Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

USA/Japan 1985. Dir: Paul Schrader. 120 min. DCP

George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola funded Paul Schrader’s (effectively) banned-in-Japan Mishima, a dazzling, distinctive dramatization of the life, death, and art of Yukio Mishima, the renowned Japanese writer. Mishima committed seppuku (ritual disembowelment) in 1970 after a bizarre attempt at inciting a right-wing military coup. Schrader renders his controversial subject (played by Ken Ogata) as a sexually tortured, alienated individualist driven to destruction by a thirst for self-affirmation and redemption (a figure not unlike other Schrader protagonists, including Travis Bickle of the Schrader-penned Taxi Driver). Mishima’s last day of life frames the film; excerpts from three Mishima novels are enacted on extraordinary colour sets designed by Eiko Ishioka; and monochrome flashbacks depict the writer’s early life. A stunning Philip Glass score adds operatic grandeur. Mishima’s family and others objected to the treatment of homosexuality. Schrader cites Mishima as the best picture he’s directed. “One of the greatest of all biographical films” (Kevin Jackson, The Criterion Current).


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REVIEWS

"One of the most gorgeous and sophisticated portraits of an artist ever put on film."

New Yorker | full review

"The most unconventional biopic I've ever seen, and one of the best."

Roger Ebert | full review