Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Enjô (1958)

Seen: On VHS on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

I'm currently taking a course on the cultural history of Kyoto, and for my final paper I'm writing about Yukio Mishima's novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Kon Ichikawa's film Enjô ("Conflagration") is the only film adaptation I could get a copy of, and I plan to work it into my paper as well. Inspired by true events, the story centers around young Buddhist monk Mizoguchi (Raizo Ichikawa), who joins the famous golden temple after his father's death. A shy stutterer, he becomes obsessed with the temple itself, seeing in it a reflection of all the beauty that can never exist in his world, especially as the horrors of World War II and the following years of scarcity take their toll. In an act of inscrutable madness, he sets the temple on fire, intending to die in the flames but ultimately escaping death and falling into police hands.

I'll be upfront: I was pretty sick when I watched this movie, and I know my focus wasn't the best. Plus it turns out that low-quality black and white VHS tapes are kind of hard to see clearly when blown up on a home projector. So... there's that. Also looking back on it I keep getting confused between what happens in the book and what they included in the film. Oh well.

Anyway. Filmed in a quiet, deliberate style with limited revealing dialogue, Enjô is an interesting look at wartime/postwar outer Kyoto as well as a character study of a confused and obsessive young man. It gives insight into the day-to-day lives of priests at a zen temple during this period, including the corrupt practices of its members as the evils of war seep into every consciousness. The lead actor is quite good, as is Tatsuya Nakadai as the scurrilous clubfooted friend. (I'm sorry if "clubfooted" is an offensive term- I'm unfamiliar with it, but it's used in the book and film to describe him.)

As a whole, though, I found the film a bit too reserved, and I'm more engaged with the book as we see the story through Mizoguchi's eyes with his very self-reflective first-person narration.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm unsure... perhaps another film that focuses on the psychology of a crime and/or the motives behind it? Like The United States of Leland? Or Primal Fear. Or you could also just read Mishima's book, I'm currently about halfway through and it's quite interesting.

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