Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Directed by Paul Schrader. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Made in 1985. Cost $4.5million to make, filmed entirely in Japanese with all Japanese actors, never released in Japan. Grossed $500,000. Beautiful film that tells three separate stories. One is a black and white re-telling of Mishima's life. Another is a color re-telling of Mishima's last day. And the third consists of three re-tellings of Mishima's novels. The novel re-tellings are shot like very elaborate stage plays in lavish colors and designed by Eiko Ishioka, who designed costumes for Dracula, The Cell, and the new Houston Rockets jersey.
Long story short, I bought this film sight unseen and I cannot stop thinking about it. The music haunts me (in a pleasant way), and the images and the ideas of Mishima have been playing in my mind. I had read two novels of Mishima's, so I was familiar with him and his work.
Here is a man, arguably the greatest postwar author Japan has had, who wrote 35 novels, over a dozen plays, several operas, a ballet, over 400 short stories and essays, directed and starred in a movie he wrote, and starred in a few more. And in 1970, at the age of 45, after creating his own army, committed suicide after a vein attempt to incite revolution in the Army. Oh, he was also a body builder.
Just like the deafness in Beethoven, it is the army building and suicide that everybody obsesses about when they study Mishima. It is true for the last decade of his life he tipped to the right in political views to the point of fervent fanaticism, but he still managed to balance his passion with his desire for beauty and existence. In the end he hoped to unify it all in one swift moment that is death.
Known to go out on the town or host cocktail parties with the who's who of Tokyo and the literary world of the 50's and 60's, Mishima never drank and rarely took to debauchery that personifies the tragic novelist. Instead he possessed a phenomenal work ethic. At 11:00pm, whether on the town, or the host of a party, people knew it was time for Mishima to head home, or for the party end. He had work to do.
Even while cramming for exams as a teenager, Mishima would stay up until dawn writing. His one passion at that age. And for the last twenty years of his life, at midnight, he would go to his study and write. No distractions, silence would guide his thoughts.
Most of this I got from reading a biography I just read of him, but the film touches upon it very nicely. And it is the quotes about his personal development that make some of the best lines from the film (in an optional English narration on the DVD.)
"Every night at precisely midnight I would return to my desk and write. I would analyze why I was attracted to a particular theme. I would boil it into abstraction until I was ready to put it down on the page." I think I just miss quoted (as I will again later), but I got it close enough. Even on the last night of his life he followed this work ethic. In his entire writing career, he never missed a deadline.
He was a weak kid. Pale, young looking for his age. Sheltered by his grandmother. His one release was writing. In a scene that was objected to by his widow, the film shows him at a gay bar. He is criticized by a man for being "flabby". This scene and the implied homosexuality resulted in his widow preventing the release if the film in Japan.
The following scene concludes with Mishima thinking: "All my life I had suffered under a monstrous sensitivity." And that, "What I lacked was a healthy body; a sense of self."
"I saw that beauty and ethics are one in the same. Creating a beautiful work of art and being beautiful oneself are inseparable"
Mishima took up body building in the mid 1950's and kept it up until the end of his life. Unlike the average tale of the forlorn, drunk, self-hating author, Mishima was obsessed with health and the prevention of the decay of the body.
The reputation of famous authors of Japan are that of chain smokers who drink and write. It is this lifestyle that gives them their writing will. I have found two Japanese authors who buck this trend. One is Mishima and the other is Murakami Haruki, who is in his fifties right now and is possibly the most popular author in contemporary Japan. He too follows a strict ethic of exercise and writing.
I will point out some other aspects of the film I find interesting. Apparently Lucas and Coppola were miffed that Yoko, Mishima's widow, would only allow scenes that were documented as happening. Seems fair to me when making a biopic. All quotes in the movie spoken by Mishima are actual words Mishima wrote.
Though one issue I do have is that Ogata Ken, the actor who plays Mishima, doesn't really look like him. Mishima was just more handsome. His face was tough, but the eyes were the eyes of a poet. And he was more muscular for the last 15 years of his life. But considering the controversial nature of Mishima and his reputation, it was hard to find an actor as willing as Ogata, so I should not be so upset.
Plus Paul Schrader made a comentary track for the DVD release that is full of good tidbits.