“Man’s senility is believed to begin at the age of 10.”
An elderly, ailing husband (Ganjiro Nakamura) tries to resurrect his waning virility by presenting his beautiful younger wife (Machiko Kyo) to his daughter’s fiance (Tatsuya Nakadai).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Black Comedy
- Japanese Films
- Kon Ichikawa Films
Kon Ichikawa’s provocative black comedy — based on a novel by famed Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki — makes for fascinating yet challenging viewing. Since characters’ motivations aren’t always clear, we never know what to expect from them, and thus we’re kept in suspense from beginning to end. Kyo’s wifely character is particularly inscrutable — how much does she know about her husband’s plans? — and Ichikawa’s choice not to let us know what’s running through her mind differs radically from the novel (which consists of alternating diary entries written by both husband and wife).
As highly charged as the eroticism is in Kagi, it’s implied rather than flaunted: the characters never explicitly state what’s going on, and instead we must rely on their facial reactions to guess the content of racy photographs, or to understand that a particular character has no clothing on. Symbolism also prevails: in one unusually provocative shot, the aging husband’s dark-rimmed glasses fall onto his wife’s pale chest, hinting at the distance that exists between his lustful gaze and her sensuous availability. While not all of Ichikawa’s stylistic choices work — his freeze frames near the beginning of the film seem like mere affect, for instance — his unique sensibility ultimately adds just the right flavor of absurdity to this darkly comic tale.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- An intriguingly perverse, erotically charged saga of familial dysfunction
Yes, simply as an essential entry in Kon Ichikawa’s impressive oeuvre.