Paul Schrader, screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, considered Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters his greatest directorial achievement. It’s easy to see why; it’s an engrossing feast for the eyes and ears, even if it is a little disjointed in the narrative, but then again, Mishima lived a rather disjointed life, from what I gathered from the film. Mishima is revered in the circles of literature, thrice nominated for the Novel Prize in the field, and any film of his life and his life’s work would have to be unique in many ways to adequately capture the essence of the man, and this film manages to be so.
The film mixes three different narrative styles into one film, that’s admittedly shorter than it would seem; contemporary Mishima in naturalistic coloring, past Mishima filmed in black and white, and adaptations of three of Mishima’s works in vivid and alternating color palettes. Everything added together makes the film a medley of sorts; a compilation of experiences in a single body of work. The adaptations are staged with obvious theatricality, which helps to create a divide between the fiction and the regaling of Mishima’s life experiences. The visuals, especially these theatrical bits, are stunningly beautiful, and there are many moments which appear painted on the screen much like ancient Japanese art. Everything is encompassed by a breathtaking and hypnotic score by Philip Glass, composer of Koyaanisqatsi, and he once again exceeds all expectations.
I wasn’t too sure what to make of this one; it is beautiful in both visual and audio aspects, and it had quite a story to tell, but it wasn’t too sure of how to tell it. I wasn’t even convinced the film had decided which story to tell; there seemed to be so many more lurking beneath the surface of the film, most never touched upon. I hadn’t been prepared for the film to leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, not because I hadn’t enjoyed the experience, but because there was so much more I wanted to know, that I wanted to feel, that I wanted the film to integrate. Maybe that was the goal, and if so, the film succeeds incredibly. I’m not too sure how a general audience will take to this film, though; it’s just not very accessible to those not willing to take part in the experience, and for most people, there’s no real investment for them to do so. Still, it’s a great film, and definitely one that deserves its spot on the list. Just be prepared for the ending; once you’ve seen it, I don’t think you’ll look at the poster the same way again.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10