Monday, September 7, 2009

The Union Of Pen And Sword

Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters(1985)Directed by Paul Schrader
“The only pure life is one that ends with a signature in blood." So says Yukio Mishima anyway, a young sheltered Japanese boy who becomes a post-war celebrity author.The life of one of Japan's most celebrated literary voices, is told from three perspectives.First is his life just before he and four members of his private army take over a Japanese military base and commit ritual suicide shown in color. Second are flashbacks to his early life shown in black and white. Finally there are the scenes from his novels shown in a kind of dreamy Technicolor set design somewhere between traditional Noh Theater and "The Wizard Of Oz".These stories are often told at the same time, but are edited to reinforce, the slow fusing of Mishima's life with his fictions, until the end (or the beginning) when like the ancient samurai he so admires, he will be at a balance of pen and swordThis balance being when his words and actions are the same, and he is in a state of full and "pure" being.Paul Schrader wrote the screen play for "Taxi Driver", and directed "Cat People"(a bizarre erotic horror film, which left strange impressions on me as a boy), and in Misishima, he comes closest to making a truly excellent film. Whats interesting is to watch the poet, the homo erotically fascinated, shy and awkward man with a terrible stutter and thus low body image who overstates his tuberculosis to get of WW2 (of which he seems forever ashamed), go on to become a body building, samurai obsessed, a-sexual, media phenomena. Mishima does all of this while still writing prolific amounts of novels, plays, and short stories (many of which the film dramatizes.)A short and sweet version is to say Mishima has no father, and becomes obsessed with masculinity, beauty, sex and self destruction, in some tragic attempt to feel connected to something bigger than himself and achieve some namless thing he was always missing.Watching him with his fellow suicidal cadets, we see him happy, delivering his big paternal speech, giving orders, and loving the control. In his final failure/triumph we see this family gap filled.This all compounds until the ironic and disastrous speech itself, the point where pen and sword meet?It is the subtlety of the story telling craft and the impeccable editing, which makes this strange life long transformation so natural and intimate.Mishima is a classic reactionary, seeing Japan’s rapid growth and “westernization” as a threat to all the classical masculine traditions that he so desperately clings to.The story, though fascinating at times, really isn't this movies greatest success. The cinematography, performances, editing, music (by Philip Glass), and set designs, are really what make this worth seeing, and more than a traditional bio-pic.Though I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, watching again, and re-posting and looking over the pictures I’ve re-convinced myself of it’s greatness.Paul Schrader has created an expressionistic masterpiece, about an angry introverted man not unlike fellow reactionary turned vigilante Travis Bickle.The endings are remarkably similar, and Mishima’s national rage, is a microcosm of Bickle's urban blight. In a way they are both failed men who set themselves against the world the don’t understand how to engage with.Mishima is a more well rounded character than Bickle, due to the sheer scope of Schrader’s exploration of literally the man, the myth, and the legend.One day I will pick, up a Mishima book, he does seem to have an ear for prose, and for staging ideas, but for now I'm satisfied with the film. Those interested in Japanese Literature, and post-war culture, should check it out.Anyone interested in inventive combinations of facts and fiction, should enjoy as well.Schrader considers this his best film, and just at a glance its easy to see why.

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