Odd Obsession (1959)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Cast: Machiko Kyô, Ganjirô Nakamura, Junko Kanô, Tatsuya Nakadai
Plot: A man getting on in years sets out to find a way to resurrect his flagging virility.
Awards: Won Jury Prize (Cannes). Won 1 Golden Globe - Best Foreign Language Film
Rating: PG for some mature themes.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
One of the few Kon Ichikawa pictures that won a major award at an important international festival, Odd Obsession was also one of two films directed by the incredibly prolific Japanese director in 1959. The other was Fires on the Plain.
A Cannes Jury Prize winner, tied with Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960) no less, but in my view, undeservingly, Odd Obsession is an adaptation of the novel ‘Kagi’ by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, published just three years earlier.
Through the eyes of an outsider, an intern doctor who is forced into the private lives of a family – husband, wife and daughter – finds himself hypnotized by the odd, disturbing game of sexual affairs played by the conniving husband.
The husband believes jealousy can help to increase his own sexual arousal, so he gets the intern doctor to seduce his wife. The wife, seemingly a pawn, sees through her husband's ploy but continues to accept sexual favours from the doctor, if only to satisfy her husband's ‘odd obsession’. As if that is not disturbing enough, the narrative adds the element of the daughter who has a love-hate romantic relationship with the doctor, a relationship her father hopes will progress into a marriage.
Multi-layered and well-told, Odd Obsession sees Ichikawa's storytelling nous in good order, but it suffers from an unremarkable ending, which I will leave you to discover. It's a case of trying too hard to have full closure when a more open conclusion would have befitted the film's tone.
In turns semi-erotic and voyeuristic, Ichikawa’s work here could be considered bold for its time. The sense of sexual tension is palpable, and the film achieves it without resorting to nudity or sexual scenes. Everything is hinted through precise blocking and cutting.
Visually, Odd Obsession is interesting. Shot by the acclaimed Kazuo Miyagawa, who also photographed Ozu’s Floating Weeds in the same year, Odd Obsession’s camerawork exudes both style and audacity. In the opening credits, the camera is attached underneath a moving truck; in other scenes, it slowly cranes down from the roof of a house to reveal a man walking or a car stopping.
Whether ultimately Odd Obsession could be considered as one of Ichikawa’s best works remains to be debated. I personally don’t think so. It is not as thoroughly engaging as it should be, despite the strength of its material. It is a difficult film to find though, and worth a look at any opportunity.
Verdict: A layered semi-erotic narrative about a family with an out-of-sorts husband/father that is intriguing but finally unremarkable.
GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)
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