Tuesday, 5 January 2010

mishima (w&d paul schrader, w. leonard schrader)

It had been twenty five years since I saw this film at the York floating cinema. At the time the reasons for going had more to do with the curiosity of my fellow filmgoer than any particular personal fascination for the Japanese novelist, as was the case this time round. As though Mishima has a lurking role to play in the life story. If this is the case, then Schrader's film suggests its a slightly disconcerting presence.

In the intervening years I have read some of the writer's novels, but cannot claim they have stayed with me. Schrader's immaculate film pays due homage to the writer's work, including in three beautifully composed sequences a condensed version of three of his novels. These are performed as filmed plays, on stage sets which may or may not have influenced Von Trier, permitting a stylised, colour-soaked imagination to run wild. The imagination of Mishima, of course, but also the director. The three novels are the cornerstones of three of the film's four chapters, which also develop the narrative of Mishima's last, vainglorious day, the result of which becomes the subject matter for the final, forth chapter. Schrader also succeeds in threading the writer's life story through the film, the flashback sequences captured in black and white. It's a masterly piece of story telling from a master of the screenplay, underpinned by Phillip Glass's remarkable score, the forerunner of many a Glass-like score, (some of them composed by Glass himself), but one which may never have been surpassed in its ability to reveal the agitated energy which lurked beneath the surface of the ostensibly super-cool novelist.

The bio-pic has to be one of the hardest of all the genres to weld into an innovative, engaging cinematic narrative. Schrader might just have written the finest pair of biopics in movie history. Mishima's skill is that it gets under the surface of its subject. It does so by approaching him from various tangents, as well as integrating his work as a facet of his life. The result is a near cubist depiction of a man whose flair and lunacy constantly flirted with each other, culminating in an action which attempted to combine them both, and perhaps succeeded. Perhaps this is the message that the recurring presence of the film is trying to convey to me: keep your flair and your lunacy at a distance. When you try to put the two together, it's going to end in tears. Or seppuku.

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