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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan
Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan
Facets Video // Unrated // September 25, 2007
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted September 7, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Facets Video has released Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan, a fascinating yet moribund documentary on the legendary architect, and the influence he had on modern Japanese architecture. Running over two hours, Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan sheds light on a critical time in Wright's career, when he visited Japan and designed what many say was his finest creation: The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. And while I found the doc nicely dense in details about Wright's work, the slow, plodding presentation works against the excitement of the subject matter.






Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan chronicles Wright's early fascination with Japanese woodblocks (where their perspective, abstraction, geometric shapes and over-all simplicity led to Wright's admiration for the "gospel of the elimination of the insignificant"), and his eventual visit to Japan - the only foreign country the American Wright had buildings erected - when his career lay in tatters. Having left his wife and many children to have an unapologetic affair, the American public disowned him, and work became scarce. An initial offer to work in Japan soon turned into designing the fabulous Imperial Hotel, along with other smaller commissions, many of which never went past the design and drawing stages.



As Wright gained first-hand appreciation of the native Japanese architecture he had always admired - elements of which started to seep into his designs - his committment to his art also influenced a succession of Japanese apprentices who carried on his style (some even slavishly). Those buildings, as well as Wright's own work in the country, had a ripple effect, bringing Wright concepts of buildings harmoniously co-existing with their natural surroundings, and his love of natural, indigenous materials, right in line with traditional Japanese building practices. Prior to Wright's arrival in Japan, native architects were abandoning traditional Japanese designs and motifs in favor of Western styles, in an effort to continue Japan's quest to "modernize" and emulate the West. After Wright's success, and after he put his mark on his young apprentices and on the many students who later flocked to study his buildings, it can be said (according to the documentary) that a rebirth occurred within Japanese architecture, with an emphasis on retaining the form and spirit of ancient Japanese techniques and forms



Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan is filled to the brim with drawings, photos, and models of not only Wright's work, but also his acolytes and apprentices; indeed, the second hour of Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan largely abandons Wright (he lived in Japan from 1917-1922) to focus on Arata Endo (the only architect to ever share credit on a building or drawing with Wright), Kameki and Nobu Tsuchiura, Yoshiya Tanoue, Takehiro Okami, Eizo Sugawara, Muraji Shimomoto, and Taro Amano. For an architecture student or buff, it's a dream doc about the legendary architect, and his influence on Japanese architecture.



However, Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan, directed by Karen Severns and Koichi Mori, in no way captures the excitement of its subject within its own execution, falling back on staid documentary clich├ęs including the scanned photo, the extreme close-up head shot for interviews, and the chintzy recreation of historic events (done most disastrously here by shooting them almost completely out of focus). Even more harmful to Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan is the grinding, almost monotone narration that overlays every minute of the two hour-plus running time. Particularly since this is a celebration of Wright's Japanese-influenced (and Japanese-influencing) architecture, couldn't there have been just one segment or moment where the viewer could have contemplated a design or building, in Zen-like silence? Or perhaps to the accompaniment of indigenous music? Unfortunately, the talking just continues, and the beauty of Wright's and his apprentices' work gets buried under the exposition.





The DVD:



The Video:

The full screen transfer for Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan is fine, with subtle coloring and a sharp picture. Compression issues did crop up occasionally (when some photos were laterally scanned), but it wasn't obtrusive.



The Audio:

The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo mix was more than adequate for the narration-soaked soundtrack. Close-captions were not available.



The Extras:

There's a nice 12-page booklet included, a Facets Cine-Notes, that gives some further background on the film.



Final Thoughts:

A must-have for architecture students and buffs, Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan may overload the casual viewer with quite a bit of detail, and an unrelenting narration. If you follow Wright, I suggest you buy Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan, but a rental would be more suited to the casual viewer.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.



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