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January 15, 2014

Odd Obsession

odd obession poster.jpg

Kagi / The Key
Kon Ichikawa - 1959

I haven't yet read the Junichiro Tanizaki novel that Ichikawa's film is based on, though I have read a couple of Tanizaki's other novels. There are shared themes, essentially that love is a very messy thing, and whenever you think you are in control regarding affairs of the heart, you really aren't.

Odd Obsession is mostly about an older man, his younger wife, their daughter, and a young doctor. The man tries to hide that he is seeing the young doctor for shots to help keep up his diminished virility. The doctor and the daughter hide that they are seeing each other. The wife has to pretend that she does not known that her husband is getting treatment. The husband comes to conclusion that jealousy helps keep him young and sets things up so that the doctor gets several opportunities to see the wife naked. Eventually the doctor and the wife are involved with each other.

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The doctor may at first be polite enough to avert his eyes, but Ichikawa gets away with showing as much of Machiko Kyo as he possibly can, based on what was allowed in 1959. Donald Richie has written disapprovingly of Kyo's displays of physical appeal, preferring the perpetually well-mannered Setsuko Hara. For myself, I am hoping more of the films that Kyo made with Ichikawa become available, that is to say available with English subtitles. Ichikawa seems to have made the most out of Kyo's sexiness, and Kyo would appear to have no problems obliging her director in a handful of films made in the late Fifties. And yeah, the nudity is more suggested than seen, but I can just imagine the men in the audience with their eyes bulging just like Tatsuya Nakadai when he develops those first rolls of photos.

As the young doctor, Nakadai exudes sleaziness from the very opening shot. He's only interested in the daughter because he thinks Dad has enough money to help him get set up with his own practice. Even the relationships within the family descend into parodies of filial piety. Throughout the film, people get confused between the truth and the appearance of things, ultimately personified by a colorblind maid who gets containers of cleanser and insecticide confused. While voyeurism is a big element of the story, Ichikawa and Tanizaki also remind one not to believe everything that one sees.

Fortunately, the DVD I have is the full version. The original U.S. release was 96 minutes long, short by eleven minutes. While I don't know exactly what was cut, there are a couple of scenes I can imagine being deleted, especially one shot of Kyo, nude and unconscious on a bed, her body from her breasts to her upper thighs blocked by her husband looking over her. Ichikawa includes a close up of Kyo's famed legs> with the camera tilting up from her feet to just above her knees and than dissolving to a shot of a desert. I am hoping more Ichikawa films made with Kyo become available, especially as the clips from Shunji Iwai's documentary on Ichikawa has whetted my interest. I'm sure that most will agree that Kon Ichikawa's peak period was from the mid Fifties through the early Sixties. My obsession will seeing films from that period isn't odd at all.

Posted by peter at January 15, 2014 07:34 AM