with Ryo Ishibashi, Yôzaburô Itô, Eiko Nagashima
Directed by Shinji Aoyama
by Chad Van Wagner
ArtsMagic continues unearthing the just slightly beyond the radar bits of Japanese cinema with Shinji Aoyama’s An Obsession. Good thing too, as his buzz has been simmering since 2000’s (still unavailable) epic Eureka won two special prizes at Cannes that year.
However, I’m not sure about recommending An Obsession as a good launching point, much as it has going for it. While any foreign film is going to have some context issues for your average moviegoer, much of what makes up the film is wholly Japanese. If you don’t know about the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Tokyo, double suicides, and Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Stray Dog, then you’re going to be more than a bit lost.
Thing is, if you do know about the above, An Obsession is definitely worth your time. Ryo Ishibashi (the hapless victim from Takeshi Miike’s Audition, which was to be his next role) is a cop who loses his gun to a mentally-unbalanced criminal, and his search for it becomes a search for meaning in his life. Yes, it’s one of THOSE movies: A highly symbolic, methodically-paced character study that is much more interested in inner turmoil than outer bloodshed. While the film as a whole is not as compelling or chilling as Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s brilliant (and similarly themed) Cure, Ishibashi’s performance is enough to make the film’s two hour running time seem both too short and endless. He’s really everything that makes the film work, and it’s an impressive feat indeed that he can make you care about a character that doesn’t really seem to care too much about himself.
The downside of all this talent is, unfortunately, the bits that don’t quite work really stick out. Aoyama really lays the symbolism on pretty thick, and the surrealist nature in which he does it clashes loudly with the quiet realism of the rest of the film. The ending just screams “film student!,” and it’s never a good idea to break the fourth wall (Ishibashi angrily attacks the camera) in the last five seconds.
Don’t dismiss An Obsession. Just go in expecting a flawed gem. There’s much to be had here.