Nagisa Oshima

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J. Hoberman

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Nagisa Oshima's Empire of Passion is being promoted as the companion piece to his 1976 cause celebre, In the Realm of the Senses…. [They] both grimly depict the wages of sex as death. But whereas the marathon claustro-carnality of the earlier film made it a monumental, half-cracked tour-de-force—the La Region Central of hardcore porn—Empire of Passion is a banal, meandering will-o'-the-wisp….

Empire of Passion begins promisingly but, like an unwelcome guest, grows simultaneously shriller and more sluggish as it edges towards the door. Oshima makes elaborate use of the changing seasons; there are a half dozen striking shots (mostly taken from the bottom of the well where the unquiet corpse has been pitched); but the bottom line is a botched James M. Cain plot with a less-than-eerie overlay. The Rickshaw Man Always Rings Twice, one colleague called it. Would that twice were all it was.

J. Hoberman, "Sympathy for the Devil" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1980), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXV, No. 50, December 17, 1980, p. 82.∗

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