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MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS

Director: PAUL SCHRADER

U.S.A. • 1985 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DOLBY STEREO • 35MM • 121 MIN


‘IT’S THE FILM I’D STAND BY,’ SAID PAUL SCHRADER ABOUT MISHIMA, AND THIS WELCOME REISSUE IN A NEW PRINT AFFORDS A CHANCE TO RE-EVALUATE ONE OF THE MOST UNUSUAL HOLLYWOOD FILMS OF THE 1980s — OR ANY OTHER PERIOD.

The great Japanese writer and self-styled warrior, Yukio Mishima achieved lasting notoriety in 1970 when, after storming a military headquarters in Tokyo with his private army and delivering a speech demanding a return to the values of Japan’s imperial past, he proceeded to commit ritual suicide. Although focusing mainly on the last day of Mishima’s life, the film has an audacious structure that also contains black-and-white flashbacks of his early upbringing that afford an insight into his future character, and stylised dramatisations of episodes from his novels that allude to the complexity of his inner life and his repressed homosexuality. John Bailey’s photography and Eiko Ishioka’s design are stunning.

‘If Mishima had not existed,’ said the critic Kevin Jackson (who edited the collection Schrader on Schrader), ‘Schrader might have been obliged to invent him.’ Certainly Schrader’s interest in Japanese culture had already manifested itself in his screenplay for Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1975) and his influential critical writing on the films of Yasujiro Ozu, but it is the nature of the hero that is most characteristic: like Travis Bickle (Schrader’s most famous creation) in Taxi Driver, though on a higher intellectual plane, Mishima is a narcissistic extremist driven by a personal code of honour that evolves into a suicidal fantasy of symbolic self-definition. Ken Ogata’s leading performance is properly charismatic, and Philip Glass’s plangent score sweeps the film forward like a tempestuous sea. Not to be missed. — Neil Sinyard.

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