Nagisa Oshima's Empire of Passion is a tale of sexual abandon, murder and retribution, set in a nineteenth-century Japanese village and filmed with a regard for the beauty of the seasons, of the rural structures and furnishings, and the persons of the main characters that place it at some esthetic remove from ordinary life. One views it as though turning the pages in a volume of splendid lithographs recording the stages of a distant tragedy. It is a ghost story, but haunting also in the larger sense that one succumbs to its influence as to the misty fragments of a dream….
It is, you see, one of the oldest of stories, and Oshima does not embellish it with novelties. He relies on its capacity to arouse horror and pity whenever it is told with conviction, and devotes himself to invoking the tyranny of passion in surroundings of serene loveliness. Japanese conventions for the expression of high emotion can seem extravagant, hence shallow, to Western eyes. It is a measure of Oshima's sympathy for his couple, and distress over their intemperance, that their behavior, though clearly foreign to our manners, does not seem false. We accord them the same bittersweet grief that we feel for our own legendary lovers. (pp. 716-17)
Robert Hatch, "Films: 'Empire of Passion'," in The Nation (copyright 1980 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 231, No. 22, December 27, 1980, pp. 716-17.