Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters ★★★★½

Paul Schrader's magnum opus, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, recounts the life of a man who lives life on a precipice, Yukio Mishima, a prolific and influential writer whose avant-garde works often broke traditional styles of aesthetics with an explicit focus on sexuality, death, and notions of political radicalism. The film considers Mishima’s life in four distant segments, leading up to the last day of his life as he performs seppuku after a failed military coup.

In stark black and white, we see Mishima’s formative years as he is forced to confront his perceived inadequacies: his buried bisexuality and small physical frame. In florid color paired with surreal set design, we are transported into three of Mishima’s novels that more reticently inform Mishima’s complicated homoeroticism. And finally in naturalistic color, we witness the events of the last day of Mishima’s life as he performs ritual suicide. The four episodes that make up the film beautifully explore the subtle yet consequential changes within Mishima’s mindset that mark his transformation from the impressionable and diffident young teen to the perspicacious and stubborn martinet, prepared to die for his beliefs.

Schrader’s elaborate and operatic direction mimics the stubbornness of Mishima himself as he painfully investigates the confines of beauty, artistic purpose, and the adversities in art and action, in spirit and body. Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, as unorthodox as it is, is a formal examination into man's relation to art and how our inability to fully understand it can produce troubling contradictions within our existence.