Fruits of Passion (1981)
Fruits of Passion (1981)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: June 3rd, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Shuji Terayama Actors: Isabelle Illiers, Klaus Kinski, Arielle Dombasle, Keiko Niitaka, Sayoko Yamaguchi, Hitomi Takahashi, Miyuki Ono, Akiro Suetsugu, Renji Ishibashi




n the late 1920s, rebellions are breaking out across Hong Kong and Shanghai (to the tunes of some grandly dramatic, operatic music). Into this political imbroglio comes a young woman called only O (Isabelle Illiers), who arrives blindfolded, introduced to a foreign world by a French-speaking narrator. In an exercise to test an insane pact – and the strength of their love – elderly, wealthy Sir Stephen (Klaus Kinski) has commanded young lover O to gain employ in a Chinese brothel. It’s a deviant detour to discover the deepest depths of love.

Although she’s willing to become a prized, rare, white prostitute, O doesn’t appear all that amused by her new surroundings and profession; she’s expressionless during the majority of the film. The establishment is particularly bizarre, running like sex traffickers rather than a customary whorehouse. Refusing a customer results in 101 lashes; refusing specific sex acts results in not being fed for 101 days (something that seems rather impossible to endure); and any attempt to pray will result in copulation with the “Untouchables” – the drug addicts and other uncontrollable undesirables.

Although Sir Stephen remains in the “house of pleasure” (or “house of flowers,” as it’s known) while O works, the white-haired, sunken-eyed, skeletal master is quick to buy a few rounds with other prostitutes. It’s evident that his every desire will be met, while O’s interests are of no consequence. It’s an inexplicable arrangement, with seemingly no benefit for the “pretty French doll,” though this starkly uneven contrast was the basis for this picture’s predecessor, “The Story of O.” As a sleazy, man’s fantasy – and the ultimate objectification of women – the premise is understandable; but the source material, an award-winning novel that was written by a woman, embracing the beliefs of the Marquis de Sade (and visualizing plenty of the themes of BDSM), is something of a mystery, though its appeal would lend itself to future productions, some of which target female viewers (such as the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series). It’s certainly a precise kink for anyone to view these notions as romantic, or as expressions of true love.

Curiously, outside of Illiers’ continual nakedness (she’s unclothed for virtually the entire movie) and the various, graphic, intermittently unsimulated sex acts, sociopolitical commentary runs throughout, opining on extreme poverty, the livelihoods of commoners, the dalliances of the ultra rich, and the rising exploits of the coolie organization. There is also an abundance of poetic imagery, from a piano submerged underwater to a dead pigeon to a discarded doll, yet their significances are largely inconsequential in the face of relentless perversions. Subplots also exist, attempting to complicate a rather uncomplicated bit of exploitation; one involves Stephen’s new lover, Nathalie (Arielle Dombasle), who hopes to create an unbearable love triangle; another centers around a teenaged boy (Kenichi Nakamura) who hopes to buy O’s freedom, mistakenly believing she’s held against her will; and a third chronicles aging actress-cum-prostitute Aisen (Keiko Niitaka), whose grip on reality slowly diminishes.

Flashbacks also eat up the running time, aiming to give some of the supporting characters depth; yet the majority of these remarkably damaged – or demented – souls just aren’t interesting or all that sympathetic, save for their aberrations, which will only appeal to niche audiences. Setting a love story against historical, societal unrest (regardless of the uncommonness of the love) isn’t unusual, but when the focus is on extreme erotica, these asides merely get in the way; they’re decidedly difficult to take seriously, considering the pervasive, vivid sensuality that populates every other sequence. By the conclusion, which is vague and unfulfilling, it’s obvious that “Fruits of Passion” is little more than an excuse to merge mainstream filmmaking with light pornography, hoping to capitalize on the controversy and cult success of the original (whose own entertainment value was derived solely by sex and nudity, and not storytelling).

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10