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Director Ichikawa passed away in mid-February; having no unwatched films of his in my collection, I decided to pay him tribute with this (which I only recently acquired and was, reportedly, his own personal favorite among his films) and the anti-war drama THE BURMESE HARP (1956; via the Criterion DVD) both of which are among his most renowned works.
I had attended part of an Ichikawa retrospective at London's National Film Theater in 2002, where I watched eight of his movies comprising both well-known and more obscure titles; incidentally, I first watched CONFLAGRATION itself in a specialized local theater during a 2005 Japanese-film week along with Akira Kurosawa's minor SCANDAL (1950). By the way, the lead actor here is also called Ichikawa and, funnily enough, he plays a character named Mizoguchi (one wonders whether it was a deliberate nod to famed Japanese film-maker Kenji Mizoguchi, who had died two years before and also happens to be the Asian exponent I admire above all myself!); Tatsuya Nakadai, then, provides solid support as an opportunistic cripple he was a star in the making at this point.
While the subject matter (based on a story by the celebrated but controversial Yukio Mishima) involving a meek and stuttering monk's schooling and who has an unlimited devotion to a Japanese temple, may not be exactly enticing there's no denying the emotional power inherent in the unfolding drama, or the beauty of the images themselves (the film was shot in monochrome and widescreen). Besides, the director utilizes a simple and seamless transition between present and past events in the boy's life; incidentally, the story is told in flashback as the young monk is being interrogated by the baffled and angry police for having willfully destroyed a national shrine (he eventually burns down his beloved temple in a symbolic gesture when subjected to the hypocrisies of the world).
Aside from the exploits of rebellious buddy Nakadai, the hero's religious doubt is triggered by the fact that his otherwise firm superior turns out to be a womanizer, and that his outwardly submissive yet overbearing mother is also an adulteress while in his own eagerness not to have the temple defiled by 'unworthy subjects', he mistreats a local girl who wants to take refuge inside thus effectively solving her dilemma, since she miscarries the baby due from an illicit affair with a American G.I. (the time in which the narrative is set, presumably, being the immediate post-war era).
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