Geographically Transcending: Our Review of ‘Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters’ on Blu-Ray

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies by - June 12, 2018
Geographically Transcending: Our Review of ‘Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters’ on Blu-Ray

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There’s something about a life that’s truly been lived…

With Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters now available on Blu-Ray we get a truly avant-garde experiment done with a budget from some of Hollywood’s leading minds giving us a film that truly settles in to being a global piece of art.

An incredibly fascinating character; Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters is the portrait of acclaimed author and playwright Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata) that investigates the inner turmoil and contradictions of a man who attempted the impossible task of finding harmony among self, art and society.  Taking place on the last day of Mishima’s life when he very famously committed public seppuku, the narrative is punctuated with numerous extended flashbacks from the writer’s past that evokes some of his fictional works.

Not the kind of film you’d expect to see come after such highs like Raging Bull & Cat People or in the wake of this with a screenplay for The Mosquito Coast or his own Light of Day but with Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters we truly get a look at the artistry on display as Schrader doesn’t always make the best of films that are accessible to everyone, but when he gets it right we get something that transcends genre, style and any other of the more traditional markers that you’d get from a filmmaker working in another language.

While he is undoubtedly American, Mishima is a Japanese film through and through to its very core.  He never tries to shoehorn in any alternative styles, but rather immerses himself in the source material and makes it become his own.  From the shadows of American Gigolo and the dripping colours of Cat People, Schrader truly makes this film for the style junkies who want to lap up a narrative though not only the words on the page, but the shadows and the pastels on the big screen.  It’s a little bleak, but it’s always gorgeous which does give a fair representation of who the man was as issues around sex, death and evoking political change are always in the forefront in a very imaginative and artistic way, almost like he was setting up stage play (which is kind of how many of the flashbacks actually felt).  The cinematography was lush and inviting while the score from Philip Glass was bordering on ethereal.

There’s certainly some interesting names from Japanese cinema in this ensemble but it all does successfully hinge on the performance of Ken Ogata in the title role.  He’s a man who is both filled with purpose but also without it as his ideals morph and they become incompatible with the world around him.  It’s the portrait of a man who is coming apart at the seams and has a real sense of his own end as a man out of time.

It looks better than ever on Blu-Ray with a 4K transfer of the director’s cut that was supervised by Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey.  The special features include two alternate narrations; including one by actor Roy Scheider.  Feature length audio commentary from Schrader recorded back in 2006 along with producer Alan Poul.  Interviews from 2007 and 2008 with Bailey, producers Tom Luddy and Mata Yamamoto, along with composer Philip Glass and production designer Eiko Ishioka, there’s also interviews from 2008 with Yukio Mishima biographer John Nathan and friend Donald Richie.  There’s an audio interview from 2008 co-screenwriter Chieko Schreder.  An excerpt of an interview from 1966 featuring Mishima talking about his writing process along with a 1985 documentary called The Strange Case of Yukie Mishima as well as a theatrical trailer and a booklet with an essay by critic Kevin Jackson, a piece on the film’s censorship in Japan and photographs of Ishioka’s sets.

It’s not the kind of film that will be for most but Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters is a film for film fans as it pushes boundaries of the form to make something bleak yet stunning all at the same time.

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  • Release Date: 5/22/2018
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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