Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters [1985]

Genre: Biography, Drama
With Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Paul Schrader constructs a puzzle-box portrait of the controversial author (1925-1970) who turned his life into a work of art. Presented by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, Schrader outdoes his benefactors in sheer audacity alone. In the opening sequence, which weaves throughout the film, Yukio Mishima (riveting Shohei Imamura regular Ken Ogata) prepares for death as the director cuts to pivotal moments from his past. Shot by American Gigolo's John Bailey and designed by The Cell's Eiko Ishioka, stately black and white footage alternates with eye-popping color sequences. With an assist from Leonard and Chieko Schrader, his brother and sister-in-law, the filmmaker blends Mishima's fiction into his biography, and splits the whole four ways: beauty, art, action, and harmony of pen and sword (the brothers also wrote Sydney Pollack's Japanese thriller The Yakuza). Encouraged by his controlling grandmother, Mishima becomes a conflicted figure, torn between mind and body, pain and pleasure--men and women. As he states, "All my life I have been acutely aware of a contradiction in the very nature of my existence." (This collector's edition includes separate voice-over tracks by Ogata and Roy Scheider.) The first disc houses a gorgeous transfer of the film, the theatrical trailer, and comprehensive commentary from Schrader and producer Alan Poul; the second offers a making-of featurette (with Bailey, Ishioka, and composer Philip Glass), audio and video interviews (including translator and biographer John Nathan), a 1966 chat with Mishima for French TV, and a 1985 John Hurt-narrated documentary for the BBC. Unlike Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, which found favor in the East, Paul Schrader's risk-filled endeavor resulted in a ban in his subject's home country--and the director's crowning achievement. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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