Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (Japanese, 1985)


Francis Ford Copola and George Lucas Present a Masterpiece. (Oh George, with Mishima we’ll pardon you for Indiana Jones IV).

What a true work of art. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters by Paul Schrader (who wrote 'Taxi Driver,' by the way) blends a high degree of drama, poetry, visual aesthetic and pure humanity in this film retrospective of the life of Yukio Mishima, Japan's most-celebrated post-WWII writer.

While the movie is touching and full of drama, I don't want you to think that it's all heavy. 'Mishima' is an original, eye-candy and artsy movie, ultimately presenting Mishima's last hours before committing public seppuku (hara-kiri aka suicide) with flashbacks of his earlier days as a boy, teenager, writer, and so on.

While controversial to say this...in my opinion Mishima's suicide is one of his most artistic masterpieces and statements. And throughout the film we get the sense that, just like a composer or filmmaker or artist...they sometimes save their grand finale for last.

What makes this movie even more interesting is that the past is filmed in crystalline black and white; the present is in realistic color; the novels in vibrant color palettes. And all these three are tastefully stitched together. Also, the film's homoerotic element is rather intense, which we don't really see in many mainstream movies...not that 'Mishima' is necessarily mainstream!

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters palpably expresses Mishima's personal turmoil and neurotic craving for a gratifying sexuality, beauty, purpose and harmony. If the outstanding cinematography doesn't grab you, its stunning musical score by Philip Glass certainly will. I'm a mega fan of Philip Glass, and I have to admit that the soundtrack is so good it might slightly distract you for the actual film. Ok, not really. Mmm...Maybe. You'll have to see...But this Soundtrack I own as a stand alone work. You should too.

Mishima's controversial life was an incredible work of art, and this movie explicitly captures this in a compelling and inspiring way. Whether you are already an avid reader of Mishima's literary pieces, or have never heard of him, you won't come away from Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters unaffected.

This film is not available for release or viewing in Japan because of the controversy around Mishima and as per his family's request. Wow.


In this Paul Schrader's biographical film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Ken Ogata plays as Yukio Mishima, possibly the most famous Japanese author in the last fifty years. The movie begins with Mishima's childhood, and then continues forward in periodic style to his 1970 public hara-kiri (suicide by short sword), committed at a military camp.

The film is divided into four sections of acts, plus adaptations from his three novels that explicitly depict scenes from Mishima's controversial life.

The "Beauty" episode portrays The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, wherein a stammering, awkward boy becomes eager to burn down the said shrine. Next is "Art,"which includes passages from Kyoko's House, a morbid drama about young actor who becomes a kept man of a wealthy woman, and they later begin a sadomasochistic relationship.

As Mishima's interest in seppuku and reinstating Japan's previous regime structure, the movie shifts to Runaway Horses, a novel that emulates Mishima's public suicide. The last chapter, "Harmony of Pen and Sword," shows how Mishima attempted to live his novels by taking a military General hostage as a prelude to committing seppuku (suicide) in front of soldiers and the media.

Mishima wanted Japan to conform to his personal beliefs; unfortunately, in the film's devastating climax, he realizes that the real world is a messier, less conventional place than his ideal world really is.