Kon Ichikawa Raymond Durgnat - Essay

Raymond Durgnat

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Odd Obsession, Ichikawa] attains the purity of style for which he strove. The domestic courtesies are observed. Voices are rarely raised. Dawn whitens beyond the bamboos. The photography, with its dull purples and mauves, has an elegiac warmth; and the characters' cold, bleak, sexual frustrations are gazed on with so detached and reticent an eye that before they can become contemptible they attract our compassion. Cynical as it is, the film has a certain reverence and humility before the mysteriousness of people's feelings.

Twice only does it offend Western sensibilities: once with—a classic clanger, this—a quick cut from the youngsters kissing, to railway goods-trucks' automatic couplings banging together, and on to piston-rods, whistles, the lot. The idea of mechanical callousness is conveyed so abruptly that the symbol seems merely humourless. The final double poisoning may offend our ideas of dramatic decorum—but, after all, if we really want to understand Japanese art, and the Japanese mind, we will have to sharply modify those ideas sooner or later anyway.

The smooth impassivity of the acting is quite eerie. Medical details—about blood pressure, cerebral hemiplegia—are stated with placid detail…. Typical of the film's quiet, cryptic poetry is a cut from a close-up of the daughter, with lipstick, to a close-up of her mother, whose face is made up like a Noh mask, pallid and grey. The film never seemed inspired, and those who are embarrassed by the subject matter are unlikely to get anything from it at all. Others will sense its solidity and tenderness, and respect an unusual, if minor, film. (p. 34)

Raymond Durgnat, "'Odd Obsession'" (© copyright Raymond Durgnat 1962; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 8, No. 5, February, 1962, pp. 33-4.