Oddness abounds in Shūji Terayama’s Les Fruits de la Passion (1981), sometimes called ‘The Story of O-Pt.2’ – “Like Magritte let loose in Wonderland,” wrote Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. The result perhaps, one blogger has imagined, of “Oshima & Borowczyk working together after their notorious years at Argo Films and still there”.
The film promotes itself as based on the novel Retour à Roissy by Pauline Réage, the so-called ‘sequel’ to Story of O, but we find Fruits of Passion has very little to do with Réage.
In an interview, Andre Heinrich reveals Philippe d’Argila, son of Dominique Aury (Pauline Réage) and one of the producers on Borowczyk’s Blanche, wished to cash in on the success of Just Jaeckin’s Story of O (1974) by producing a sequel based upon his mother’s Retour a’ Roissy for which she retained the rights. As Associate Producer on Fruits of Passion one can only assume d’Argila had to make-do with this 1981 French-Japanese co-production (Shanghai Ijin Shōkan – “China Doll”) which claims to be the sequel to Story of O but is as far from Return to the Château as one can imagine.
The film’s oddness, however, and the casting of Klaus Kinski compensates somewhat for the film’s shortcomings. It comes across as an epic poem to melancholy. The film rambles through a series of eccentric set pieces interspersed with moments of surreality, with a story setting the sadness of brothel life against a slim plot involving Sir Stephen financing a Coolie uprising! How fascinating a concept.
The lead characters of Histoire d’O and Retour à Roissy, Sir Stephen and O, are placed in the southern China of the 1920s where Sir Stephen owns a casino located in the slums of Shanghai. Sir Stephen ( Klaus Kinski) places O (Isabelle Illiers) in a Chinese brothel for “training” and O is then subjected to a variety of humiliating experiences to prove her unconditional obedience. Meanwhile Sir Stephen finds a new toy in the character of Nathalie (Arielle Dombasle).
A sub-plot concerns a coolie rebellion due to the resentment towards Europeans by the local population and a young man desperate to afford O’s favours at the brothel. O falls in love with the poor young man who joins the revolutionaries, hoping to get some money in order to come to her. Everything ends somewhat badly and melancholia prevails.
Jasper Sharp in his Behind the Pink Curtain calls Fruits of Passion “minor Terayama” whose “charms are mainly cosmetic”; the costuming, sets (the work of Hiroshi Yamashita) and cinematography (Tatsuo Suzuki). He has a point. One is apt to come away from the film with a clear sense of its quirkiness, moments of beauty and designer-melancholy. It is without doubt a surreal, & at moments, erotic work of art. It fails ultimately, however, to deliver what is intended and this is a great shame. Few reviewers give it its due. Many fall over themselves to deride the film. One purchaser explains, “It is made with a high sense for colours, great images, perfectionism in detail and a beauty in its pictures that is found rarely in newer movies in the western world. Maybe this is one reason why it may bore some people with a more speedy expectation for films then it is shown in this slowly developing story.”
Director Shūji Terayama(1935 – 1983) was an avant-garde Japanese poet, dramatist, writer, film director, and photographer. Critics view him as one of the most productive and provocative creative artists to come out of Japan. His art lives on with annual theatre events, and every 10 years a full summer festival features his life and works.
© Stefan Prince