Paul Schrader’s film Mishima is a boldly conceived, intelligent and consistently absorbing study of the Japanese writer and political iconoclast’s life, work and death.
The most famous of contemporary Japanese novelists to Westerners, Yukio Mishima was also a film actor and director and leader of a militant right-wing cult bent upon restoring the glory of the emperor. He became forever notorious in 1970 when, accompanied by a few followers, he entered a military garrison in Tokyo, ‘captured’ a general, delivered an impassioned speech to an assembly and then committed seppuku (ritual suicide).
Instead of pretending to deliver a fully factual, detailed biopic, director Paul Schrader, his co-screenwriter and brother Leonard and other collaborators have opted to combine relatively realistic treatment of some aspects of Mishima’s life, particularly his final day, with highly stylized renditions of assorted semi-autobiographical literary works (Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko’s House and Run- away Horses) in an effort to convey key points about the man’s personality and credos.
Pacing sometimes lags, particularly in the fictional interludes, and uninitiated audiences may be confused at times. Production itself, however, is stunning, and performances, led by that of Ken Ogata as the adult Mishima, are authoritative and convincing. [Pic is in Japanese with English subtitles, and narration read by Roy Scheider.]