Review: Mishima – A Life in Four Chapters

Ken Ogata in “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.”

Dir. Paul Schrader. 120 minutes.

On Nov. 25, 1970, Japan’s most acclaimed author entered an army base, took the commandant hostage and delivered a speech urging the public to rise up and reinstate the emperor as supreme ruler. When this obviously quixotic gesture failed, he retreated inside and committed ritual suicide using an antique samurai sword.

Yukio Mishima (portrayed here by Ken Ogata) led a strange, self-contradictory life, known at once for his flamboyance and his militarism, his intellectual sensitivity and his extreme physical self-discipline. It’s fitting that a film chronicling Mishima’s life would fracture into so many contrasting styles. Childhood reminiscences take on a dreamy tone, while the hours leading up to Mishima’s public self-destruction are shot in a gritty, nearly documentary style. Scenes from Mishima’s novels are recreated on intentionally artificial stage sets; from time to time, the camera pulls back to show that there exists literally nothing beyond the room in which the action takes place.

Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is that, despite its eccentricity, it remains accessible to viewers without prior knowledge of its subject. Newly released in 4k definition, “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” is a passionate and challenging film that defies our expectations of the “great man” biopic.