If you want your beauty to endure,
you must commit suicide at the height of your beauty.
— Yukio Mishima, 1959
At the age of 45, Yukio Mishima had written 40 novels, 18 plays, and 20 volumes of short stories and essays. He was Japan's most prestigious writer, sometimes mentioned for the Nobel Prize. Mishima, a man of many roles, was also married, militaristic, homosexual, a body builder, an actor, and a devotee of the Japanese martial tradition.
On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Shield Society, his private army, took over the Ichigaya military headquarters in Tokyo. The troops were assembled to hear the famous writer speak out against what he saw as Japan's decadence. His call for an uprising to assert the country's imperial traditions fell on deaf ears. Mishima then killed himself by ritual seppuku.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is, according to director Paul Schrader, not a biographical portrait of the artist but "an interpretation" of his life and work. The drama's four chapters are "Beauty," focusing on Mishima's youthful aesthetic interest; "Art," centered around his vocation as an artist; "Action," in which the accent is politics; and "The Harmony of the Pen and the Sword," which concludes with Mishima's attempt to create meaning through his own death.
The film covers the last day in MIshima's life, flashbacks to his childhood and youth, and vignettes from three of his novels — Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses.
Taken as a whole, this fragmented movie seems to suggest that Mishima's life and career were all rehearsal leading up to his ritualistic suicide. As a child, he was raised as a girl by his grandmother. His first sexual experience occurred while viewing a portrait of St. Sebastian's body pierced with arrows. Several of his books deal with the link between sex and death. And in the later part of his career, Mishima became convinced that words no longer sufficed: only in deed could purity be restored to the world.
Dostoyevsky said that individuals not only demand to live but need a reason for living. Mishima, according to Paul Schrader and co-screenplay writer Leonard Schrader, found many reasons to die.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- New, restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut, supervised and approved by director Paul Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
- Two optional English narrations, including one by actor Roy Scheider
- Audio commentary from 2008 featuring Schrader and producer Alan Poul
- Interviews from 2007 and 2008 with Bailey, producers Tom Luddy and Mata Yamamoto, composer Philip Glass, and production designer Eiko Ishioka
- Interviews from 2008 with Mishima biographer John Nathan and friend Donald Richie
- Audio interview from 2008 with coscreenwriter Chieko Schrader
- Interview excerpt from 1966 featuring Mishima talking about writing
- The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima, a 55-minute documentary from 1985 about the author
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Kevin Jackson, a piece on the film’s censorship in Japan, and photographs of Ishioka’s sets