The best adaptation of Yukia Mishima’s “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” comes in Conflagration (1958)

The famous Yukio Mishima story, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, adapted to film in Kon Ishikawa’s Conflagration. A triumphant retelling of the deeply troubled character story, where the preservation of beauty makes Raizo Ichikawa (Goichi Mizoguchi), fly into an enraged and violent jealousy. Ishikawa’s vision for the film better understands Goichi trauma, and how his upbringing influences his mannerisms and actions. It helps us better understand the dangerous obsession to the temple and the overwhelming feelings he harbors towards its unrequited beauty. In the absence of universal peace and aesthetic beauty, we see the self-destruction of Goichi from the inside-out.

The screenplay captures the same angst in Goichi as Mishima’s novel. It’s an unbelievably layered script, able to convey so much history and emotion through the most subtle actions and details surrounding him. Once he’s introduced to the crippled Tokari played brilliantly by Tatsuya Nakadai, his entire worldview shatters and any peace he had was stolen from him. All his decisions lead to one depressingly dark decision that will haunt him the rest of his life. Yet, it’s written as the only remaining decision left and one that needed to be done to cure his internalized pain.

Mishimia’s writing is cruel to this young, impressionable boy. He shows it as a life full of destructive pain, enough to shatter a boy forever. Ishikawa’s direction understands the internal struggle and how integral it is to Goichi as a character. We see this in the fire and how he reacts to being exposed to similar trauma. It’s a film shrouded in alluring darkness in the lighting, but shows the unending gorgeous temple in it’s gleaming brilliance.

As for the ending, it’s nearly a perfect scene. It’s poetic and visually powerful. Watching a building that holds great meaning to a person while also being a release is just excellent writing. Conflagration will serve as one of my favorite adaptations ever made and a hidden gem of Japanese cinema. It’s bizarre, surreal, and yet grounded in reality.

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