Click here to return to the main site.

Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Empire of Passion (1978)


Starring: Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Takahiro Tamura
RRP: £22.99
Certificate: 18
Available 17 October 2011

A young man, Toyoji, returns to his village and falls in love with an older woman, Seki. His growing jealousy of Seki’s husband makes him bring pressure to bear to get Seki to help him kill her husband, Gisaburo. One night after feeding him saki she and Toyoji strangle him, dumping his body down an old well. For three years she pretends that he has moved to Tokyo to find work, but tongues are wagging in the village about Seki and Toyoji’s affair which brings them to the attention of Inspector Hotta, who is investigating rumours of Gisaburo’s ghost...

Empire of Passion (Ai no Borei - 1978 - 1 hr, 45 min, 03 sec) is another film exploring the themes of love and passion from new wave auteur director Nagisa Ôshima, which followed his notorious film In the Realm of the Senses. The movie was based on a novel by Itoko Namura. The film won three awards, one for best director and two for the score and was nominated for a further eight.

The film represents Ôshima’s move into the mainstream with a story of love which takes up only a third of the movie as once the husband has been killed the film becomes a combination of police investigation and horror film.

Tatsuya Fuji (Toyoji) had already appeared in In the Realm of the Senses as the main protagonist, his character here is not dissimilar, given that both characters end up dying for their love - in the former, strangled by his lover and in Empire of Passion strangled by the state. However, the two films are thematically opposed, whereas Realm was about the satiation of passion, regardless of the consequences, Empire is about guilt, hidden love and public censorship.

Given its theme it is unsurprising that Empire is markedly less sexual that Realm, whereas the latter continues to be contentious, some believing its portrayal of extreme sexuality to be little more than pornography, whilst others see a deeper artistic intent in the piece. Given that his continued success would see him directing Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence it is unlikely that his peers in film making would have viewed him purely as a pornographer.

That is not to say that there isn’t a certain amount of flesh on show, Kazuko Yoshiyuki (Seki) spends large section of the film with one or other breast exposed, usually when she is not over acting to her dead husband's ghost (Takahiro Tamura).

Ôshima was having problems in Japan because of the content of his films. As a country Japan was deeply conservative, and the authorities were trying to prosecute Ôshima for publishing the script for Realm, he showed his contempt for authority with the character of Inspector Hotta (Takuzo Kawatani) who is a buffoon, who only solves the case because the lovers confess.

The disc has a couple of extras. Sur Le Tournage (13 min, 07 sec) has contributions from production consultant Koji Wakamatsu and assistant directors Yusuke Narita and Yoichi Sai, which is part serious information and part funny stories around making the film.

Panel Discussion at Birkbeck College (53 min, 21 sec) is a round table discussion of both Ôshima’s work and Empire of Passion in particular. It’s a nice piece; though it’s a shame to see such a substantial extra being used on what is essentially one of the director’s more minor works.

The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and the Blu-ray picture is an improvement over the previous DVD release.


Charles Packer

Buy this item online

We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£13.99 (
£13.99 (
£15.99 (
£16.97 (

All prices correct at time of going to press.