(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mizoguchi narrates the story of his troubled life from his middle school years until age twenty-one, when he commits what he considers to be an inevitable deed. From the beginning of his narration, Mizoguchi stresses his isolation and feelings of alienation: Born on a remote cape to impoverished parents, a physically frail only child, he recognizes early that he is ugly and that his speech impediment—a stutter—locks him away from easy communication with the rest of the world. He lives virtually in an inner world, scorning the reality of the world around him. Throughout his narrative Mizoguchi stresses that “not being understood by other people had become my only real source of pride.”

Mizoguchi comes to believe that his troubled life leads him inevitably to the destruction of the Golden Temple. To explain this deed, Mizoguchi alerts the reader “that the first real problem I faced in my life was that of beauty.” Mizoguchi’s father, a tubercular country priest, taught his young son that nothing was more beautiful than the Golden Temple in Kyoto. When he feels death approaching, Mizoguchi’s father takes his young son to see the Zen temple and to meet Father Tayama Dosen, an old friend and the Superior of the Golden Temple. Having nurtured the idea of the temple’s beauty for years in his inner world, Mizoguchi is initially disappointed with the temple. The reality does not satisfy his ideal vision. Yet once away from Kyoto, he again visualizes the temple as beautiful. After his father’s death in the summer of 1944, Mizoguchi goes to Kyoto to finish his education under the care of Father Dosen. The young acolyte continues his lonely and alienated life: At his father’s cremation, he sheds no tears; a flashback describing an incident when Mizoguchi is thirteen explains his hatred for his mother; and even after a year with Father Dosen, Mizoguchi feels no personal connection to him. Only the temple holds fascination for the young Zen acolyte.

While studying at the temple, Mizoguchi is befriended by another youngacolyte, Tsurukawa. The two students seem quite different: Tsurukawa comes from a prosperous Tokyo family, has a promising future as a priest, and in Mizoguchi’s eyes has a cheerful and carefree disposition. During these years, only Tsurukawa is aware of Mizoguchi’s special feeling...

(The entire section is 971 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The son of a Zen Buddhist monk, Mizoguchi is haunted by his father’s admiration of the beautiful Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Mizoguchi himself is not beautiful. He is a stutterer and describes himself as ugly, but he considers himself a great artist. When a naval cadet visits Mizoguchi’s middle school, the boy scratches the fine scabbard of the cadet’s sword for no particular reason other than envy.

When Mizoguchi tries to confront Uiko, an attractive young woman who lives nearby, she teases him about his stuttering, and he curses her. A few months later she hides in a temple with her lover, a deserter from the navy, and when the military police find them, the lover shoots her and then kills himself. Mizoguchi, however, is not especially disturbed by the tragedy.

When his father takes him to visit the Golden Temple, Mizoguchi is disappointed; he finds that he actually prefers a model of the temple to the real thing. His ailing father’s main intent, however, is to introduce his son to the temple’s superior, Father Dosen, who will become Mizoguchi’s teacher. Shortly afterward, his father dies, and Mizoguchi feels no particular grief, nor does he feel sorry for his mother, who, he knows, had once been unfaithful to his father. This event, which he witnessed as a boy, caused him to despise both parents and is likely the origin of his own self-loathing.

As an acolyte or student of Zen during the last year of World War II, Mizoguchi forms a friendship with an outgoing, likable student named Tsurukawa, but he continues to feel alienated by the beauty of the temple and drawn to a life of evil. One evening, Mizoguchi sees a tea ceremony in which a beautiful woman uses milk from her breast for a young army officer’s cup, and he is struck by the mystery of the event.

During the American military occupation of Japan following the war, a drunken U.S. soldier insists that Mizoguchi step on the stomach of a prostitute outside the temple. Mizoguchi finds a strange pleasure in doing so, and he maliciously passes on to Father Dosen the carton of cigarettes that the soldier gives him. After the prostitute has a miscarriage, she extorts money from the superior, and later she commits suicide. Mizoguchi feels no guilt over what has happened; in fact, he takes a certain evil pleasure in it.

Although Father...

(The entire section is 965 words.)