Friday, December 05, 2008

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, 1985) [6]

Seeing this some years ago, I thought the new Criterion treatment was worth another viewing. While it may be expertly crafted, there's something about Schrader's style and execution that is a little too calculating. It also doesn't help that Yukio Mishima is an unlikable personality to me personally. For those unfamiliar, Mishima is perhaps Japan's more notable writer and someone who became a well-known cultural figure in Japan before committing ritual suicide in the early 70s. But Mishima was also a reactionary with ideas rooted in Imperial Japanese tradition that don't agree and are foreign to me. Schrader tries to get the audience to understand Mishima's ideas by breaking the film into chapters, highlighting key ideas of his work such as art as beauty and the harmony of pen and sword. The film is further deconstructed into three areas: Mishima's biography, the present-day actions occuring on the day of his suicide, and performances of his work. For me, the film performances are the expert part of the film, done in vibrant technicolor and avant-garde sets. Everything about Mishima and his ideas can be derived from these works: his ideas on the body and beauty, nationalism, and this idea of the harmony of pen and sword, of using his writings as a weapon to reclaim the ideals of the Samurai and Imperial Japan. Outside of these sequences, the rest of the film is fairly uninteresting to me and only goes to further my dislike Mishima the man, who was just as concerned with his media image as his status as a literary figure. While his writings may have some power and craft, as the film clearly shows, there's no denying he was a polarizing figure. Schrader attempts to come to a deeper understanding in the film and while some may get it, I never really can fully accept all of its parts.

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