Tuesday, November 26, 2019
2019 Blind Spot Series: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Directed by Paul Schrader and screenplay by Paul and Leonard Schrader that are based on the works of Yukio Mishima, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is the story on the life and work of the Japanese writer through four different segments. The film uses a few of his books as guidelines into his life as Yukio Mishima is portrayed by Ken Ogata who also narrates the film. Also starring Kenji Sawada, Toshiyuki Nagashima, and Yasosuke Bando. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a ravishing and evocative film from Paul Schrader.
Set on the final day in the life of Yukio Mishima on November 25, 1970 as he is traveling to a building with a few of his cadets from his private army, the film revolves the life of a man as he is about to meet a general while he reflects on his life and the events that would shape him and his work as a writer. It’s a film that doesn’t have much plot as it is mainly told through an unconventional narrative that rely on flashbacks and dramatizations of Mishima’s work. The film’s screenplay by Paul and Leonard Schrader with contributions by Chieko Schrader and research by Akiko Hitomi focus on this last day of Mishima’s life and other aspects of his life in flashbacks that are inter-cut with three sections based on Mishima’s books as the four chapters of the film each represent a subject that Mishima would explore throughout his life in beauty, art, action, and harmony of pen and sword.
Beauty is represented through the first segment based on his novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion that follows a young stuttering student enamored by the beauty of this golden temple as he questions his own shortcomings as a person that parallels with Mishima’s own struggles growing up and trying to be a writer. Art is shown in the story Kyoko’s House as it plays into a young man who is trying to help his mother as he would become a lover to this older woman who agreed to wipe his mother’s debt to have him in this strange sadomasochistic relationship that would play into Mishima’s own growth as a writer and struggles with his own homosexuality. Action is presented in the story Runaway Horses that follow a group of fanatical students trying to overthrow its government in favor of a more nationalist view which play into Mishima’s own disdain towards capitalism and trying to create his own platform to help Japan. The fourth chapter that represents harmony of pen and sword is about Mishima’s final day as it play into the event of what he is trying to do as a way to balance his art and his actions in the hopes of a new future for Japan.
Paul Schrader’s direction is definitely stylish in his overall presentation of the film where he definitely aims for different tones for not just the sections of the films but also in the flashbacks. Shot partially in Tokyo for some scenes set during Mishima’s final day with some shots in Kyoto for the flashbacks, Schrader would also use soundstages to shoot dramatic interpretations of Mishima’s work. The three chapters that dramatize Mishima’s work has this air of artificiality in its look but also a theatricality to the intimacy of the setting. The three sections would all have different color palettes in its visuals and tone while the flashbacks are shot in black-and-white. Schrader’s compositions do play into the world that Mishima has created but also this disconnect from aspects of reality as he is trying to present himself as something bigger. The usage of the wide and medium shots play into the world that Mishima and his characters are in as well as some unique camera angles for some of the scenes that his own protagonists endure that parallel to Mishima’s own journey in his flashbacks.
Schrader would use close-ups for some scenes as it play into some of the dramatic plight that the characters from Mishima’s stories would face. Even as the fate of these characters would mirror Mishima’s own downfall in his own attempts to rid some of the modernity of post-war Japan. There is a beauty into Schrader’s direction where some of the visuals play into Mishima’s own idea of Japan at its most pure but it also play into this disconnect he has with Japan in 1970. The film’s climax that is set on his final day is about the dramatic state of what he’s trying to accomplish with his cadets but the collision he has with reality and modern Japan would force him to come to terms with this reality. Even as he would want to retain a sense of dignity amidst the ideas of a world he has no connection with. Overall, Schrader crafts an intoxicating and riveting film about the life of an author told through his works and on his final day in life.
Cinematographer John Bailey does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of black-and-white for the flashback scenes, a straightforward look for Mishima’s final day, and array of colors and lighting for dramatic sections of his work as it is a highlight of the film. Editors Michael Chandler and Tomoyo Oshima do excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into some of the intense dramatic moments of the film. Production/costume designer Eiko Ishioka, with set decorator Kyoji Sasaki plus art director Kazuo Takenaka and co-costume designer Etsuko Yagyu, is incredible for its intricate attention to detail in the sets of the dramatic fantasy scenes as well as the usage of colors to play into its look as well as the costumes in those sequences including Mishima’s robe in the film’s opening scene.
Sound designer Leslie Shatz does fantastic work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations that Mishima is in as well as the mixing of sounds in the dramatic fantasy sections of the film. The film’s music by Philip Glass does amazing work with the film’s music score with its rich and shimmering usage of strings with its arrangements adding to the drama as it is a major highlight of the film.
The film’s terrific ensemble cast feature notable small roles from Hiroshi Mikami, Junya Fukuda, Shigeto Tachihara as three of Mishima’s cadets from his private army and Junkichi Orimoto as General Mashita whom Mishima would take hostage for his speech on his final day of his life. For the flashback scenes, the performances of Yuki Nagahara as the five-year old Mishima, Masato Aizawa as the 9-14 year old Mishima, Go Riju as the 18-19 year old Mishima, Kyuzo Kobayashi and Yuki Kitazaume as a couple Mishima’s friends, Haruko Kato as Mishima’s grandmother, and Naoko Otani as Mishima’s mother are superb in the way they play into Mishima’s development as a man. From The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the fantastic performances of Naomi Oki and Miki Takahara as a couple of girls Mariko try to flirt with, Imari Tsuji as a brothel madame, Chishu Ryu as a priest, and Hisako Manda as Mizoguchi’s friend Mariko. From Kyoko’s House, the excellent performances of Setsuko Karasuma as Osamu’s mother, Tadanori Yokoo and Yasuaki Kurata as friends of Osamu, and Mitsuru Hirata as a thug.
From Runaway Horses, the brilliant performances of Naoya Makoto as a kendo instructor, Jun Negami as a target of the students, and Ryo Ikebe as an interrogator. Yasosuke Bando is amazing as the stuttering Mizoguchi as a young student enamored with the beauty of the golden pavilion as it play into his love of Japan’s nationalist identity while Toshiyuki Nagashima is marvelous as the student Isao who wants to start a revolution against the growing capitalism of Japan. The performances of Kenji Sawada and Reisen Lee in their respective roles as Osamu and the crime figure Kiyomi are remarkable with Osamu as a man who represents masculinity and Kiyomi as a woman who buys Osamu for her own sadomasochistic pleasure. Masayuki Shionoya is incredible as Mishima’s aide Morita who would assist Mishima in his duties as well as the events of Mishima’s final day. Finally, there’s Ken Ogata in a phenomenal performance as Yukio Mishima as the celebrated author, playwright, and artist who would endure a lot of roles while coping with the journey he has in wanting to make changes for Japan and restore some of its old identity in a new world only to become more disconnected with what the world had become.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a magnificent film from Paul Schrader. Featuring Ken Ogata’s riveting performance as well as Eiko Ishioka’s tremendous art direction, John Bailey’s gorgeous cinematography, an inventive script, and Philip Glass’ eerie music score. The film is truly an unconventional yet entrancing bio-pic that explore a man’s life and work as well as his own flaws that would lead to the last day of his life. In the end, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is an outstanding film from Paul Schrader.
Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - (Hardcore) – American Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction - (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – Dying of the Light - (Dog Eat Dog) – First Reformed
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