on 4 August 2000
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.
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). As their own careers were hitting lows- Lucas about to embark on drivel like Willow & Howard the Duck (before moving back to the Star Wars franchise, the latest instalments of which make you wonder if Lucas can write or direct rather than just produce); while Coppola would abandon experiments like One from the Heart & Rumble Fish and move towards films that are in it for the money (like The Rainmaker and Jack). In a way, Mishima is the full stop on the artistic aspirations and freedom of New Hollywood/the Movie Brats; dollar bills are more fun it seems.
Schrader made this bold movie which touches on the myth of the life of Yukio Mishima and makes an interesting dichotomy between his art and life. The colours and the scenes that appear to be theatrical are a wonder; there is a nice reference to the mirror/body shot from Performance (Roeg & Cammell) in the Kyoko's House section. Schrader is able to deal objectively with Mishima by virtue of being an outsider it seems, though themes of loneliness, repression and violence are common to his earlier works such as American Gigolo, Hard Core and Taxi Driver.
Mishima is not only one of the finest films of the 1980's, it is one of the finest films ever. It would be nice, in this age of DVD, for it to be reissued in all its sumptuous glory and hopefully contribute to a rediscovery of Schrader's talent (though Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls should have kickstarted that). I say it all the time, but watch this and realise it's a masterpiece.