‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,’ a shocking and stunning biopic

[28 July 2008]

By Tirdad Derakhshani

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

On Nov. 25, 1970, Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima and four cadets from his private army barricaded themselves in a Tokyo military barracks, taking the commanding officer hostage. Mishima’s demand: to deliver a speech to the soldiers and the media.

Intended to inspire a coup d’etat, Mishima’s balcony address was met with derision and ridicule. After a few minutes, he returned inside and committed seppuku. He was only 45 years old, yet he left behind a voluminous legacy of 35 novels, 25 plays, 200 short stories, and eight volumes of essays.

Mishima’s shocking act, from which Japan has never quite recovered - his name is virtually taboo in his homeland - forms the narrative framework for writer-director Paul Schrader’s stunning, highly stylized 1985 biopic “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” which has been released in a new edition by Criterion Collection (www.criterion.com; $39.95; rated R), with a new director’s commentary and a booklet of essays.

Starring veteran actor Ken Ogata as Mishima, the intricate, complex, yet superbly lyrical film is a collage of several mini-narratives, each with a strikingly different visual style, color palette, and sound design. There’s Mishima’s childhood, early life and school days, shot in a crisp B&W; there are dramatizations of Mishima’s works, played out on a minimalist, yet elegant stage, and there’s the present day - Nov. 25, 1970 - shot verite-style with hand-held cameras.

Mishima saw true beauty as a terrifying, eternal force that threatens to crush the finite world. And he embraced the terror: He set about systematically destroying any lines that might separate his art from his life in a bid to craft his life into a work of art. (He even became fixated on bodybuilding.)

At the same time, the urbane writer whose sensibilities were markedly Western (his favorite writer was Thomas Mann) also cultivated a radically nationalistic and traditional political ideology.

Mishima lays out his politics in the short film “Patriotism,” his first and only attempt at directing, which also has been released by Criterion ($24.95; not rated).

Schrader has always been undervalued as a director. “Mishima is an extraordinary achievement that goes a long way to correct that oversight.

Other DVDs of note:

Fans of female superheroes pay heed: Warner Home Video has released two TV shows from the early 2000s featuring super-strong women.

In the 2002 WB Network actioner, “Birds of Prey: Complete Series” (http://whv.warnerbros.com; $39.98; not rated), the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (Ashley Scott) teams up to fight crime with the now-paralyzed Batgirl (Dina Meyer). Mia Sara steals the show as the girls’ naughty nemesis, Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

The 23-episode “Witchblade: The Complete Series” ($69.98; not rated), due out Tuesday, lasted two seasons on TNT. It stars Yancy Butler as a New York City cop who finds out she’s actually a warrior from Joan of Arc’s bloodline sent to cleanse the world.

“Star Wars” fans will get a kick out of Seth Green’s “Robot Chicken: Star Wars” (Turner Home Ent.; www.turner.com; $14.98; not rated), a collection of 30 skits starring Claymation versions of your favorite “Star Wars” characters.

Speaking of stars, on Aug. 5, CBS and Paramount will release a re-mastered edition of “Star Trek The Original Series: The Complete Second Season” ($84.95; http://store.startrek.com). The 8-disc set includes one of the show’s all-time favorite episodes, “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

Producer Wong Kar-Wai’s brilliant martial-arts parody, “The Eagle Shooting Heroes from Kino” (www.kino.com; $24.95; not rated), features some of Hong Kong’s biggest action stars, including Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. With bizarre musical numbers and crazy fights, the film subverts every possible martial-arts convention.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/mishima-a-life-in-four-chapters-a-shocking-and-stunning-biopic/