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Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (The Criterion Collection)
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197 of 202 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2004
Someone pointed out to me confusion about the change in the narration. Here's the story. I originally intended to have Mishima's narration in English outside Japan to cut down on the surfeit of subtitles. (The US version of Diary of a Country Priest has French dialogue and English narration.) I asked Roy Scheider to read a transdlation of the Ogata/Mishima narration and we mixed this into the film at Lucasfilm. The Japanese distributor was to be responsible for mixing Ken Ogata's narration into the Japanese version. However, there never was a Japanese version since the film was de facto banned in Japan. Consequently, it was never possible for non-English speaking Japanese viewers to see the film entirely in Japanese. When the DVD was issued we went back to Lucasfilm to fix this, allowing either a Japanese-speaking viewer to hear the Ogata narration or a non-Japanese-speaking viewer to hear the Scneider narration. In recording both Ogata and Scneider an equal effort was made to keep the narrative flat and matter-of-fact. Paul S.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2008
This was a film financed by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola,distributed by a major Hollywood studio, that but for some narration by Roy Scheider is entirely in Japanese, and is told in a fragmentary narrative style which oscillates between wildly contrasting stylistic modes; the widow of the film's subject signed away life rights to her husband's story conditioned upon the film's not dealing with his none-too-secret homosexuality, which the film proceeded to deal with, albeit obliquely, and she then fought production in Japan tooth and nail. Mishima himself, Japan's most famous post-war novelist, attempted a paramilitary coup d'etat in 1970, in which his private army took over the Ministry of Defense, and committed a highly public hari-kiri. He was and is a subject of vast controversy in Japan, a consensus society, who since his death have preferred not to be reminded he existed. Given the artiness of the film, the foreigness of it's subject matter, and the Japanese blackout/ban, it is amazing "Mishima" got made at all.

Even without the sheer strangeness of the work and improbability of its existence, this is an awesome film. "Mishima" is one of the best movies about an artist ever made. Mishima sought to make his life into a work of art, and his bid for violent political action and self-martyrdom was his terminal masterpiece. "Mishima" intercuts documentary-style scenes of his final 12 hours with black and white flashbacks telling of his life up to that day, aping the style of classical Japanese cinema of Ozu and Naruse; but the third layer of narrative are highly stylized scenes from three of his novels (Temple of the Golden Pavillion, Runaway Horses, and Kyoko's House), shot on elaborate soundstages on blatantly artificial sets in garish 40's MGM-style color (each with its own individual color palette). All three narrative modes, and the violent climaxes of the three novels, fuse, "Intolerance"-style, in rapid montage as the film builds to its endpoint, as life and art meld.

The film shows us the life that fueled the artist's fictions, the fictions themselves and how they transformed the raw material of Mishima's life, and then how Mishima's dissatisfaction with mere art-making lead to a flamboyant attempt at transcendant, suicidal direct action. In the end,Mishima becomes one with his creations, and life becomes art. This film is the most successful representation of a writer's life I've ever seen, all thanks to Mishima the man's insane extremism.

Philip Glass' operatic score is extrarordinary (and I am a non-fan), as essential as Morricone's music is to Leone's films.

I have not yet mentioned the name of the man behind this masterpiece. Paul Schrader, author of a one of the best critical film essays ever ("Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer"), writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Last Temptation of Christ, director of American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, Affliction, Patty Hearst and Cat People. While much of his work is fascinating, this is an out-and-out masterpiece. A truly brave film, as impossible as a Tarkovsky or a Bresson. And if any film deserves the Criterion treatment, this is it; in addition to commentary from the director, composer Glass and cinematographer John Bailey, it will be full of documentary material about the actual Mishima (the photogenic bodybuilder was a significant media star in both Japan and the West, he even acted in commercial films!) to provide needed context, and the beautiful sounds and images will surely benefit from the company's usual lush transfers. Check it out, you'll thank me.
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78 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 1999
Most biographical films of artists (Immortal Beloved, Amadeus, etc.), even if they are well made, hardly live up to the greatness of the people they describe. This film is a notable exception, one which outdoes its subject. Mishima was an accomplished writer, one whose works deserve to be read, but no single work of his stands out as an unquestionable masterpiece of world literature. This film, on the other hand, is without doubt one of the masterpieces of world cinema.
The film is broken down into interlocking "modules": those which depict Mishima's life and those which recreate episodes from his books. The literary recreations are done in a highly stylized manner which captures (and at times, outdoes) the mystery and poetry of the original texts. The biographical segments feature a fine sense of both drama and poetry. They capture the essence of Mishima's passion in a way that even he himself was unable to do.
The score by Philip Glass is one of the finest film scores ever written, and it turns the film almost into a kind of opera. It is far superior to any of his other compositions.
I was born a few years after Mishima committed suicide, but I am friends with two people who knew him personally, both of whom have excellent taste in both film and literature: they both recommend this film highly. The film may take some factual liberties, but it represents the fundamental nature of the man with infallible accuracy.
Whether your interest is great cinema, great literature, Japan, or Mishima himself, do yourself a favor: see this film.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2005
I'm rather confused about all these discussions about the voice over narration being "changed", and apparently, so is Paul Schrader himself.

I have not seen the film at the original release, but as for the difference between the fromer VHS editions of the film and this new DVD... the only difference about the voice over is...that Ken Ogata's narration in Japanese can now be heard, which is great. The English-narrated sound track is...the SAME.

I first saw the film in an old VHS in a university class, and THE ENGLISH VOICE OVERS WERE ALREADY THE SAME AS IT CAN BE HEARD ON TRACK ONE OF THIS DVD: "flat and matter-of-fact" as Mr.Schrader describes.

As a matter of fact, I did not recognize that it was Roy Scheider, though it was certainly his voice. This is very good for the film, since we are supposed to be listening to Mishima's inner reflection on his own life. It cannot be "acted out" loudly, since Mishima that we see in the film --especially in the main narrative line of it which is Mishima's last day ending with his suicide-- is always acting himself, rather flamboyantly. So the director Paul Schrader's choice of asking the actor not to "play" it, but making an "effort was made to keep the narrative flat and matter-of-fact" was very suitable for the mystery of the film.

Personally, I first did not like the narration being in English, then I started to feel that the very flat narration in a different language may be representing another dimention of Mishima's split personality that Schrader is exploring in the film.

But watching the film with Ken Ogata's narration was a revelation. The film definetely looks more complete with the Japanese narration. And Ogata did not need an English speaking narrator to represent this split, complex and enigmatic personality who is Yukio Mishima. It's far stroger to see the same actor incarnating those many personalities, and it also make far more sense.

The DVD is also on 1:1.85 aspect ratio, which is a huge improvement to 4:3 VHS, since now we can really appreciate John Bailey's extremely pricise framings and compositions. I have never been crazy about Eiko Ishioka's production design. Even for this film, when I first saw it I was interesting but not great, but Bailey's 1:1.85 framing really brings out the essence of the stories from her sets (though I still don't like them).

Of course a DVD has better image clarity than a VHS, plus the correct framing, plus Ken Ogata's own voice...the DVD edition is the best way to see the film.

And Mr. Schrader's commentary is very interesting and enjoyable (as he always is; one of the best director to do commentaries), including the horrifying story of the true reason why the film was banned in Japan. Very scary but very realistic for us Japanese.

Nevertheless, MISHIMA is a very interesting film but not the best among Schrader's works as director. My favorite one is AFFLICTION, and though Schrader himself dislikes the film saying the experience was a "nightmare", BLUE COLLAR.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2005
This visually strong DVD on the life of Mishima was divided into three interwoven chapters; there is a black and white retelling of Mishima's life; a color version of the last day of his life; and then a super-saturated color version of three abbreviations of his novels. I think these three sections actually allow a good armature on which to review the film and to comment on the artist's life and gifts to literature.

The life of Mishima, filmed in black and white, reveals many of the themes that continue to haunt both his fiction and his personal interactions. As a child, Mishima is told by his grandmother that he is special, a fragile hot-house plant, and that his family is better than common people. As a pre-adolescent he finds a picture of St. Sebastian pierced with arrows, and says that 'this painting had laid in wait for me for 300 years' and that his 'hand began a spontaneous motion that it had never been taught'. Thus Mishima himself gives us the key to understanding much of his work and life; he becomes obsessed with idealized male beauty and martyrdom. He begins the creative process early and is very prolific. He begins writing every night at midnight for a specified period of time, and maintained this routine throughout his life. He marries and has two children but he also has affairs with men. As he ages he becomes more obsessed with his body and becomes a body builder. He is humiliated beyond description by the Japanese loss of World War II. Eventually he develops a circle of beautiful male followers and forms his own private army.

I have read two of his novels; The Golden Pavillion and Forbidden Colors. I must say his style is different in both. Golden Pavillion is written in a straight-forward style, much like Hemingway. Forbidden Colors is an odd retelling of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations but with a gay Estella seeking revenge against the female sex. The novel has a style much like Balzac in his novel Cousin Bette. Mishima is cognitively original, much like Emily Dickinson, because of his fluid imagination, odd associations of thoughts and images, and the deep desire to hide the repressed and the nasty inner-self from the viewer. You can't ready Mishima or Emily Dickinson without asking: "What deep dark secrets are they hiding?"

Integrated into the film are three very stylized shortened versions of three of his novels that reflection on his consciousness.

The first segment, the Golden Pavillion, deals with a young monk who stutters, finds he can't make love to women because visions of the Golden Pavillion Temple continue to appear in his mind. He eventually burns the 600 year old national landmark temple to the ground. But what is this really about? It is about the repressed homosexual who can not make love to women because the image of the idealized beautiful male continues to haunt his inner desires and visions. To try to destroy those visions is to destroy the self, something precious as an ancient temple.

The second segment deals with a young beautiful male actor who becomes the lover of a female mobster slum lord (lady) to save his mother's coffee shop. Yet when they meet for love-making she slowly slices his beautiful body with razors as she admires his beauty. His first young mistress finds he responds to a mirrow when making love, obsessed with his own beauty. And how would a repressed homosexual deal with a beautiful male character in his novel? By violating that beauty, aiming the act of aggression outward instead of inward. The female mobster is Mishima, worshiping male beauty and wishing to destroy it at the same time. The last vision we see of the young actor is of his bound corpse, sliced and bleeding, yet with the restful face of St. Sebastian in a Renaissance painting.

In the third segment, Running Horses, a group of beautiful young nationalistic young Japanese men plot the death of the democratically elected officials of Japan so the country can return to the ancient religion, culture, and government of Japan. This segment certainly reveals that Japanese Nationalism did not disappear after the Japanese surrender. In fact, these Japanese Nationalists would consider the loss of the war shameful and in the Japanese Sumari tradition, should commit suicide rather than live in shame.

In the third Chapter of the film, we see Mishima on the last day of his life, surrounded by beautiful male soldiers from his private army. In 1970, at the age of 45, he commits ritual suicide as the act of an honorable samarai in response to the loss of the war by his nation. In a wild and almost unbelievable climax, Mishima and his officers kidnap the Minister of the Japanese Army and try to bring about a revolution against the current government, which is very much adjusted to Western influence. The soldiers that are addressed by Mishima are amazed at the destructive and unrealistic pleas of Mishima as were the Japanese college students in an earlier scene.

The musical score by Phillip Glass is complimentary without being competitive.

Mishima remains a puzzle inside an enigma but repressed homosexulity combined with self hatred certainly help explains why he surrounded himself with beautiful pure young men to whom he can impose his obsessed hyper-masculinity and ancient, tragically outdated code of life.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2004
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Directed by Paul Schrader. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Made in 1985. Cost $4.5million to make, filmed entirely in Japanese with all Japanese actors, never released in Japan. Grossed $500,000. Beautiful film that tells three separate stories. One is a black and white re-telling of Mishima's life. Another is a color re-telling of Mishima's last day. And the third consists of three re-tellings of Mishima's novels. The novel re-tellings are shot like very elaborate stage plays in lavish colors and designed by Eiko Ishioka, who designed costumes for Dracula, The Cell, and the new Houston Rockets jersey.
Long story short, I bought this film sight unseen and I cannot stop thinking about it. The music haunts me (in a pleasant way), and the images and the ideas of Mishima have been playing in my mind. I had read two novels of Mishima's, so I was familiar with him and his work.
Here is a man, arguably the greatest postwar author Japan has had, who wrote 35 novels, over a dozen plays, several operas, a ballet, over 400 short stories and essays, directed and starred in a movie he wrote, and starred in a few more. And in 1970, at the age of 45, after creating his own army, committed suicide after a vein attempt to incite revolution in the Army. Oh, he was also a body builder.
Just like the deafness in Beethoven, it is the army building and suicide that everybody obsesses about when they study Mishima. It is true for the last decade of his life he tipped to the right in political views to the point of fervent fanaticism, but he still managed to balance his passion with his desire for beauty and existence. In the end he hoped to unify it all in one swift moment that is death.
Known to go out on the town or host cocktail parties with the who's who of Tokyo and the literary world of the 50's and 60's, Mishima never drank and rarely took to debauchery that personifies the tragic novelist. Instead he possessed a phenomenal work ethic. At 11:00pm, whether on the town, or the host of a party, people knew it was time for Mishima to head home, or for the party end. He had work to do.
Even while cramming for exams as a teenager, Mishima would stay up until dawn writing. His one passion at that age. And for the last twenty years of his life, at midnight, he would go to his study and write. No distractions, silence would guide his thoughts.
Most of this I got from reading a biography I just read of him, but the film touches upon it very nicely. And it is the quotes about his personal development that make some of the best lines from the film (in an optional English narration on the DVD.)
"Every night at precisely midnight I would return to my desk and write. I would analyze why I was attracted to a particular theme. I would boil it into abstraction until I was ready to put it down on the page." I think I just miss quoted (as I will again later), but I got it close enough. Even on the last night of his life he followed this work ethic. In his entire writing career, he never missed a deadline.
He was a weak kid. Pale, young looking for his age. Sheltered by his grandmother. His one release was writing. In a scene that was objected to by his widow, the film shows him at a gay bar. He is criticized by a man for being "flabby". This scene and the implied homosexuality resulted in his widow preventing the release if the film in Japan.
The following scene concludes with Mishima thinking: "All my life I had suffered under a monstrous sensitivity." And that, "What I lacked was a healthy body; a sense of self."
"I saw that beauty and ethics are one in the same. Creating a beautiful work of art and being beautiful oneself are inseparable"
Mishima took up body building in the mid 1950's and kept it up until the end of his life. Unlike the average tale of the forlorn, drunk, self-hating author, Mishima was obsessed with health and the prevention of the decay of the body.
The reputation of famous authors of Japan are that of chain smokers who drink and write. It is this lifestyle that gives them their writing will. I have found two Japanese authors who buck this trend. One is Mishima and the other is Murakami Haruki, who is in his fifties right now and is possibly the most popular author in contemporary Japan. He too follows a strict ethic of exercise and writing.

I will point out some other aspects of the film I find interesting. Apparently Lucas and Coppola were miffed that Yoko, Mishima's widow, would only allow scenes that were documented as happening. Seems fair to me when making a biopic. All quotes in the movie spoken by Mishima are actual words Mishima wrote.
Though one issue I do have is that Ogata Ken, the actor who plays Mishima, doesn't really look like him. Mishima was just more handsome. His face was tough, but the eyes were the eyes of a poet. And he was more muscular for the last 15 years of his life. But considering the controversial nature of Mishima and his reputation, it was hard to find an actor as willing as Ogata, so I should not be so upset.
Plus Paul Schrader made a comentary track for the DVD release that is full of good tidbits.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2003
With its multiple timeframes, minimalist aesthetic, and intercut dramatized extracts from Mishima's novels, on paper this film sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But in the hands of Paul Schrader, this ambitious fusion of literature and cinema is nothing less than a joy. Few films cover so much ground, philosophically or biographically, let alone with such economy and flair. Paul and Leonard Schrader's screenplay is perfect, Ken Ogata is masterful as Mishima, and Philip Glass's now-classic score lends everything a powerfully tragic tone. Ironically, in the end this most complex of projects plays like a very simple story, and succeeds in not only in making us feel for Mishima but also has us understanding the personal and ideological forces which drove him. In a bio-pic, you can't ask for more than that.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Finally Criterion has gotten around to including one of my all time favorite films, Mishima. Directed by Paul Schrader and with beautiful set pieces by Ishioka Eiko, this is a truly great bio pic which Criterion has generoursly upgraded. This is the only bio pic I can think of that's based on a major modern Japanese author. It would be interesting to see other directors make films about Kawabata, Tanizaki, and Kafu. In Mishima you see his final day before committing seppuku as just another day and filmed in color. Then you switch to black and white shots of Mishima's childhood. Finally, there are the richly stylized set pieces that showcase Mishima's novels. Schrader does a great job of switching between these three separate time frames and you can see the influneces of Bresson, Dreyer, and Ozu. I won't go into the story details but once you start watching its hard to look away from Ogata Ken's intense protrayal.
The real treat for me was the special features, which are by themselves worth buying this edition for. There's an excellent 55-minute documentary by the BBC called The Strange Case of Mishima Yukio where you can see Donald Keene discuss the problems of translating Mishima's writing into English. It was great seeing Keene speaking when I'm so used to reading his books and various translated works.
Also, there is a great interview with Donald Richie and John Nathan who both knew Mishima and visited him in Tokyo. John Nathan wrote the excellent biography on Mishima (another good one is Mishima Into The Void by Marguerite Yourcenar.) A good interview with Chieko Schrader, who helped write the script and is the wife of Paul's brother, Leonard.
Also video interview with composer Philip Glass, set designer Ishioka, and the producers that show how much work and effort go into creating a film on such a grand scale.
Overall, its a very entertaining and informative look at a great modern writer, Japanese or otherwise, and is highly recommened to anyone interested in writing and Japanese culture.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2008
If someone said "I'm going to pitch a film about Yukio Mishima, a writer well known in Japan but only known to intellectuals here in America, to a Hollywood studio, get Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas to help me get it made, make it entirely in Japanese (except for some narration), and make it about the inner workings of the artist, not a straighforward biography", most would say that that person should be committed. Well, that's pretty much what Paul Schrader did, and he succeeded wildly beyond all expectations. Not only is this film one of the greatest biographies ever made, it really captures the essence of Mishima brilliantly. Yukio Mishima is a man that the term "complicated individual" was invented for. He was a poet, playwright, essayist, short story writer, novelist (which he is best known for), filmmaker (he made one film, Patriotism, which is now on DVD), body builder, Japanese patriot, believer in the Bushido code, and nationalist. He also committed suicide attempting (fruitlessly) to convince the Japanese army to restore Japan to the emperor. Instead of doing a straightforward biography, Paul Schrader gets inside of Mishima, and shows the immense complexity and genius that was his and his alone. The only film that I really compare this film to (just in technique and attitude) is Sergie Paradjanov's The Color of Pomegranates, which was about the Armerian poet Sayat Nova. That film isn't a straightforward biography, but a complex, esoteric film about the inner workings of the artist, much like this one. These two films couldn't be more different aesthetically, but they are almost identical in their approaches.

If Schrader made a decent film, you could say "well, he got the film made. It wasn't perfect, but that's OK. He tried to make something artistic". But that isn't the case. Not only did Schrader make this film with American financing, he made what is arguably his best film. Schrader is very erratic at times, doing great work (he wrote Taxi Driver), making decent films (Auto Focus), and making mediocre films (Hardcore and the lousy remake of Cat People). In this film, he's made his masterpiece. Everything works here, from the amazing cinematography to the brilliant score of Philip Glass (it's one of Glass's best scores, and that's saying something). This really is a remarkable piece of work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2010
According to the DVDtalk site, the 2001 Warner DVD contains an exclusive 10-minute documentary, "Inside Mishima," that did not show up on the newer Criterion release. Also, the Paul Schrader commentary on the 2001 DVD is different than the one on the newer Criterion DVD. There was also one brief deleted scene on the 2001 DVD from Golden Pavilion where Mizoguchi speaks to his Zen master, which has now been added back into the film on the Criterion version.

For years there has been confusion about Roy Scheider's narration which was present on the theatrical and VHS releases but voiced by a different actor on the 2001 Warner DVD, even though the on-screen credits still claim that the english narration is by Scheider.

A post at IMDB claimed that the narration on the 2001 DVD was by Schrader himself, theorizing that when it came time to release the DVD, Warner was unable to secure the rights to use Scheider's narration, perhaps due to a money issue.

It was noted by the poster that some of the language in the english narration differs between the Scheider version and that of the unnamed voice in the 2001 DVD, mostly in the opening monologue.

I had been chasing this question on and off for years, and then it occurred to me I should simply try to contact Schrader himself, which it turns out is easy to do through his web site. This is the response Schrader sent when I asked for clarification:

------ Forwarded Message
From: Schrader Productions
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 2010 12:59:48 -0400
Subject: Re: Scheider narration on 2001 Mishima DVD

"Kerry: It took some years but I finally figured it out. The orginal WB print
and VHS contain Roy's narration. When we returned to Lucasfilm some years
later to do the DVD, Paul Jasmin's narration (which I'd been using as a temp
track during editing) was inadvertently used in the place of Scheider's. The
WB DVD has the wrong narration. When Criterion came to do their DVD, this
was all unraveled. They included Ogata's narration with a choice of Jasmin's
(from the WB DVD) or Scheider's (from the WB VHS). Phew! Paul S."
--------

So to recap, exclusive to the 2001 Warner DVD release is a solo director commentary that differs from the new one on the Criterion edition; a short making-of documentary, and narration by actor Paul Jasmin, not by Roy Scheider.
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