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Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters [1985] [VHS]


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Product details

  • Actors: Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Yasosuke Bando, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Masayuki Shionoya
  • Directors: Paul Schrader
  • Language: English, Japanese
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • VHS Release Date: 7 Mar 1994
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004CJK3
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 247,626 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

An ambitious and successful drama that takes on the life and beliefs of Japan's most celebrated author, Yukio Mishima. Mishima was passionate about merging life and art, which eventually resulted in his ritualistic suicide in 1970, a moment when he felt he could reconcile the two polarities.

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Aug 2000
Format: VHS Tape
I had seen this movie at specialist cinemas on several occasions in the 1980s.
This was in fact what inspired me to search and purchase the video (something that I was not really able to do until the internet search engines started to become more useful in the mid 90's).
I digress - this is an excellent movie, particularly if you have read any of Mishimas works (I would like to see a play of his - but the language barrier makes it improbable).
It is Japanese with sub-titles, but don't let that put you off...
Intense acting, well written screenplay, fantastic Philip Glass music score and the fragmented mixing of his plays with Mishimas life story and the last day of his life make for a movie with terrific emotional impact - the first time I saw this I left the cinema speechless.
There is just one problem with the video - it is not the same as the cinema release - whole sequences from each of the chapters are missing in the final scenes - particularly the suicide scenes from Runaway Horses, Kyoko's House and Mishimas last day. It spoils the ending - but if you have not seen it before then it will not be so disappointing (you cannot miss what you have never seen).
The movie rates as 5 stars - but the video only makes 3 due to the differences.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME on 19 Oct 2002
Format: VHS Tape
This is the only version of Mishima I have seen, so am not able to contrast it with the cinema version (too young...). Mishima is one of the most interesting biopics I have seen (this is the field my theses concerns at Uni), Schrader contrasting scenes from Mishima's life with episodes from his fiction. Between the wonderful scenes from Mishima's descent towards his death, we get scenes from books such as The Temple of the Golden Pavillion, Kyoko's House, Runaway Horses and Sun & Steel.
The script is brilliant, written by Paul Schrader and his brother Leonard (who also wrote/co-wrote Kiss of the Spider Woman, Blue Collar & The Yakuza). Paul, of course, had written the brilliant biopic of Jake La Motta, Raging Bull for Martin Scorsese (along with Mardik Martin, De Niro & Scorsese). He would work on an unproduced biopic of Hank Williams, which according to Schrader on Schrader would have been similar in structure to this . He would make a later biopic, the so-so Patty Hearst (this he did not write). Mishima is one of the great films Schrader has directed, along with American Gigolo, Light Sleeper & Affliction.
The score by Philip Glass suits the sumptuous visuals that John Bailey provides, as well as in Koyaanisquatsi and a less repetitive than Glass's work in Kundun. The performances are excellent, particularly Ken Ogata as Mishima. It's also notable that the executive producers are Francis Coppola and George Lucas, attempting to be associated with art cinema for the first time since producing Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 69 reviews
193 of 198 people found the following review helpful
paul schrader reply 24 Oct 2004
By Paul J. Schrader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Someone pointed out to me confusion about the change in the narration. Here's the story. I originally intended to have Mishima's narration in English outside Japan to cut down on the surfeit of subtitles. (The US version of Diary of a Country Priest has French dialogue and English narration.) I asked Roy Scheider to read a transdlation of the Ogata/Mishima narration and we mixed this into the film at Lucasfilm. The Japanese distributor was to be responsible for mixing Ken Ogata's narration into the Japanese version. However, there never was a Japanese version since the film was de facto banned in Japan. Consequently, it was never possible for non-English speaking Japanese viewers to see the film entirely in Japanese. When the DVD was issued we went back to Lucasfilm to fix this, allowing either a Japanese-speaking viewer to hear the Ogata narration or a non-Japanese-speaking viewer to hear the Scneider narration. In recording both Ogata and Scneider an equal effort was made to keep the narrative flat and matter-of-fact. Paul S.
54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Most Unlikely Hollywood Film Ever 30 Mar 2008
By Thomas Plotkin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
This was a film financed by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola,distributed by a major Hollywood studio, that but for some narration by Roy Scheider is entirely in Japanese, and is told in a fragmentary narrative style which oscillates between wildly contrasting stylistic modes; the widow of the film's subject signed away life rights to her husband's story conditioned upon the film's not dealing with his none-too-secret homosexuality, which the film proceeded to deal with, albeit obliquely, and she then fought production in Japan tooth and nail. Mishima himself, Japan's most famous post-war novelist, attempted a paramilitary coup d'etat in 1970, in which his private army took over the Ministry of Defense, and committed a highly public hari-kiri. He was and is a subject of vast controversy in Japan, a consensus society, who since his death have preferred not to be reminded he existed. Given the artiness of the film, the foreigness of it's subject matter, and the Japanese blackout/ban, it is amazing "Mishima" got made at all.

Even without the sheer strangeness of the work and improbability of its existence, this is an awesome film. "Mishima" is one of the best movies about an artist ever made. Mishima sought to make his life into a work of art, and his bid for violent political action and self-martyrdom was his terminal masterpiece. "Mishima" intercuts documentary-style scenes of his final 12 hours with black and white flashbacks telling of his life up to that day, aping the style of classical Japanese cinema of Ozu and Naruse; but the third layer of narrative are highly stylized scenes from three of his novels (Temple of the Golden Pavillion, Runaway Horses, and Kyoko's House), shot on elaborate soundstages on blatantly artificial sets in garish 40's MGM-style color (each with its own individual color palette). All three narrative modes, and the violent climaxes of the three novels, fuse, "Intolerance"-style, in rapid montage as the film builds to its endpoint, as life and art meld.

The film shows us the life that fueled the artist's fictions, the fictions themselves and how they transformed the raw material of Mishima's life, and then how Mishima's dissatisfaction with mere art-making lead to a flamboyant attempt at transcendant, suicidal direct action. In the end,Mishima becomes one with his creations, and life becomes art. This film is the most successful representation of a writer's life I've ever seen, all thanks to Mishima the man's insane extremism.

Philip Glass' operatic score is extrarordinary (and I am a non-fan), as essential as Morricone's music is to Leone's films.

I have not yet mentioned the name of the man behind this masterpiece. Paul Schrader, author of a one of the best critical film essays ever ("Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer"), writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Last Temptation of Christ, director of American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, Affliction, Patty Hearst and Cat People. While much of his work is fascinating, this is an out-and-out masterpiece. A truly brave film, as impossible as a Tarkovsky or a Bresson. And if any film deserves the Criterion treatment, this is it; in addition to commentary from the director, composer Glass and cinematographer John Bailey, it will be full of documentary material about the actual Mishima (the photogenic bodybuilder was a significant media star in both Japan and the West, he even acted in commercial films!) to provide needed context, and the beautiful sounds and images will surely benefit from the company's usual lush transfers. Check it out, you'll thank me.
76 of 87 people found the following review helpful
A biopic that is even more impressive than its subject 20 Oct 1999
By TruthWillOut - Published on Amazon.com
Most biographical films of artists (Immortal Beloved, Amadeus, etc.), even if they are well made, hardly live up to the greatness of the people they describe. This film is a notable exception, one which outdoes its subject. Mishima was an accomplished writer, one whose works deserve to be read, but no single work of his stands out as an unquestionable masterpiece of world literature. This film, on the other hand, is without doubt one of the masterpieces of world cinema.
The film is broken down into interlocking "modules": those which depict Mishima's life and those which recreate episodes from his books. The literary recreations are done in a highly stylized manner which captures (and at times, outdoes) the mystery and poetry of the original texts. The biographical segments feature a fine sense of both drama and poetry. They capture the essence of Mishima's passion in a way that even he himself was unable to do.
The score by Philip Glass is one of the finest film scores ever written, and it turns the film almost into a kind of opera. It is far superior to any of his other compositions.
I was born a few years after Mishima committed suicide, but I am friends with two people who knew him personally, both of whom have excellent taste in both film and literature: they both recommend this film highly. The film may take some factual liberties, but it represents the fundamental nature of the man with infallible accuracy.
Whether your interest is great cinema, great literature, Japan, or Mishima himself, do yourself a favor: see this film.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
the Voice-Over confusion..I think it's the same 10 Jan 2005
By Toshifumi Fujiwara - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
I'm rather confused about all these discussions about the voice over narration being "changed", and apparently, so is Paul Schrader himself.

I have not seen the film at the original release, but as for the difference between the fromer VHS editions of the film and this new DVD... the only difference about the voice over is...that Ken Ogata's narration in Japanese can now be heard, which is great. The English-narrated sound track is...the SAME.

I first saw the film in an old VHS in a university class, and THE ENGLISH VOICE OVERS WERE ALREADY THE SAME AS IT CAN BE HEARD ON TRACK ONE OF THIS DVD: "flat and matter-of-fact" as Mr.Schrader describes.

As a matter of fact, I did not recognize that it was Roy Scheider, though it was certainly his voice. This is very good for the film, since we are supposed to be listening to Mishima's inner reflection on his own life. It cannot be "acted out" loudly, since Mishima that we see in the film --especially in the main narrative line of it which is Mishima's last day ending with his suicide-- is always acting himself, rather flamboyantly. So the director Paul Schrader's choice of asking the actor not to "play" it, but making an "effort was made to keep the narrative flat and matter-of-fact" was very suitable for the mystery of the film.

Personally, I first did not like the narration being in English, then I started to feel that the very flat narration in a different language may be representing another dimention of Mishima's split personality that Schrader is exploring in the film.

But watching the film with Ken Ogata's narration was a revelation. The film definetely looks more complete with the Japanese narration. And Ogata did not need an English speaking narrator to represent this split, complex and enigmatic personality who is Yukio Mishima. It's far stroger to see the same actor incarnating those many personalities, and it also make far more sense.

The DVD is also on 1:1.85 aspect ratio, which is a huge improvement to 4:3 VHS, since now we can really appreciate John Bailey's extremely pricise framings and compositions. I have never been crazy about Eiko Ishioka's production design. Even for this film, when I first saw it I was interesting but not great, but Bailey's 1:1.85 framing really brings out the essence of the stories from her sets (though I still don't like them).

Of course a DVD has better image clarity than a VHS, plus the correct framing, plus Ken Ogata's own voice...the DVD edition is the best way to see the film.

And Mr. Schrader's commentary is very interesting and enjoyable (as he always is; one of the best director to do commentaries), including the horrifying story of the true reason why the film was banned in Japan. Very scary but very realistic for us Japanese.

Nevertheless, MISHIMA is a very interesting film but not the best among Schrader's works as director. My favorite one is AFFLICTION, and though Schrader himself dislikes the film saying the experience was a "nightmare", BLUE COLLAR.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An original mystery of a man 10 July 2005
By C. B Collins Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This visually strong DVD on the life of Mishima was divided into three interwoven chapters; there is a black and white retelling of Mishima's life; a color version of the last day of his life; and then a super-saturated color version of three abbreviations of his novels. I think these three sections actually allow a good armature on which to review the film and to comment on the artist's life and gifts to literature.

The life of Mishima, filmed in black and white, reveals many of the themes that continue to haunt both his fiction and his personal interactions. As a child, Mishima is told by his grandmother that he is special, a fragile hot-house plant, and that his family is better than common people. As a pre-adolescent he finds a picture of St. Sebastian pierced with arrows, and says that 'this painting had laid in wait for me for 300 years' and that his 'hand began a spontaneous motion that it had never been taught'. Thus Mishima himself gives us the key to understanding much of his work and life; he becomes obsessed with idealized male beauty and martyrdom. He begins the creative process early and is very prolific. He begins writing every night at midnight for a specified period of time, and maintained this routine throughout his life. He marries and has two children but he also has affairs with men. As he ages he becomes more obsessed with his body and becomes a body builder. He is humiliated beyond description by the Japanese loss of World War II. Eventually he develops a circle of beautiful male followers and forms his own private army.

I have read two of his novels; The Golden Pavillion and Forbidden Colors. I must say his style is different in both. Golden Pavillion is written in a straight-forward style, much like Hemingway. Forbidden Colors is an odd retelling of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations but with a gay Estella seeking revenge against the female sex. The novel has a style much like Balzac in his novel Cousin Bette. Mishima is cognitively original, much like Emily Dickinson, because of his fluid imagination, odd associations of thoughts and images, and the deep desire to hide the repressed and the nasty inner-self from the viewer. You can't ready Mishima or Emily Dickinson without asking: "What deep dark secrets are they hiding?"

Integrated into the film are three very stylized shortened versions of three of his novels that reflection on his consciousness.

The first segment, the Golden Pavillion, deals with a young monk who stutters, finds he can't make love to women because visions of the Golden Pavillion Temple continue to appear in his mind. He eventually burns the 600 year old national landmark temple to the ground. But what is this really about? It is about the repressed homosexual who can not make love to women because the image of the idealized beautiful male continues to haunt his inner desires and visions. To try to destroy those visions is to destroy the self, something precious as an ancient temple.

The second segment deals with a young beautiful male actor who becomes the lover of a female mobster slum lord (lady) to save his mother's coffee shop. Yet when they meet for love-making she slowly slices his beautiful body with razors as she admires his beauty. His first young mistress finds he responds to a mirrow when making love, obsessed with his own beauty. And how would a repressed homosexual deal with a beautiful male character in his novel? By violating that beauty, aiming the act of aggression outward instead of inward. The female mobster is Mishima, worshiping male beauty and wishing to destroy it at the same time. The last vision we see of the young actor is of his bound corpse, sliced and bleeding, yet with the restful face of St. Sebastian in a Renaissance painting.

In the third segment, Running Horses, a group of beautiful young nationalistic young Japanese men plot the death of the democratically elected officials of Japan so the country can return to the ancient religion, culture, and government of Japan. This segment certainly reveals that Japanese Nationalism did not disappear after the Japanese surrender. In fact, these Japanese Nationalists would consider the loss of the war shameful and in the Japanese Sumari tradition, should commit suicide rather than live in shame.

In the third Chapter of the film, we see Mishima on the last day of his life, surrounded by beautiful male soldiers from his private army. In 1970, at the age of 45, he commits ritual suicide as the act of an honorable samarai in response to the loss of the war by his nation. In a wild and almost unbelievable climax, Mishima and his officers kidnap the Minister of the Japanese Army and try to bring about a revolution against the current government, which is very much adjusted to Western influence. The soldiers that are addressed by Mishima are amazed at the destructive and unrealistic pleas of Mishima as were the Japanese college students in an earlier scene.

The musical score by Phillip Glass is complimentary without being competitive.

Mishima remains a puzzle inside an enigma but repressed homosexulity combined with self hatred certainly help explains why he surrounded himself with beautiful pure young men to whom he can impose his obsessed hyper-masculinity and ancient, tragically outdated code of life.
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