THE FRUITS OF PASSION (SHUJI TERAYAMA, 1981)
Shuji Terayama adapted his 1981 film, The Fruits of Passion, from the eponymous Pauline Reage's sequel to her well regarded book, The Story of O. However, 'adapted' is used very loosely in this instance, as Terayama uses the opportunity to completely reshape the structure of the novel, and use only it's themes and characters to create a story that is uniquely his. According to the credits, the text of the narration and O's dialogue itself was taken directly from the short novel, but everything else is pure Terayama.
At the end of The Story of O (in both the book and Just Jaeckin's film adaptation), O has surrendered herself completely to Sir Stephen. This film (and the book itself), picks up directly where that story ends: O is under complete control, and completely in love with, Sir Stephen (in this film, played by Klaus Kinski). Sir Stephen and O are now in China sometime during the first half of the 20th century. Sir Stephen takes O to a well regarded brothel run by Madame (played brilliantly by well regarded transvestite Actor/Actress Peter), where she is forced to surrender herself to any customers that desire her. With O being blindly in love with Sir Stephen, and willing to go to the extremes of submission, accepts this.
Once O has taken her place in the brothel, and Sir Stephen has left, Terayama briefly, through a series of vignettes, introduces us to some of the other women at the brothel. There is Aisen, who is convinced that she is a movie star, and that she keeps getting offers for work, and who will only screw her customers if there is a camera in the room. There is also Sakuya, a woman who constantly has a peculiar cough, but rarely does anything about it. Other inhabitants of the brothel include dreamers, midgets, overweight women, and the aforementioned, remarkably enthusiastic Madame.
While O is in the brothel, pining for her lover, Sir Stephen is living with Nathalie, a woman who has no comprehension of O and Sir Stephen's relationship, constantly wanting Sir Stephen to give up the relationship, all the while carping on the relationship itself. Eventually Sir Stephen forces O to watch him and Nathalie make love, but this just proves to O his dedication,as the entire time the two are having sex, Sir Stephen's eyes are fixated on her.
Meanwhile, a young Chinese boy who lives across from the Brothel has fallen in love with O. He joins a group of revolutionaries in order to make enough money to buy O's love. In a subplot that runs throughout the movie (and ties in significantly at the end), attacks are made and eventually the boy is injured. The revolutionary group has some deal made (the specifics are not quite clear, as the dialogue spoken in English is often very hard to understand) with Sir Stephen to finance their weapons for the attack. However, Sir Stephen decides to no longer support their cause, which angers the group, causing them to hold a gun to Sir Stephan's head while the group members steal valuable items from Sir Stephen's house.
Nathalie sees this incident, which causes her to leave Sir Stephen, not wanting anything to do with what she calls a "despicable" man. The same night of Nathalie's departure, the young boy who is in love with O finally gets his money. He buys a new suit and finally enters the brothel. Sir Stephen watches the encounter through slits in the wall.
At first O utterly rejects the boy, caught up with her love of Sir Stephen. She pushes him off the bed when he tries to kiss her, and he falls, landing on the arm he had injured during one of the attacks. Realizing that the boy has suffered much for his love of O, O turns tender towards him, and they kiss, eventually making love.
Sir Stephen, watching this, is devastated when he sees the tenderness that O shows towards the child. O had not been willing to kiss any of her clients before, and this proves a remarkable change. While Sir Stephen has been utterly caught up in himself, O's submissive spell has finally worn off, and she is capable of loving another man.
Angered beyond belief, Sir Stephen follows the boy through a sort of casino, where he eventually kills the boy, and then attempts to kill himself. Later, at a sort of social event for the brothel, the character of Death walks up to O, tells her the events that have transpired, and gives the contract that O has signed with Sir Stephen back to her. O is, for the first time in many years, completely free. She has the choice to go where she wants, or stay right where she is.
Viewers expecting the same sort of story as told in The Story of O, or even viewers expecting that sort of soft-focus eroticism will be sorely disappointed, as Terayama elevates the story to an even higher level than the former film or novel. He also improves greatly on the source material; while The Story of O itself is a masterpiece of literature, erotic or otherwise, Return to the Chateau: The Story of O II is hardly up to par, being a lackluster imitation of the book it's responding to.
Throughout the film, Terayama includes many of his trademarks: there is reference to an absent or unremarkable father several times (O's memories, the Chinese boy's father), delirious surrealism that simply extends the emotional state of the film (a grand piano sunk at the bottom of a river, a woman riding through a hallway on a fake plastic horse), and brilliantly achieved color filters over some of the scenes. Terayama's visuals are in full force here, his constant attention to visual detail notable in almost every single frame of the film.
J.A. Seazer's music, while taking a noticeable departure from the garage-psyche sound of his music for Terayama's former films (most notably Throw Away Your Books, Let's Go Out In the Street), is a haunting hybrid of deep bass, synthesizers, and regular soundtrack music, perfectly accenting Terayama's visuals. Also, Terayama builds up the emotional state of the characters in the film so subtly, that by the time the ending hits, it hits remarkably hard, surprisingly the viewer almost.
Something it might be important to point out, however, is how some plot details rely on a former knowledge (or at least familiarity) with the plot of The Story of O. The former film explains O's utter submission, and the contract, and knowing what has happened to O before adds to the emotional intensity. It's also worth pointing out that the sex seem look unsimulated and border on hardcore, odd for a Japanese production (but I suppose since it was shot mostly in China, that's how it got through the legal system).
While often considered as a minor work in Terayama's oeuvre, and generally derided by fans of the original Story of O, The Fruits of Passion stands on it's own as a brilliant film. Terayama had matured greatly since his last major film, Pastoral: To Die in the Country, and he manages to tell a brilliant story without getting overly obsessed with his own hangups (which is the one major problem with Pastoral...). The film is built primarily on the strength of it's images, and Terayama doesn't disappoint.