Adaptation and fiction blur into one under the watchful, experimental eye of Paul Schrader. Using the chapter-like structure to his advantage, his direction takes us through three novels of Yukio Mishima, and his death too. We are given the entirety of his work with a fictional, glorified spin. It is beautiful. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a compelling, glorious piece of visually inspired material that takes leniency with books its audience have likely not read. I know I haven’t. Well-read or not, there is still a good chance of thoroughly enjoying this collaboration between Schrader and Japanese literature.
He adapts it with intense visual brilliance. It certainly feels close to his most inspired film of all, with broad shots, a grandiose scale and a genuine sense of commitment coming from behind the camera. It is necessary for the story Schrader wishes to depict. Here he is bringing life to an artist by adapting his works. Considering how much there is to display, it is a testament to Schrader’s abilities that he can cram all of this detail in, without sacrificing any of the high-brow, effective artistry Schrader can provide. It is leagues away from his slender, gruelling display in Blue Collar. But there he was working with reality. Within Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, he is allowed to craft something where even reality feels like dramatic fiction.
From this, we can experience the craft on display. Schrader works tirelessly to bring some level of exuberant reality to even the most dreamlike of sequences. There is an ensemble feeling to these moments. They are beyond the reaches of the real world, and within them, they live in a dreamlike state. This is how Mishima is seemingly remembered. Not just through his written work, but through what people thought of him, and how they project his image onto fiction. He is displayed as a man out of time, who lived free and died the same way. Schrader is one of the few who could have captured such deeply entrenched living.
From what little I know of Mishima, it is clear that the man considered himself a vessel for his art. He was the champion of his craft. Schrader is merely the pioneer hoping to bring life and western popularity to his work. A mainstream audience. He does so not by riding the coattails of Mishima’s work, but by showcasing the work as a reflection of the author behind them. Schrader and Mishima do, likely, share some of the same components and inflictions. Mishima lived his life on the edges of possibility, skirting along the realm of possibility. His style of living and eventual demise would sound too far-fetched for fiction, which is why it must happen in reality. Schrader does the man justice here, portraying himself, Mishima, and the work the late author provided as not just a testament of what can be achieved with the written word, but how the written word can inspire new readings of paragraphs and people.