Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mishima: A LIfe in Four Chapters, a film

Yukio Mishima has been a favorite writer of mine for some time now. I've read a number of his novels, including "The Sea of Fertility" quartet--an ironic title, for it refers to Mare Fecunditatis, a region of the moon, which, of course, is dry, barren, and lifeless, and not fertile at all. Therefore, when I heard about this film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, I was curious about it. I knew little about his life, except for his rather dramatic death.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Shield Society, his private army, dressed in full uniform and drove to the Ichigaya Camp, the Tokyo headquarters for the Japanese Self-Defense Force. Once there, he and the others took the Camp Commander hostage. He addressed the soldiers gathered below and tried to inspire them to rise up, overthrow the government, and restore the powers of the emperor. He was mocked and jeered at by the soldiers. He then went back into the Commander's office and committed seppuku.

I was even more intrigued when I read that Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas were the producers and that Philip Glass wrote the original music for the film, parts of which were played by The Kronos Quartet.

The film has one of the most unusual disclaimers I've ever seen. It agrees that Yukio Mishima was a real person, but it goes on to state that nothing in the film is based on real people or real events. This being said, while the dialogue and actions on the day of his death are obviously the work of a screenwriter(s), the overall course of events are accurate.

The film consists of four chapters-Beauty, Art, Action, and Harmony of Pen and Sword. It has three rather episodic narratives, each interrupted by the sequence of chapters.

The first tells of the events of November 25, 1970, the day of the failed coup and his suicide. It is in color and naturalistic. It begins with Mishima dressing and getting ready for the day.

The second is in black-and-white. It consists of flashbacks of Mishima's life, which appear to be films taken of him while he was growing up.

The third narrative is in color and relates dramatized scenes from three of his novels: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses. However, the scenes are stylized, perhaps in the manner of Japanese theatre. The dialogue is declaimed, rooms are indicated by panels, and forests suggested by a line of obviously artificial trees.

I had read The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Runaway Horses, the second book in the Sea of Fertility quartet, so I was able to relate the dramatized scenes to Mishima's life. In both books, the main characters commit suicide, a clear relationship to Mishima's own life. I haven't read Kyoto's House yet, so the relationship is not as clear as it is with the other two.

Overall Reaction: I found it very interesting. Philip Glass' music is the perfect choice, and it adds a persistent driving tension to the film. While it is in no way a comprehensive account of Mishima's life, it does suggest parallels between his life and his work. I have it on my list of films to be seen again.


  1. I hope to read The Sea of Fertility in full by year end-out of sequence I read book two of the tetrology last month-

  2. mel u,

    "The Sea of Fertility" is very interesting quartet. While it's not absolutely necessary, I would advise reading it in sequence for it follows Honda's life, and therefor Japan's experience, during the 20th century, as seen by Mishima, naturally.

    It's also in my to be read again list.