Machiko Kyô and Ganjirô Nakamura in Kagi (1959)


(director/writer: Kon Ichikawa; screenwriters: Natto Wada/Keiji Hasebe/from the novel Kagi by Junichiro Tanizaki; cinematographer: Kazuo Miyagawa; editors: Kon Ichikawa/Hiroaki Fujii/Tatsuji Nakashizu; music: Yasushi Akutagawa; cast: Machiko Kyo (Ikuko Kenmochi), Ganjiro Nakamura (Kenji Kenmochi), Junko Kano (Toshiko Kenmochi), Tatsuya Nakadai (Kimura), Jun Hamamura (Dr. Soma), Tanie Kitabayashi (Hana); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masaichi Nagata; Harrison Pictures; 1959-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Never fully aroused me.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Odd Obsession is adapted from Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1956 controversial scandalous sexual novel Kagi. Writer-director Kon Ichikawa (“The Burmese Harp”/”47 Ronin”/”An Actor’s Revenge”) and the director’s screenwriter wife Natto Wada and their collaborator Keiji Hasebe turn it away from the author’s rendering of a psycho-sexual power struggle into a kinky and morbid black comedy about an impotent old man perversely looking for a way to arouse his sex drive. The heavy-handed morality play exposing the unprofitable nature of lust was shot in the days before Viagra, and its silly story line turned deadly might have been tense and well-executed but never fully aroused me. Though it did win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1960.

The respected elderly Japanese art critic and antiquarian Kenji Kenmochi (Ganjiro Nakamura) is concerned about his failing ability to perform sexually and for the last year has been taking potency injections to rejuvenate himself for his pretty and much younger wife Ikuko (Machiko Kyo). The injections are administered by Kimura (Tatsuya Nakadai), a young intern working for Dr. Soma (Jun Hamamura), who is engaged to Kenji’s sweet but plain looking daughter Toshiko (Junko Kano). When the treatments outlive their usefulness, Kenji encourages the handsome Kimura to get close to his wife. He says this makes him jealous and gets him erect. This odd sexual situation scheme works but is so bizarre that it leads by the third act to Kenji’s heart attack while in the saddle with his wife and later to a fatal heart attack when he sees his wife strip naked for Kimura. When Kenji leaves the family penniless and his family with a highly mortgaged house, the upwardly mobile son of a fisherman, Kimura, shows his true colors by wishing to ditch both mother and daughter. Kimura is invited to dine with the mother and daughter, but the visually impaired and warped house servant Hana (Tanie Kitabayashi) is so upset with their wicked sexual behavior and how cheap they are that she poisons their salad with insecticide and everyone is killed. The police discover the wife’s diary and believe the three committed suicide, and ignore Hana’s confession.

It’s a skillful look at degeneracy, offering wry observations about mankind’s foibles, that’s superbly acted by both Nakamura and Kyo, but it left me cold as the film about passion seemed to lack passion in favor of perversity.