Kagi (1959)

20 11 2008

All of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge apply here. Overall, I’d say this is definitely the better movie, though it is unfortunately nowhere close to being on the same level as Fires on the Plain. Formally, the film represents Ichikawa at the most formally assured point in his career, as well as the high point in his writing collaborations with his wife, Kogo Nada. The cast is pretty fantastic too, but I guess there isn’t really enough “substance” there for any emotional impact to be felt. It is pretty good, but perhaps slightly hallow as well.

This is none the less, a very watchable movie. It is suppose to be a “dark comedy” of sorts and even though it isn’t nearly as funny as say, Ozu’s funniest work, it does manage to bring its own sort of absurd complicated humor. There are shades of Buñuel, but there isn’t quite enough comedy there to ever make it feel as though the film is actually all that satirical. I am a big fan of “gallows humor” and even though the subject matter requests some serious thought, this is nothing all that “dark.” In a way, this makes the film somewhat more realistic, but not more likable.

For as visually stunning as the film occasionally is, it’s the performances that really carry the weight. It’s not exactly an actor-driven movie, but it isn’t exactly a formally-driven movie, either, which gives it a slightly middle-brow (by the standards of Japanese art films) feeling. It is definitely impressive how Ichikawa composes his shots. Every once and awhile he will resort to Ozu style shot/reverse shots, but I guess that is the perfect lead-in for the biggest problem for the film overall. There is too much telling, not enough showing.

The most frustrating aspect of the plot-driven sensibility Ichikawa provides is that it is masked under an exceptional visual style. It’s as though he has the tools to elevate his film beyond the level of a purely contrived premise but chooses to wallow within the simplicity of his story. In all honesty, this doesn’t seem all that different from something Todd Solondz would do. To Ichikawa’s advantage, he shows a compassion for his characters that is much more respectable than Solondz’s condescending outlook. On the other hand, though, why wouldn’t Ichikawa just go and make a full-blown Ozu imitation? If he really wanted to make a cynical dark comedy, then he should have shown some signs of cynicism. I get the feeling he and Wada were far too nice to ever see their characters in a negative enough light for this film to really work. I’m glad this is the case, but I have to wonder why Ichikawa would bother with a story so shrill and potentially snark.

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One response

21 11 2008
MS

The acting in this film is excellent, but it was impossible for me to feel sympathy for any of the characters. The very strange ending indicates that Ichikawa himself perhaps didn’t care for them either.

Of all the Ichikawa films that I’ve seen, the only one that I really liked was Ototo (Her Brother).

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