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Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita

Saturday, November 1, 2008
9:00 p.m. Enjo
Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1958)

New Print

(a.k.a. Conflagration). Young Goichi Mizoguchi (Raizo Ichikawa), haunted by the death of his father, a Buddhist priest, travels to Kyoto to offer himself as an acolyte at a prosperous monastery near an ancient mountainside temple. There, Goichi, who is plagued by a debilitating stammer, encounters troubling moral ambiguities that are not mitigated by the kindness of the head priest. Enjo’s flashback structure offers revealing views of both wartime and postwar mores, but the young man’s memories of being raised in “a poor, cold temple” penetrate even deeper pasts that allow for why, as society changes, he cannot. His defining action, the burning of the beloved Kyoto temple, is not so much cathartic as inevitable, as is his profound silence following the conflagration. Ichikawa’s interpretation of Yukio Mishima’s best-selling novel about the razing of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion uses Toshiro Mayuzumi’s avant-garde music and Kazuo Miyagawa’s “architectonic” widescreen cinematography to chilling effect.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Natto Wada, Keiji Hasebe, from the novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) by Yukio Mishima. Photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa. With Raizo Ichikawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Ganjiro Nakamura, Yoichi Funaki. (96 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, ’Scope, 35mm)