The Wata/Ichikawa adaptation of Tanizaki’s “The Key”

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Ichikawa Kon and his wife, Wada Naddo, adapted many novels, perhaps most notable The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Enjo) and The Burmese Harp, often making major changes as in changing the protagonist of the latter from Christian to Buddhist.

It is, perhaps, better not to have read the works they adapted (with the exception of Mishima’s). At least I found what I remembered of Tanizaki’s Kagi (The Key) getting in the way of watching what got titled in English “Odd Obsession” (1959). There are plot points remaining and the names of the characters, but the novel is about the consciousnesses as recorded in their diaries of the older husband needing help to avoid impotence, Kenomochi Kenji (Kanô Junko Nakamura Ganjirô [Enjo, An Actor’s Revenge, The Pornographers]) and the younger wife, Ikukuo (Kyô Machiko [Rashomon, Ugetsu]) aware that she is being used (plied with liquor and photographed while unconscious) and that jealousy stimulates her husband.

A young Nakadai Tatsuya plays the young man (Kimura, an intern treating the husband) at whom Ikuko is thrown, though he has been courting the daughter, Toshiko (Kanô Junko) whose face and figure are less beautiful than her mother.

Tanizaki juxtaposed the diary entries of the husband and wife. Ichikawa opens and closes with voiceovers from Kimura, who is slow to understand the game his patient is playing and eventually realizes that what he thought was a good match with Toshiko is not, since the house is mortgaged and the antiques belong to others (have been brought for appraisals and kept about by the devious older man).

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And agency is exercized by Toshiko, and, more effectively, by a seemingly befuddled servant, Hana (Kitabayashi Tanie). I was right that the ending was quite different and pulled down the book and confirmed that Kimura was going to wed Toshiko as a cover for continuing his liaison with Ikuko. (In A Hundred Years of Japanese Cinema, Donald Richie called the movie ending “lazy”; it certainly traduces Tanizaki’s novel).

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(maid, physician, husband, wife, daughter)

So Wada and Ichikawa radically (and melodramatically) changed the ending as well as jettisoning what makes the novel interesting: the subjectivities of Ikuko and Kenji and their awareness of what the other has written. It would have been difficult to keep the divergent narrations of Kenji and Ikuko, but substituting Kimura’s to some extent and the foreshadowed almost-farcical poisoning seems to me betrayal of the source, which was not a satire on materialism or narcissism, though Tanizaki’s characters were without question narcissistic, and at least Kenji was materialistic, but also was passionate (consciously risking his life for sexual arousal directed at his wife of decades). Even without any foot fetishism (a Tanizaki hallmark), the movie was voyeuristic, which, perhaps was not the forte of the great cinematographer Miyagawa Kazuo (Rashomon, Ugestu, Sansho the Bailiff, Enjo, Yojimbo) who also shot Ozu’s second version of “Floating Weeds” in 1959

The movie tied with “L’avventura” for the Cannes Jury Prize, with four other movies including “Wild Strawberries” and “Black Orpheus” for a Golden Globe. For me, “Fires on the Plain” was the great Ichikawa movie from 1959 (following “Enjo” from 1958).

I’d like to see the 1975 adaptation of Natsume Sôseki’s I am a Cat with Nakadai. Criterion did release on DVD Ichikawa’s 1982 adaptation of Tanizaki’s magnum opus, The Makioka Sisters and the great “Tokyo Olympiad” and the delirious “An Actor’s Revenge,” about each of which I’ll be posting in coming days).

 

©2015, Stephen O. Murray

(This should have been posted before what I wrote about the 1962 “Being Two Isn’t Easy.” Neither is available in the US on DVD, though both were on VHS.)

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