Review: ‘L’Empire Des Sens’

A topflight director working in the porno or erotic belt is still a rarity. This disturbing film, about a love that is so consuming it ultimately leads to sado-masochism and death, is one in the hands of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima.

A topflight director working in the porno or erotic belt is still a rarity. This disturbing film, about a love that is so consuming it ultimately leads to sado-masochism and death, is one in the hands of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima.

Oshima made his mark at fests with oblique pics about racism, a family using their son to fake accidents for blackmail, and a probing of Japanese hieratic family structures. This pic’s baring of sex as a means and an end, its refusal to soft-pedal either the beauty or its final harrowing results, raises it to an unusual level.

In 1936, the age of rampant Japanese militarism, two lovers meet. She is an ex-prostitute, who works in a restaurant. Insulted by the head waitress, she tries to knife her but is disarmed by the boss. They begin having trysts and make love everywhere.

She insists he no longer sleeps with his wife and threatens him with castration. But he continues, as well as with a cleaning woman when she is out. Finally they play strangulation games to reach even higher planes of orgasm.

The extraordinary acting of Eiko Matsuda as the obsessed girl and Tatsuya Fuji as the easygoing male are assets, as are subtle musical score, finely-hued lensing and a directorial blending of theme and visual finesse.

[Pic’s Japanese title is Ai no corrida. All dialogue is in Japanese.]

L'Empire Des Sens

France - Japan

Production

Oshima/Shibata/Argos/Oceanic/Oshim. Director Nagisa Oshima; Producer Anatole Dauman; Screenplay Nagisa Oshima; Camera Hideo Ito; Editor Keiichi Uraoka, Patrick Sauvion; Music Minoru Miki; Art Director Jusho Toda

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1976. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Eiko Matsuda Tatsuya Fuji Aoi Nakajima Yasuko Matsui Meika Seri Kanae Kobayashi
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