Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Yukio Mishima

Over the weekend viewed the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters by Paul Schrader, director of The Affliction and more recently, the famously deposed director of the Exorcist prequel Dominion, which was entirely refilmed by Renny Harlin after studio suits saw Schrader's rough cut and wondered what had happened to all the blood, vomit and horror that they thought they had paid for. 

Very often motion pictures, as do songs, get stuck in my head and no matter what I try to do to shake them loose, there they lay, undigested meat for my subconscious.  I had heard the stories about Mishima, his final act was so outrageous, so over the top, that his memory was bound to live in infamy, or at least notoriety.  Schrader's film however, was a revelation, intermixing shots of Mishima's life in flashback (in stark black and white) with dramatized scenes from Mishima's novels (in vivid color) with the events of Mishima's last day.  The dialogue is all in Japanese with English subtitles, and there is a spoken English voiceover, originally performed by Roy Scheider (it was redubbed for the DVD release by an uncredited artist, presumably because of contractual technicalities).  As with everything Japanese, the color scenes pop with vividness.  The black and white scenes have a remarkable serenity.  The scenes from the novels punctuate the film with emotional epiphanies.

And all this to a simply stunning soundtrack by Philip Glass.  The opening moments, the wind chimes, seemingly random, begin to sound with a recognizable pattern, as the lower strings, agitato, tremble with urgency, running here, running there, building, building, and suddenly the bottom falls out--thump!  And bells, chimes, and soaring tonalities gyrate, revolve, revolve, arpeggio, arpeggio, in a triumphant explosion of the upward surging heart!

As with Runaway Horses, the young hero, facing the east, at the moment he slices the tanto through his viscera, the sun leaps over the horizon, a vivid orange circle, and he feels his soul depart his body--this is the moment Philip Glass has put to music--the moment of Seppuku, the ritual suicide not only of Mishima's hero, but of Mishima himself.

There is something of the Buddhist contempt for the tangible world in Mishima's final act of ritual suicide.  But that he dramatized it, orchestrated it, planned it with meticulous detail, speaks more of P.T. Barnum than Gautama Buddha.  That's the cynic in me, but I believe suicide is immoral.  Mishima's "coup" was merely a pretext, a given circumstance to demonstrate his humiliation and shame and require his penultimate act.  He could have had no legitimate belief that his actions would have lead to military uprising.  He cannot have been that deluded.  He wanted to die, and he wanted to change the world, and for a few brief hours one November day in 1970 he focused the attention of the planet on himself and then drifted away into the footnotes of history, proving more than anything else, that Buddhism is a great religion, but when it's mixed with Western Romanticism, it's poison.

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