Mishima | Chicago Reader

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Rated R · 121 minutes

Biography, Drama
Paul Schrader's 1985 biopic of Yukio Mishima, the celebrated Japanese writer, exhibitionist, and right-wing political figure, is manically overstructured: the film is divided into four thematic "chapters," with titles like "Beauty," "Art," and "The Harmony of Pen and Sword," each of which intertwines scenes from Mishima's fiction (filmed in gaudy, expressionist color) with flashbacks to his upbringing (in naturalistic black-and-white) and flash-forwards to the day of his ritual suicide (shot in artfully muted pastels). The point of all this mad organization—which is like a term paper outline prepared by a Dexedrine addict—is to hide an almost complete lack of content. The film doesn't only fail to put forward a point of view on Mishima (it's chilly and impersonal—just the facts, ma'am); it also fails to suggest any sense of the flamboyant, complex personality that made Mishima a cult figure in the first place. In the end, the elaborate formal devices and the studied, academic images come to seem like the rhetorical equivalent of a keyhole—a way for Schrader to impose a voyeuristic distance between himself and the object of his obsession. Yet the nature of that obsession—the one element that might have brought this tepid schoolboy project to some kind of kinky life—remains resolutely offscreen. With Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, and Yasosuke Bando. In English and subtitled Japanese.

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