Empire of Passion (Ai no borei) (In the Realm of Passion) Reviews
While I prefer In The Realm Of The Senses, Empire Of Passion is a rather creepy, atmospheric, and sexy film about passion gone wrong mixed with a ghost story. If you love a good Asian horror flick, this is an underrated gem you need to check out. Let me try to explain why.
Set in the late 1800's the story follows a middle-aged woman named Seki who is married to a delivery man named Gisaburo who likes to get drunk and also has two children. She also has particular fondness for a young man named Toyoji, whom she treats like an older son. Though a simple, humble life, Seki seems content with her current life.
Toyoji on the other hand, is not content to be like a son to Seki and wants more from her, even though she is old enough to be his mother. One day, he even rapes Seki and she becomes submissive to him. Despite such a horrific encounter, the two begin an affair and soon begin to plot the murder of Gisaburo.
One night, Seki gets Gisaburo drunk on his favorite drink, and after he has passed out, the two proceed to strangle him to death and then dump his body down a well deep in the forest outside the village. Seki covers up the crime by telling the other villagers that Gisaburo has gone to Tokyo and hasn't come back.
Despite having Gisaburo out of the way, the two still have to conduct their affair in secrecy. Plus, the suspicion of the villagers is aroused by Toyoji's strange behavior of going into the woods and dumping leaves into the well on a frequent basis where they dumped Gisaburo's body. Also, Seki's own daughter becomes suspicious of her mother and what happened to her father.
If villager suspicions weren't bad enough, soon the couple is tormented by the ghost of Gisaburo whose presence becomes increasingly frightening and starts to drive the couple to madness over their misdeed, all while the suspicions of authorities begin to arise a few years after Gisaburo's disappearance, further straining their lives as they try to maintain the lies they've been telling the past few years.
While it's a simple story of passion gone wrong mixed with a simple ghost story, its blend is effective and it also allows for plenty of atmosphere and slow-building horror to take center stage. You won't find a shit-ton of jump scares, no in-your-face sort of horror - no modern horror cliches. Good, old-fashioned horror, but with the right amount of twists and variations to make it stand out.
The story also does a really good job at showing the development of such a hellish affair, and how the lives of this couple are slowly torn apart and descend into madness as Gisaburo torments them more and more. Like trying to escape one's past demons, there is no escape, and this film certainly highlights this fact in a scary way.
The acting is very solid with Tatsuya Fuji as Toyoji, who also played Kichizo in In the Realm Of The Senses. He proved to be rather frightening as he played the controlling Toyoji and how he manipulates a good-natured mother and wife into killing her own husband for the sake of an affair with a hostile and dangerous man.
Kazuko Yoshiyuki as Seki was quite interesting, especially as her character had such a fragile state of mind, which was shattered as her dead husband's ghost comes to torment her, even making her try to kill herself and one of her children in a house fire at one point. She was certainly an interesting character: a good person gone bad, and then regretting the life-altering decision afterward.
I must also give props to Takahiro Tamura as Gisaburo, as he proved to be a rather intimidating and menacing ghost that would drive just about anyone, no matter how much of sociopath they are, into the depths of madness if they dared wrong a ghost like his.
As far as entertainment goes, if you love a good, old-fashioned horror flick and are a fan of Asian horror flicks, this one provides a good dose of slow-building horror, atmosphere, and is genuinely unnerving...the best kind of horror film. Plus, the film also works as a passion gone wrong sort of tale, even if you're not big on horror. It's a deliciously creepy, sexy, atmospheric, and superb erotic horror film.
This film is sadly a lost gem, but if you ever come across it, you must watch it if you consider yourself a horror fan because it is truly one of the lost greats of its genre. It's dripping with atmosphere, tension, and scares at every turn, something that is sorely lacking in many modern horror films.
Now gimme the dang Director prize at Cannes. SUCK IT BILLY!