Japanese presentation of ghosts are often different.  Sometimes they are horrific and sometimes they are sad, mournful creatures.  Empire of Passion taps into both of these views of ghosts for a tale that is part revenge, obsession, and mania.

empire of passion japanese ghost

Do you want a ride on my rickshaw?

The surface of the story is pretty basic and has been played out multiple times.  An innocent is killed to get them out of the way and the people are driven to madness as a result.  Shakespeare plays like Macbeth were built around the internal pain and mania caused by crimes.  What is odd about Empire of Passion is how it unfolds.  The “romance” essentially starts out as Toyoji raping Seki and evolves into an obsession between the two that is often violent (rape is often presence in romance novels where a “misunderstanding” between the characters then evolves to love which is pretty disturbing).  Seki is convinced into helping murder her husband and cracks…followed by Toyoji eventually.  It feels like through the appearance of the ghost and the arrival of the inspector that the trap is closing on the two regardless of their mental state, but it is this crumbling that propels the movie.

The cast is good.  Kazuko Yoshiyuki has the difficult role of being passionate behind closed doors but proper and submissive in public.  This line also begins to blur as she falls into madness.  Tatsuya Fuji is driven by rage and lust and this eventually leads to his madness.  He plays a desperate man and desperate men are dangerous men.  I really like the nice underscored performance by Takahiro Tamura who seems so mournful.  As far as he knew, he had a happy marriage and woke up to have his wife murdering him…the ghost has a sadness that is malevolent and painful.

empire of passion ghost in well

Good thing he isn’t a vengeful ghost…he could have just tossed that ladder down in there and left you to die

The movie also looks good.  The village set-up for the story is strong and scenes involving the well are reminiscent of later films like Ringu (and The Ring).  The appearance of the ghost isn’t inherently scary, but its moody presentation is and brings a gothic horror to the story.

Empire of Passion is an odd movie in that it fits in a lot of genres, but it really doesn’t seem to have a primary genre.  It is a suspense movie…kind of…a flawed romance…kind of…and a ghost story…kind of.  It does say things about sex and gender at the time especially involving the options of the female characters, and those are the options that in the bigger picture lead to the murder.  You would hope things like that would change, but you never know in today’s society how it has advanced or sometimes sadly stayed the same.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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