Film #83: THE DEVIL'S TEMPLE (aka ONI NO SUMU YAKATA)
The Devil’s Temple (aka Oni no sumu yakata)
3 out of 5 stars
A 1969 morality play from Daiei Studio contract director, Kenji Misumi who directed a host of influential and important chanbara films such as 4 of the LONE WOLF AND CUB series, a fistful of Zatoichi films, and a couple of the SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH series. However, DEVIL’S TEMPLE is a slowly, more dialog-driven film and is, at its core, a discussion about Buddhism itself and the eternal struggle between the aspirations of the spirit and fallibilities of the flesh. The story takes place in an abandoned temple nestled in the mountains. The dilapidated structure is the scene of a fateful encounter between a Buddhist monk (played by Kei Sato), two women in love with the same man (Hideko Takamine as the heartbroken Kaede and Michiyo Aratama as the beguiling and sensuous Aisen), and a fallen samurai (Shintaro Katsu, at his most blusterous). As the four seemingly unrelated destinies collide, it appears that it is not just the lives of the quartet that are at stake, but their very souls. Shot in stunning color, the film establishes its premise quickly, but then slows down and, once the audience is hooked, it slowly tightens its noose. While there is some swordplay (expertly done by Katsu), THE DEVIL’S TEMPLE plays out almost like a stage play and is an interesting examination of love, loss, pain, religion, and how man’s intellect and reason can oftentimes be undone by his sexuality. Not a major jidaigeki / chanbara by any stretch of the imagination, but the film is an interesting one and hardcore genre fans should search it out. For those new to the genre, this may be a little stilted for your tastes and you should probably rent something a little more mainstream.