Old 07-10-2009, 03:09 PM
Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Paul Schrader's "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" is a marvelous way to tell the story of the much beloved Japanese author, Yukio Mishima. It is the fictionalized account of Mishima's life, leading up to November 25, 1970. This is the day he famously went into a headquarters of the Japanese army with some soldiers from his private army, took a general hostage, addressed the assembled troupes, and committed seppuku. How he got there is a fascinating journey.

Mishima's life is told to us mostly in flashbacks, starting with him as a young boy living with his possessive and sickly grandmother. We follow along as we are told about him becoming a writer, but also mixed into his story are three of his most famous works: "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," "Kyoko's House," and "Runaway Horses."

We learn very quickly that these stories very closely parallel his life. In "Temple," we meet a character who has a stutter (much like Mishima himself had at that age) who is obsessed with beauty and finds that he must destroy the titular temple because it is far too beautiful. The second story, "Kyoko's House," tells of a young man who becomes the lover of the woman who loaned his mother a large sum of money.

This story deals with the destruction of beauty as well as we see the son and loaner participate in some bizarre activities. This also parallels Mishima's life in the way that the young man in the story becomes a body builder so that he can become stronger, but for Mishima it becomes more for political reasons.

The final story is the most political of them all and involves a young man who builds up a small private army so that he may destroy the capitalists and restore power to the emperor, which is somewhat similar to what Mishima wanted to do by building up his "Shield Army," though he tries diplomacy rather than murder.

What makes this film so amazing to watch is the intertwining of the story of Mishima and his own written works. A lot of the time, an author's works are large enigmas that don't make much sense unless you know about the author and their experiences. That is exactly what Schrader gives us so that we too can understand exactly where Mishima is coming from.

It is interesting to note that the characters in all three of Mishima's stories presented in the film are on a path to destruction, whether it was self-destruction or destruction of something else. Their ideals become so strong that they are willing to do what is necessary to protect them, i.e. burning down the temple, dying with a lover, and murder followed by seppuku.

However, the Mishima we come to know chooses to stay by his words, writing every night at his desk at midnight. He is not the kind of man to do the things his characters would do....except for the seppuku part. His words are what made him famous. They are his weapon to fight the corruption he sees in Japan.

Another thing that continually caught my eye was the amazing production design by Eiko Ishioka, particularly in the scenes from his works. Such rich color is used with the sets to perfectly bring them all to life, giving them an amazing sense of texture. At times, the sets give it the feeling of being a staged performance, surrounded by darkness. We even see a set being moved out of the way so the next scene can begin. Their design gives the parts from his writings a dreamlike quality, which is an interesting counterpoint to the sheer realism that they also give off.

Also of note is the amazing score by composer Philip Glass. His music brings just the right touch of intensity to the powerful scenes while also setting the mood quite well for others. It is amazing that Glass has been nominated for an Academy Award three times, yet has never won.

I realize that I have not mentioned any actors, mainly because the main ones of note were the ones that played Mishima, whether in real life, or as a similar character in one of his stories. It's extraordinary how each of the actors is able to find their own note to play him on. The young man in the first story plays him with apprehension, the second with a bit more determination, while the third is completely devoted to what he feels is his duty.

This brings us to the actor who plays him on his final day, Ken Ogata. He gives Mishima the perfect note of resolution. He has tried his best to tell the soldiers what he thinks they need to hear, but they don't want to listen. He never displays any hint of surprise. Perhaps he knew what he was proposing was a bit too radical. Perhaps he knew what he would have to do all along. There is no apprehension in his actions as one of his soldiers stands over him with a katana shaking in his hands. Mishima's words have failed, but his ideals will live on in his works. 3.5/4 stars.
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Old 07-10-2009, 05:59 PM
Really great film, and good review by the way. I had been longing to see this for some time and was quite blown away by the whole movie when I finally got around to watching it. The only previous Paul Schrader directed movie I was familiar with before Mishima was Hardcore, which I didn't like at all, so this film was quite a surprise.

Last edited by Brendan M.; 07-11-2009 at 03:33 AM..
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