"Someone pointed out to me confusion about the change in the narration. Here's the story. I originally intended to have Mishima's narration in English outside Japan to cut down on the surfeit of subtitles. (The US version of Diary of a Country Priest has French dialogue and English narration.) I asked Roy Scheider to read a transdlation of the Ogata/Mishima narration and we mixed this into the film at Lucasfilm. The Japanese distributor was to be responsible for mixing Ken Ogata's narration into the Japanese version. However, there never was a Japanese version since the film was de facto banned in Japan. Consequently, it was never possible for non-English speaking Japanese viewers to see the film entirely in Japanese. When the DVD was issued we went back to Lucasfilm to fix this, allowing either a Japanese-speaking viewer to hear the Ogata narration or a non-Japanese-speaking viewer to hear the Scneider narration. In recording both Ogata and Scneider an equal effort was made to keep the narrative flat and matter-of-fact. Paul S."
A biopic that is even more impressive than its subject
TruthWillOut | New York, NY | 10/20/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most biographical films of artists (Immortal Beloved, Amadeus, etc.), even if they are well made, hardly live up to the greatness of the people they describe. This film is a notable exception, one which outdoes its subject. Mishima was an accomplished writer, one whose works deserve to be read, but no single work of his stands out as an unquestionable masterpiece of world literature. This film, on the other hand, is without doubt one of the masterpieces of world cinema.The film is broken down into interlocking "modules": those which depict Mishima's life and those which recreate episodes from his books. The literary recreations are done in a highly stylized manner which captures (and at times, outdoes) the mystery and poetry of the original texts. The biographical segments feature a fine sense of both drama and poetry. They capture the essence of Mishima's passion in a way that even he himself was unable to do.The score by Philip Glass is one of the finest film scores ever written, and it turns the film almost into a kind of opera. It is far superior to any of his other compositions.I was born a few years after Mishima committed suicide, but I am friends with two people who knew him personally, both of whom have excellent taste in both film and literature: they both recommend this film highly. The film may take some factual liberties, but it represents the fundamental nature of the man with infallible accuracy.Whether your interest is great cinema, great literature, Japan, or Mishima himself, do yourself a favor: see this film."
Most Unlikely Hollywood Film Ever
Thomas Plotkin | West Hartford CT, United States | 03/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was a film financed by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola,distributed by a major Hollywood studio, that but for some narration by Roy Scheider is entirely in Japanese, and is told in a fragmentary narrative style which oscillates between wildly contrasting stylistic modes; the widow of the film's subject was basically tricked into signing away life rights to her husband's story (partially conditioned on the film's not dealing with his none-too-secret homosexuality, which the film does deal with, albeit obliquely), and proceded to fight production in Japan tooth and nail. Mishima himself, Japan's most famous post-war novelist, attempted a paramilitary coup d'etat in 1970, in which his private army took over the Ministry of Defense, and committed a highly public hari-kiri. He was and is a subject of vast controversy in Japan, a consensus society, who since his death have preferred not to be reminded he existed. Given the artiness of the film, the foreigness of it's subject matter, and the Japanese blackout/ban, it is amazing Mishima got made at all.
Even without the sheer strangeness of the work and improbability of its existence, this is an awesome film. "Mishima" is one of the best movies about an artist ever made. Mishima sought to make his life into a work of art, and his bid for violent political action and self-martyrdom was his terminal masterpiece. Mishima intercuts documentary-style scenes of his final 12 hours with black and white flashbacks telling of his life up to that day, aping the style of classical Japanese cinema of Ozu and Naruse; but the third layer of narrative are scenes from three of his novels, shot on elaborate soundstages on blatantly artificial sets in garish 40's MGM-style color. All three narrative modes, and the violent climaxes of the three novels, coalace in rapid montage as the film builds to its endpoint, as life and art meld.
The film shows us the life that fueled the artist's fictions, the fictions themselves and how they transformed the raw material of Mishima's life, and then how Mishima's disatisfaction with mere art-making lead to a flamboyant attempt at transcendant, suicidal direct action. In the end,Mishima becomes one with his creations, and life becomes art. This film is the most successful representation of a writer's life I've ever seen, all thanks to Mishima the man's insane extremism.
Philip Glass' operatic score is extrarordinary (and I am a non-fan), as essential as Morricone's music is to Leone's films.
I have not yet mentioned the name of the man behind this masterpiece. Paul Schrader, author of a one of the best critical film essays ever ("Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer"), writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Last Temptation of Christ, director of American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, Affliction, Patty Hearst and Cat People. While much of his work is fascinating, this is an out-and-out masterpiece. A truly brave film, as impossible as a Tarkovsky or a Bresson. And if any film deserves the Criterion treatment, this is it; in addition to commentary from the director, composer Glass and cinematographer John Bailey, it will be full of documentary material about the actual Mishima (who was a significant media star in both Japan and the West, he even acted in samurai films!) to provide needed context, and the beautiful sounds and images will surely benefit from the company's usual lush transfers. Check it out, you'll thank me."
The Voice-Over confusion..I think it's the same
Toshifumi Fujiwara | Tokyo, Japan | 01/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm rather confused about all these discussions about the voice over narration being "changed", and apparently, so is Paul Schrader himself.
I have not seen the film at the original release, but as for the difference between the fromer VHS editions of the film and this new DVD... the only difference about the voice over is...that Ken Ogata's narration in Japanese can now be heard, which is great. The English-narrated sound track is...the SAME.
I first saw the film in an old VHS in a university class, and THE ENGLISH VOICE OVERS WERE ALREADY THE SAME AS IT CAN BE HEARD ON TRACK ONE OF THIS DVD: "flat and matter-of-fact" as Mr.Schrader describes.
As a matter of fact, I did not recognize that it was Roy Scheider, though it was certainly his voice. This is very good for the film, since we are supposed to be listening to Mishima's inner reflection on his own life. It cannot be "acted out" loudly, since Mishima that we see in the film --especially in the main narrative line of it which is Mishima's last day ending with his suicide-- is always acting himself, rather flamboyantly. So the director Paul Schrader's choice of asking the actor not to "play" it, but making an "effort was made to keep the narrative flat and matter-of-fact" was very suitable for the mystery of the film.
Personally, I first did not like the narration being in English, then I started to feel that the very flat narration in a different language may be representing another dimention of Mishima's split personality that Schrader is exploring in the film.
But watching the film with Ken Ogata's narration was a revelation. The film definetely looks more complete with the Japanese narration. And Ogata did not need an English speaking narrator to represent this split, complex and enigmatic personality who is Yukio Mishima. It's far stroger to see the same actor incarnating those many personalities, and it also make far more sense.
The DVD is also on 1:1.85 aspect ratio, which is a huge improvement to 4:3 VHS, since now we can really appreciate John Bailey's extremely pricise framings and compositions. I have never been crazy about Eiko Ishioka's production design. Even for this film, when I first saw it I was interesting but not great, but Bailey's 1:1.85 framing really brings out the essence of the stories from her sets (though I still don't like them).
Of course a DVD has better image clarity than a VHS, plus the correct framing, plus Ken Ogata's own voice...the DVD edition is the best way to see the film.
And Mr. Schrader's commentary is very interesting and enjoyable (as he always is; one of the best director to do commentaries), including the horrifying story of the true reason why the film was banned in Japan. Very scary but very realistic for us Japanese.
Nevertheless, MISHIMA is a very interesting film but not the best among Schrader's works as director. My favorite one is AFFLICTION, and though Schrader himself dislikes the film saying the experience was a "nightmare", BLUE COLLAR."
B. M. Chapman | Tokyo, Japan | 03/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Directed by Paul Schrader. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Made in 1985. Cost $4.5million to make, filmed entirely in Japanese with all Japanese actors, never released in Japan. Grossed $500,000. Beautiful film that tells three separate stories. One is a black and white re-telling of Mishima's life. Another is a color re-telling of Mishima's last day. And the third consists of three re-tellings of Mishima's novels. The novel re-tellings are shot like very elaborate stage plays in lavish colors and designed by Eiko Ishioka, who designed costumes for Dracula, The Cell, and the new Houston Rockets jersey.Long story short, I bought this film sight unseen and I cannot stop thinking about it. The music haunts me (in a pleasant way), and the images and the ideas of Mishima have been playing in my mind. I had read two novels of Mishima's, so I was familiar with him and his work. Here is a man, arguably the greatest postwar author Japan has had, who wrote 35 novels, over a dozen plays, several operas, a ballet, over 400 short stories and essays, directed and starred in a movie he wrote, and starred in a few more. And in 1970, at the age of 45, after creating his own army, committed suicide after a vein attempt to incite revolution in the Army. Oh, he was also a body builder.Just like the deafness in Beethoven, it is the army building and suicide that everybody obsesses about when they study Mishima. It is true for the last decade of his life he tipped to the right in political views to the point of fervent fanaticism, but he still managed to balance his passion with his desire for beauty and existence. In the end he hoped to unify it all in one swift moment that is death.Known to go out on the town or host cocktail parties with the who's who of Tokyo and the literary world of the 50's and 60's, Mishima never drank and rarely took to debauchery that personifies the tragic novelist. Instead he possessed a phenomenal work ethic. At 11:00pm, whether on the town, or the host of a party, people knew it was time for Mishima to head home, or for the party end. He had work to do.Even while cramming for exams as a teenager, Mishima would stay up until dawn writing. His one passion at that age. And for the last twenty years of his life, at midnight, he would go to his study and write. No distractions, silence would guide his thoughts.Most of this I got from reading a biography I just read of him, but the film touches upon it very nicely. And it is the quotes about his personal development that make some of the best lines from the film (in an optional English narration on the DVD.)"Every night at precisely midnight I would return to my desk and write. I would analyze why I was attracted to a particular theme. I would boil it into abstraction until I was ready to put it down on the page." I think I just miss quoted (as I will again later), but I got it close enough. Even on the last night of his life he followed this work ethic. In his entire writing career, he never missed a deadline.He was a weak kid. Pale, young looking for his age. Sheltered by his grandmother. His one release was writing. In a scene that was objected to by his widow, the film shows him at a gay bar. He is criticized by a man for being "flabby". This scene and the implied homosexuality resulted in his widow preventing the release if the film in Japan. The following scene concludes with Mishima thinking: "All my life I had suffered under a monstrous sensitivity." And that, "What I lacked was a healthy body; a sense of self.""I saw that beauty and ethics are one in the same. Creating a beautiful work of art and being beautiful oneself are inseparable"Mishima took up body building in the mid 1950's and kept it up until the end of his life. Unlike the average tale of the forlorn, drunk, self-hating author, Mishima was obsessed with health and the prevention of the decay of the body.The reputation of famous authors of Japan are that of chain smokers who drink and write. It is this lifestyle that gives them their writing will. I have found two Japanese authors who buck this trend. One is Mishima and the other is Murakami Haruki, who is in his fifties right now and is possibly the most popular author in contemporary Japan. He too follows a strict ethic of exercise and writing.
I will point out some other aspects of the film I find interesting. Apparently Lucas and Coppola were miffed that Yoko, Mishima's widow, would only allow scenes that were documented as happening. Seems fair to me when making a biopic. All quotes in the movie spoken by Mishima are actual words Mishima wrote. Though one issue I do have is that Ogata Ken, the actor who plays Mishima, doesn't really look like him. Mishima was just more handsome. His face was tough, but the eyes were the eyes of a poet. And he was more muscular for the last 15 years of his life. But considering the controversial nature of Mishima and his reputation, it was hard to find an actor as willing as Ogata, so I should not be so upset.Plus Paul Schrader made a comentary track for the DVD release that is full of good tidbits."