Thursday, May 21, 2009

Deadly Couples

You're probably aware of Nagisa Oshima's sex 'n castration classic In the Realm of the Senses. Less known is his follow-up, Empire of Passion (1978). According to Oshima, the films formed a diptych (not unlike Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba and Kuroneko). That is, while the class settings in the two films were diametrically opposed, the dominant themes and characters were much the same. In Oshima's case, both films feature a pair of illicit lovers whose passion leads to violence. However Empire is not the explicit fuck-fest that Realm was, much to the chagrin of Anatole Dauman, the French producer of both films who had signed a three picture deal with Oshima expecting hardcore sex throughout; after Empire, Dauman and Oshima parted company.

Empire of Passion is a ghost story set in the late 19th century concerning a rickshaw driver, his wife and her young lover. Two of these people off the third and throw his corpse down an old well. The victim comes back, of course, scaring the shit out of all involved. The film progresses at a leisurely pace, in accordance with many a French art film of the 70s, but I found it absorbing and would recommend it not only for the brilliant colors and passionate performances, but as a strong candidate for anyone's Japanese ghost film collection.

The Watcher in the Attic (1976), an entry in Nikkatsu studio's Roman Porno line, is an exquisite bit of erotic-grotesquerie concerning another lethal couple. He's a bored young voyeur, she's a spoiled wife who likes getting it on with clowns (really). He peeps at her, she gets off on his peeping, and it's essentially love at first peep. Soon they're on a spree of kinky sex and thrill-killing. Based on the writings of Edogawa Rampo, Japan's ero-guro-meister extraordinaire, The Watcher in the Attic is remarkably well-made and atmospheric, far beyond anything one might expect from Nikkatsu's gooey catalog of 1970s softcore sex films. It stars Renji Ishibashi whom you might recall as the demented old pervert who did so much damage to the young Asami in Miike's Audition. (He also has a memorable scene involving a ladle in Gozu.) Junko Miyashita is quite compelling as the hot wife who enjoys the occasional sit on her "human chair" (you'll see ... ). It's all very twisted and I can't recommend it enough.

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