Yukio Mishima was a complicated man. At the time of his death, Mishima was Japan’s most popular author and an outspoken right-wing militant who supported reinstatement of the divinity of the Japanese Emperor. He wrote florid existential prose extolling the virtues of body-worship, denounced intellectual elitism, displayed an outwardly macho persona while maintaining a closeted homosexual lifestyle, led a private army, and finally ended his own life by seppuku after ill-fated attempt to reinstate the power of the Japanese Imperial throne.
How then to capture the inner core of such a person, who was outwardly a twisted bundle of manic contradictions? Director / Screenwriter Paul Schrader‘s solution was to interweave the man and his work into a narrative Moebius strip of a film which alternates biography and adaptation. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters begins and ends on the fateful day on which Mishima and a handful of his disciples would meet their doom. Between these bookends Schrader charts Mishima’s life through black and white imagery set against vivid color recreations of select chapters from his body of work. The result is a heady visual experience that pulls the viewer from flights of ecstasy to harsh reality. Schrader’s vision is uncompromising; at the time of the film’s production, Mishima was still a controversial figure – Schrader was forced to wear a bulletproof vest while on set thanks to death threats from right-wing militants who wished to halt production. The result, a film deemed by Schrader to be the finest directorial work of his career, is nothing short of a masterpiece.
BONUS: Yukio Mishima’s short film Yukoku (Patriotism / Rite of Love and Death) in which the author himself plays the lead role.