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Japanese Divas

Friday, June 17, 2011
9:00 p.m. Odd Obsession
Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1959)

(Kagi, a.k.a. The Key). An elderly Kyoto art dealer attempts to keep his sexual potency alive by sundry means; when injections fail him, he tries jealousy, arranging liaisons between his still-beautiful wife (Machiko Kyo) and a starving intern, his daughter’s fiancé. Based on a Tanizaki novel, this wonderfully perverse family drama would be black comedy, but for its prevalent mood—as Donald Richie describes it, “a new interpretation of the love-death theme, in which some of the most sordid of human actions are captured by means of the sheerest physical beauty.” Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa creates an architecture of claustrophobia and voyeurism in dark hallways shot through by sudden light; drama in a stand of bamboo shimmering in the night wind; and an extraordinary physicality, always at arm’s length. Pauline Kael noted, “I don’t think I have ever seen a movie that gave such a feeling of flesh,” and much of that was made possible through Kyo’s brave, extraordinary performance.

• Written by Natto Wada, Keiji Hasebe, Ichikawa, based on a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki. Photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa. With Machiko Kyo, Ganjiro Nakamura, Junko Kano, Tatsuya Nakadai. (107 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, ‘Scope, 35mm, PFA Collection, Permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)