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Empire Of Passion Review


OK
Love does funny things to men. Logic and reason go out the window to satisfy an emotional craving -- up is down, together is apart, and death is life. To quench Toyoji and Seki's lustful thirst in Empire of Passion, it means killing Seki's alcoholic, rickshaw-pulling husband and then barely seeing each other for three years. If that weren't bad enough, the locals are starting to talk, and the ghost of Seki's husband begins showing up in dreams. Set in a small Japanese village in the late 1800s, Empire of Passion's bizarre passion is thinly veiled by its kaidan story. Western eyes would likely equate the pale-faced, dark-hair apparition to the ghouls of popular J-horror, but traditional kaidan play more on a character's writhing guilt than on typical cinematic scares -- Seki's husband, Gisaburo, doesn't crawl out of any TVs or screech like a cat (he does, however, escape the well that Toyoji and Seki used to dispose of him). Before horror fans start lapping at the freshly spilled blood, Empire of Passion's ghost story is a diversion from Toyoji and Seki's shocking and, at times, brutal sexual relationship.

Gisaburo was always in the way of Toyoji and Seki, but murder wasn't an option until Toyoji decided to restrain Seki and shave her. Of course, Gisaburo would eventually see Seki's smoothness and know that she's been with another man. And that just won't do. The interesting thing isn't that the two commit the murder together, but that Toyoji's single, selfish desire of the flesh motivates it. When he's with Seki, he's only concerned with dominating her submissiveness. His lustful passion blinds him to the consequences of his actions. And the trouble for the two lovers, and the film alike, begins with Gisaburo's death.

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Midnight Eagle Review


Very Good
For a ticking-bomb actioner, Japanese import Midnight Eagle is surprisingly profound, going far beyond the conventions of typical thrillers to embrace everything from father-son relationships and East Asian geopolitics to the role of journalists in a dangerous world.

Award-winning photojournalist Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Osawa) has finally seen enough war and has retreated to the Japanese Alps to shoot nature instead. Recently widowed and feeling guilty about his inattention to his dying wife, he's also abandoned his young son Yu (Hiroki Sahara) to the care of his sister-in-law Keiko (Yuko Takeuchi), a muckraking journalist herself.

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Bright Future Review


Good
If you see one Japanese-urban-ennui-with-a-jellyfish story, see Bright Future, a curious story of how a bad job can wear you down to the breaking point.

Two go-nowhere factory workers are content to make moist towelettes by day, sit around their apartment by night. One fellow is slowly acclimating a jellyfish from salt water to fresh. That's the extent of the excitement.

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Bloody Territories Review


OK
It's Japanese gangster high jinks galore -- the kind we've come desensitized to in recent years, as a flood of these movies have hit video shelves following America's recent obsession with all things bloody and all things Japanese.

With a name like Bloody Territories you may expect a Miike-styled splatterfest, with blood squirting as if from a fire hose and yakuza slip-sliding in the stuff around Tokyo. But back in 1969, when Bloody Territories was made, no one went that far, not even Yasuharu Hasebe, a pioneer in the genre.

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Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter Review


Weak
Want to see the origins of Quentin Tarantino's perverse chicks-with-guns fetish? Look no further than Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, the third of five Japanese gangster films which came out in rapid succession between 1970 and 1971.

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (other installments include Wild Jumbo and Machine Animal) gives us a gaggle of teen schoolgirls who maraud the streets of the city. With no particular plot direction, they find themselves in all sorts of scrapes (Are we supposed to be rooting for them? No idea) -- from mugging rubes to a memorable molotov cocktail attack on their rivals.

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In The Realm Of The Senses Review


Weak
This watershed Japanese film is -- make no mistake -- borderline porn, with endless and explicit shots of male genitalia, insertions galore, and bodily fluids. The story is a simple one of lust and love (you decide which), with a couple (a man and his servant) falling hopelessly in love and experimenting with numerous sexual varieties, from domination to asphixiation and more. Typical moment: The dude inserts a hard-boiled egg into his girlfriend's privates, and she later asks him to eat it. But I don't know what's weirder: That an elderly geisha plays a stringed lute of some kind during most of their trysts, or that the girl later asks the guy to screw her. Creepy.

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