Kon Ichikawa Donald Richie - Essay

Donald Richie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The visuals [in Conflagration (Enjo, 1958) are] superb. For practically the first time CinemaScope was here used intelligently and creatively; and the textures captured in black and white were—even for Japan—beyond compare. Particularly impressive was the use of architecture. Ichikawa … would situate their action at the far left, for example, balancing it with architectural detail which, as one scene followed the other, perfectly re-created the temple atmosphere…. [Such] set-ups served primarily to emphasise the meaning of the scene. Though aesthetically prodigal, the film never exploited aestheticism for its own sake.

Just as beautiful and just as disturbing was The Key (Kagi, 1959), at present tentatively titled Obsession…. If Conflagration equated beauty and love and sex with destruction, The Key equated sex with illness, sex with medicine, sex with death. The film … examines the sex life of a middle-aged Kyoto couple and parallels this with the premarital activities of their daughter and her young doctor fiancé.

But the picture, like the novel, is only superficially interested in who goes to bed with whom and sacrifices and melodramatic possibilities by making each member of the quartet perfectly aware of what the others are doing. (pp. 78-9)

Sex is almost palpable in the film…. [The] screen is cluttered with hypodermic needles, catheters, sex rejuvenation machines, unmade beds, loosely flung...

(The entire section is 624 words.)