Saturday, May 01, 2010

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

I have not read any Mishima but thought this interesting-looking film, directed by Paul Schrader, scored by Philip Glass, would introduce me. The film alternates between three sequences. The first, in "naturalistic" colors, shows Mishima and his cadets making their way to the Army Headquarters, where he harangues the assembled regiment on selling out to the capitalists instead of upholding the ancient samurai code of honor, before he proves his own honor by committing seppuku. The second, in black and white, flashes back to Mishima's childhood. The third, in "symbolic" colors, shows segments from three of his works "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," "Kyoko's House" and "Runaway Horses." The film is further subdivided into four thematic chapters: "Beauty," "Art," "Action," and "Harmony between Pen and Sword." All this is heavy machinery for telling a version of the life of this writer.

The heavy-handedness is made watchable by a number of things. Ken Ogata, who plays Mishima, is truly charismatic and makes me believe in the writer's power to inspire loyalty to death. The score by Glass is beautiful and evocative. He uses a string quartet for the black and white sequence, a string orchestra and synthesizers for the fictional dramatizations, and a full symphonic orchestra for the docudrama. The flashback scenes are also quietly taut with human drama. In one, Mishima's sick grandmother prevents the boy from visiting his mother by asking him to rub her legs. In another, he balances himself on a stile and wrestles a playground champ to the ground. I wish there were more of such scenes, instead of the highly stylized re-creations of his works, which come off to me as one-dimensional.

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