The Fruits of Passion Review
There are three names on the credits of The Fruits of Passion which lift it above being a mere example of bygone erotica. The first is the great Klaus Kinski who at the time was being typically erratic in his acting choices, 1981 also producing performances in Billy Wilder’s final feature Buddy Buddy and the frankly ridiculous horror flick Venom. The second is director Shuji Terayama, something of a renaissance man in both film and theatre, the former career having produced a number of classics including The Boxer and the definitive Japanese counterculture effort, Throw Away Your Books and Go Out Into the Streets. And finally there is French producer extraordinaire Anatole Dauman, a man whose CV encompasses everything from Night and Fog to In the Realm of the Senses.
Of course, the latter work is important here as no doubt The Fruits of Passion, an equally sexually charged French-Japanese co-production, was in part an attempt to capitalise on its success. Indeed, rather than set up the project himself, Terayama was commissioned by Dauman to do the film and only accepting as he was apparently requiring quick finance for a theatrical piece he was mounting. And despite receiving a co-writer credit, it’s abundantly clear that Terayama’s position on The Fruits of Passion was not that of a fully committed director, rather the film plays out as his marginal doodlings.
In terms of its plot - not that Terayama appears especially bothered with such concerns - The Fruits of Passion is inspired by Retour a Roissy, Pauline Reage’s sequel to her infamous The Story of O. It concerns that novel’s titular heroine (Isabelle Illier) and her consenting placement within a Chinese bordello by her lover Sir Stephen (Kinski). He’s also a casino owner in Shanghai and dabbling in the financing of some freedom fighters, but this is neither here nor there. Whilst Terayama provides the requisite level of erotica (liberal helpings of both male and female nudity, unsimulated fellatio, etc. - all apparently passed uncut by the BBFC), his concerns are strictly with the visual and in this respect The Fruits of Passion makes for an interesting viewing.
Indeed, the film requires some level of interest as the narrative is perfunctory at best (and never truly progresses anywhere) whilst this version is also blighted by a below standard English dub (with only a handful of performers - Kinski amongst them - retaining their voices). In many ways it is simply best to turn down the volume and focus solely on The Fruit of Passion’s pictorial qualities. Most immediate of these is the sense of artificiality, an aspect which brings to mind a whole series of eighties works, from Querelle to Mishima : A Life in Four Chapters via Coppola’s One From the Heart. Yet Terayama’s work never once feels of its time, rather to a great extent it is a barely veiled homage to Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, director of, amongst others, The Beast, The Story of Sin and Blanche. As with Borowczyk, Terayama treats his actors almost as his own private menagerie, merely arranging them into tableaux whilst he experiments more fully with the more overt visual elements (rainbow filters, monochromatic lighting, the aforementioned artifice). Indeed, there is no great pretence to reality here - which suits Kinski’s high camp performance - rather we have a director finding interests where he can resulting in odd, unexpected non sequitors, strange flashbacks and a particular delight in bondage contraptions (another Borowczyk, the Pole being the finest director of furniture who ever was). Whether this actually amounts to anything is another matter, though Terayama does at the very least maintain interest. The problem he has is that he never really supplies a reason to return to the film time and again - unlike, say, Blanche or The Story of Sin, the plotting is simply too lightweight - and as such it remains a marginal work.
Being an English dub, The Fruits of Passion soundtrack sounds perhaps as best as it could. The edits between the various voices are abundantly clear whilst the whole affair has a dislocated air, though it’s difficult to see how it could be improved upon under such circumstances. As for the picture quality, Nouveaux offer a reasonable print and render it anamorphically (at a ratio of 1.78:1 thus slightly cropping the original 1.85:1 framing). Despite signs of grain and the occasional flicker, the image has a reasonable clarity whilst Terayama’s attention to the colour design hasn’t dimmed with age. Of course, there is room for improvement, though given the film’s relative obscurity the results are generally pleasurable. As for the special features, however, these amount to only a gallery consisting of a handful of production stills.