Thursday, September 29, 2011
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Today I watched Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, directed by Paul Schrader in 1985. Schrader is extremely well known for his screenwriting, having written some amazing films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. I actually don't think that I've seen anything that he directed before - lots of stuff that he wrote, though. It was interesting to watch this movie for me in that respect. The movie was great. Totally unconventional, but beautiful, unique, and crazy awesome. The strange style works so well here, and I always love it when I can see something that I haven't seen before, like a genre approached in a new way.
The plot, as lazily taken from Wikipedia so I can go to wonderful bed (spoilers be here!): "The film is drawn into four chapters: Beauty, Art, Action, and Harmony of Pen and Sword. Each chapter features black and white flashbacks from Mishima's life, highly stylized, theatrical scenes from three Mishima novels (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses), and a realistic docudrama-style story of Mishima's final day (the soundtrack follows this by accompanying the black-and-white flashbacks with a string quartet, the theatrical scenes with a string orchestra and synthesizers, and the "docudrama" scenes with a full symphonic orchestra). In the end, the protagonists of all three novels are shown achieving their destructive and/or suicidal objectives as Mishima himself commits seppuku."
That doesn't really explain anything, does it? I guess the main thing that really matters is that it's Mishima's life interspersed with his novels. It's a really unique way of storytelling. I don't think I've every seen anything like this, certainly never a biopic. It's weird, but a good weird. Clearly, in Mishima's life, there were a lot of different, strange, things - lots of sexual fetishism. I guess I'm trying to say that the style makes sense here. He didn't have the most typical life, and to blend it with fantasy elements just seems...appropriate. We can see how his personal life created his novels and characters, and how his creation of his works influenced his personal life.
The film looks amazing. I love how incredibly stylized the scenes from the books are. They are all clearly on soundstages, and many of them have big, pulled back shots that show that there's no ceiling - we can see the flat tops of the walls. The colors are bright and rich, and and it's so fantastic looking. I thought it might be confusing, the way the story was told. Would I know the difference between the book scenes and the biographical scenes? Once the film started and I saw how each had their own style - their own look and feel - it was impossible to worry. I think that there was a lot of depth and richness added to the film because of how stylized it was. It was a cool contrast to the black and white scenes, and somehow, I felt like I could make connections between Mishima's life and his writing better.
I really enjoyed this movie. I went into it pretty enthused because I didn't know anything about the film, or who Mishima was. I assumed that it would be hard to follow, especially with no prior knowledge on the subject. It was really surprisingly easy to watch! I didn't really write much about the plot or analyze it because my reaction to the film was just based on how it looked and how it was structured. I was way more taken by that than anything else, although the plots are all very interesting. I always feel a little stupid when I just like a film for it's style, but there you have it. I think it's worth checking out if you ever want to see something interesting, to watch some incredible directing. Schrader is so talented, both as a writer, and here, as a director. I keep feeling like I need to think of some witty or insightful line to wrap this up, but I can't. So yeah.
Have any thoughts on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Buy it on Amazon