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An Obsession

Review by: 
Big McLargehuge
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Shinji Aoyama
Ryo Ishibashi
Taro Suwa
Bottom Line: 

 I’ve always had a soft spot for well-written and/or well-executed melodrama, and An Obsession (Tsumetai Chi) is one of the best I’ve ever encountered. Though this film borrows the elements of several other genres — police procedural, mystery, serial killer on the run film, lamentation on mortality, etc, the heart and soul of An Obsession is love and what ends people will go to for it.
Police detective Sosuke has it pretty good. He likes his job, is best friends with his partner, and has a beautiful wife at home, who although an individualist, has always supported Sosuke in all his endeavors. Then, in a flash, someone takes all of that away. One evening when chasing the man who just assassinated a notorious cult leader, Sosuke is shot in the chest and left for dead. During the interim where he lays almost unconscious in a pool of his own blood and the time the ambulance arrives, someone steals his gun.
Sosuke loses his entire right lung, his wife Rie leaves him and files for divorce because she can’t deal with the stress of him being a cop, and he comes under inquiry because his gun is missing. Sosuke, a man who, by his own description, has emptiness where his soul used to be, resigns from the police force and begins to pick up the pieces of what’s left of his life.
Then, someone starts randomly killing people in nighttime Toyko, with Sosuke’s gun.
How much does Sosuke remember in the minutes he lie bleeding and fighting for breath? He remembers the sound of footsteps, but not clearly. However, there is something distinctive and familiar about them. If he could only place it…
Miki, the man who shot Sosuke, is determined to be insane and unable to comprehend the rigors of a jury trial. He is cloistered away in a mental institution. He was motivated to kill the cult leader Kunihiro to win back the love of his wife, which he does. Sosuke was only a victim of circumstance.
Everything is, is not.
Everything is not, is.
Miki tells Sosuke that the black hole in his chest will draw the killer to him.
Meanwhile the police don’t want Sosuke looking into the case unless they are involved. And he tells them repeatedly that he has moved beyond that part of his life. But he hasn’t. It gnaws at him like the lingering burn of the bullet hole and surgery scars on his chest. He has to find his gun and the hand that now wields it.
For the first 2/3rds of the movie we are kept in the dark about the killer and his motives, which works really well in establishing the necessary tension to keep the story moving along. However, the story isn’t about Sosuke’s quest for the stolen gun. It’s the story about the depth of love for Rie and the steps he will take to win her back. Resigning from the police should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Finding the gun might be enough, but he doesn’t know.
Shimano Kozo, a young man from a wealthy family, also a victim of congenital leukemia (inherited from his mother who survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki) is dying. For a brief year he had a passionate affair with artist model Kimiko, a love so passionate she begs him to kill her upon learning that he is quickly succumbing to the disease.
What would you do for love? Sosuke sacrifices everything for it, Shimano kills to demonstrate it, Kimiko wishes for death to perfect it. These three people drive the story of the stolen gun, Shimano’s killing spree, and Sosuke’s slow descent into nothingness.
Shinji Aoyama’s script is a masterful meditation on the melancholy nature of love told in the framework of a sort of standard mystery. But in that respect the mystery works. Aoyama’s characters are sympathetic enough to make them interesting. I wanted to see how Sosuke navigated this portion of his life. I wanted to see if Kimiko got her wish. I wanted to see Shimano’s final sculpture. Aoyama weaves these motivations together beautifully and allows the script to linger on the quiet and desperate moments in each character’s lives. Whether it’s Kimiko standing still for hours on end so students can sketch her, or Sosuke struggling to breath after running a few feet just to see if he could, or Shimano writhing in agony as the leukemia gnaws away at his insides.
He keeps the camera intimate so that we become almost a shadow of the characters and they become a shadow of the audience. All that is, is not. All that is no, is.
Ryo Ishibashi, known to Horrorview readers as the star of Rokuro Michizuki’s excellent “Another Lonely Hitman” delivers another performance of simmering pathos as Sosuke. You can almost feel the hope draining from him with each half-breath. You can see the uncertainty and unease on his face when asked if he will try and talk to Rie again. You can feel the desperation as he finally figures out Shimano’s final plan and racing, not to thwart it, but to see if he brings it to fruition.
While An Obsession may not be for everyone, especially if the audience expects a violent Yakuza crime film, it is a wonderful meditation on mortality and love.

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