Kon Ichikawa

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William Johnson

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Enjo [is] a beautifully made and moving film….

Its construction, far from being slack, is an intricate nest of flashbacks…. The procedure is not in the least original (there is an obvious and close parallel with [Welles's] Citizen Kane), but Ichikawa handles it so deftly that it seems neither artificial nor confusing, and in the end it proves to be justified.

Ichikawa tries a little too hard to squeeze significance out of the characters surrounding Goichi. Some of them are types (though not, to Western eyes, stereotypes), unchanging from scene to scene….

Most of the flaws in the construction and characters of Enjo are neutralized by the film's sheer visual integrity…. The photography is designed not for virtuosity but for aptness. The compositions within the side Daieiscope format are balanced without seeming calculated. The lighting of the interiors is often low-key without melodramatically pitting pools of light against black shadows. With its directness and control, the visual treatment of Enjo reflects the obsessive integrity of Goichi himself—yet also, from time to time, it reveals Goichi's pent-up emotions through some breath-taking images. (p. 43)

The film's most unusual images are, not surprisingly, of fire. In the flashback of the father's funeral, his coffin is set on a pyre on a beach. There is a close-up of the coffin as its sides begin to burn; then, with a great crash, the lid bursts open and a huge flame roars up from inside—to Goichi, perhaps, his father's spirit; to the spectator, Goichi's grief. In any event, this searing image helps explain why Goichi decides in the end to set fire to the beloved temple, preferring to destroy it rather than see it desecrated by people to whom it means nothing. (pp. 43-4)

The fire is the supreme moment of eloquence for Enjo's inarticulate hero. This scene points out, in retrospect, how far Ichikawa has made images speak on behalf of Goichi. With the spare, brooding interiors of the monastery and the gray, crowded streets of the nearby city, the calm clarity of the temple and the bright sunlight of the flashback memories, Ichikawa has opened window after window on Goichi's seemingly inaccessible soul. This is his great achievement—that he succeeds in making his neurotic Japanese Buddhist priest both familiar and fascinating. (p. 44)

William Johnson, "Film Reviews: 'Enjo'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1965 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring, 1965, pp. 42-4.

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