A Life in Four Chapters and Many Colors


“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act”
Truman Capote

 
 

 
 

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is an American/Japanese film co-written and directed by Paul Schrader in 1985. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas served as executive producers. As the title indicates, Mishima is divided into four chapters, each encapsulating a different aspect of the man’s spirit, three of which include condensed adaptations of his most famous novels. The film is based on the life and work of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, interweaving episodes from his life with dramatizations of segments from his books The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko’s House, and Runaway Horses.

 
 

 
 

Although Mishima only visualizes three of the writer’s novels by name, the film also uses segments from his autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask. At least two scenes, showing the young Mishima being aroused by a painting of the Christian martyr Sebastian, and his secret love for a fellow pupil at school, also appear in this book. The use of one further Mishima novel, Forbidden Colors, which describes the marriage of a homosexual man to a woman, was denied by Mishima’s widow.

 
 

The film sets in on November 25, 1970, the last day in Mishima’s life. He is shown finishing a manuscript. Then, he puts on a uniform he designed for himself and meets with four of his most loyal followers from his private army.

 
 

 
 

As Schrader wanted to visualize a book illustrating Mishima’s narcissism and sexual ambiguity, he chose the novel Kyoko’s House (which Mishima had translated for him exclusively) instead. Kyoko’s House contains four equally ranking storylines, featuring four different protagonists, but Schrader picked out only the one which he considered convenient.

Mishima uses different colour palettes to differentiate between frame story, flashbacks and scenes from Mishima’s novels: The (1970) contemporary scenes are shot in subdued colours, the flashbacks in black-and-white, the The Temple of the Golden Pavilion-episode is dominated by golden and green, Kyoko’s House by pink and grey, and Runaway Horses by orange and black.

Schrader considers Mishima the best film he has directed. “It’s the one I’d stand by – as a screenwriter it’s Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), but as a director it’s Mishima.”

Mishima earned Eiko Ishioka the Best Artistic Contribution award the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.

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