Kagi/Odd Obsession, 1959

An impassive medical intern named Kimura (Tatsuya Nakadai) speaks directly to the camera and describes a scientific theory on the systematic degradation of a man’s physical faculties – the start of his irreversible senility – from the age of ten, directing the attention of the audience to an middle-aged scholar on classical art objects named Kenmochi (Ganjiro Nakamura). Against the advice of his physician, Dr. Soma (Jun Hamamura), Kenmochi has been secretly obtaining potency injections from the all too obliging Kimura in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture his waning virility. After his departure, Kenmochi’s beautiful wife, Ikuko (Machiko Kyô), pays a visit to Dr. Soma’s office in order to inquire on the nature of his mysterious trips to the clinic after receiving news of his frequent appointments from their daughter, Toshiko (Junko Kano). The source of the discreet information about Kenmochi’s medical appointments is then revealed after a third point-of-view shift, this time to Toshiko as she meets her lover, Kimura, behind the clinic after he fails to show up for a pre-arranged rendezvous at a concert. Accepting Kenmochi’s dinner invitation, Kimura is further exposed to the peculiarities of their marital relationship, as Kenmochi leaves the room to afford Kimura and Ikuko some privacy, and subjects his alcohol-intolerant wife to quickly consume several glasses of hard liquor. After the flustered, inebriated Ikuko subsequently retreats to take her habitual long hot bath, Kenmochi happily reports to Kimura of his discovery that jealousy serves as a potent aphrodisiac for him – a realization that drives him into increasingly insidious machinations in order to fuel Ikuko and Kimura’s flirtatious attraction and, in the process, arouse his own sexual desire.

Kon Ichikawa creates a darkly comic, delirious, and irreverent satire on aging, sexuality, and narcissism in Odd Obsession. By repeatedly shifting narrative perspective among Kimura, Kenmochi, Ikuko, Toshiko, and even to the visually impaired housekeeper, Hana (Tanie Kitabayashi), Ichikawa provides an omniscient, critical view of the self-absorbed, appearance-conscious bourgeoisie: Ikuko’s seeming acceptance of her husband’s declining health that contradicts her aversion to a physically imperfect kitten; Kenmochi’s sale of his personal antique collection that is publicly concealed by his retention of the art objects in the house; Kimura’s courtship of Toshiko in order to further his social stature. Adapted from Junichiro Tanizaki’s highly sensual, risqué, and controversial novel – a provocative mixture that Ichikawa himself would initially struggle to define as either “art” or “pornography” – Odd Obsession serves as a thematically dense, tonally muted, yet incisive and acutely subversive examination of vanity, sexual obsession, and the impossible pursuit of eternal youth.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.