I felt so frustrated with myself. Paul Schrader, what have you done. How can one film such a unique, thorough, and breathtaking biographical picture of someone’s life, where someone is such a complex and layered figure that unraveling it would seem to be an insurmountable mountain for anyone; especially when it means respectfully and faithfully portraying the culture and soul of a nation that is a secret of its own to all the outsiders.
As Susan Sontag used to say, Against Interpretation, I’ll focus on the form. The visuals are simply—stunning. Similarly to one of my all-time favorites in story telling, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, Paul Schrader depicts Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, in four chapters (heh), in a tripartite. First, a political thriller going through Mishima’s last day, November 25, 1970. Second, a series of flashbacks to his youth. Third, an over-dramatization of Mishima’s finest works in the flesh. The perfect combination of reality, memory, and imagination. Let me speak a bit more about the imagination part.
The Criterion booklet that came with the box has an essay written by the film’s production designer, Eiko Ishioka, and let me say—I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this ever put on film. Maybe Apocalypse Now’s poster, oh wait, that was also her. Dream-like sets, very different compared to the nature of David Lynch’s sets, in the sense that Eiko Ishioka herself put the best, “It would be like the sets themselves were characters, as though they were actors, and they would challenge the real actors.” There is a grand actor in the background, always third-wheeling, aggressively, and in such a way that is truly overwhelming. Just like that acolyte burning the pavilion, as it was too beautiful, therefore, it was insulting to the human nature.
Circling back, as the ye old tradition states—I felt angry with myself. I was sitting here, in the night, watching the film, and as Mishima contemplated the inadequacy of even the most articulate words describe the nature, the world, which was never meant, and could never be described in words—it calls for the combination of art and action. It called out to me something so close to Oscar Wilde, but to a further, riskier, radical, ultranationalistic way, which is by all means and definitions, reactionary, yet has that warped beauty, a Byron-esque essence. Where is the line at which the artist becomes the art?
There was so much that when I was done, I simply turned off the lights and went to bed. Didn’t write, as I was too stumped to come out with anything coherent and structured. The clash of self-creation and self-destruction, which spurred within the theater of gore, blood, masochism, honor, guilt, and pride, have all resulted in a tense, ultimately, tragic climax, of Yukio Mishima becoming “Yukio Mishima.” The grande finale. As much as I myself disagreed deeply with the tactics, reactionary movements, the especially dangerous ones, I could not avoid observing in awe at how far some would go to realize their ideas, or at the very least, do the unthinkable to explore them as far as they can, till death do them apart.
I remember that in university literature courses, I always liked the idea of a duel, this “glory” that it entails. As much we look down upon those (usually, fatal) acts, calling them downright barbaric, sitting on our high thrones of retroactive judgement, “this all could be avoided if he did X,” all of that happened in human history happened because of the factors of the time, because those people existed, and some, even took on the radical idea of living. Stepping down from the “high and mighty” pedestal we built for ourselves; training ourselves out of the awful “we are smarter and better than the men before us’' attitude; we might learn a thing or two about the very core of the human spirit, which resides so deep and hidden within us that in the world filled with shallow thoughts and even shallower minds we are adopting; where the very action of venturing beyond is no longer considered “over-dramatic,” but rational to the very notion that makes us human.