Rite of Love & Death
Yukio Mishima & Domoto Masaki (1966)
- Yukio Mishima WikiPedia entry
- Download Paul Schrader's Mishima: A life in four chapters (.torrent - Full DVD here)
Yukio Mishima's prequel to the end
By DONALD RICHIE
In 1961 Yukio Mishima published a short story, "Patriotism" (Yukoku), the first of several works devoted to the ideals of the rebellious young officers of the 1930s. As his admiration grew into emulation, he himself began training with the Self-Defense Forces, and by 1968 he had formed his own private 100-man army, the Tate no Kai (Shield Society). He had further plans, and these were indicated early on when he decided to turn "Patriotism" into a short film.
In the spring of 1965 he was at Okura Studios, himself playing the idealistic young officer who bids farewell to his wife (Yoshiko Tsuruoka) before they kill themselves. Her death is discreet, a small dagger, but his is spectacular — full hara-kiri with lots of blood and intestines.
The filming was completed in just two days. Technicians had been borrowed from Daiei and this was the amount of time they could spare from their schedules. At Mishima's insistence, all of this was kept secret and the names of these assistants do not appear on credits of the film.
Whether this secret, shrouded set was dictated by military paranoia or not, the finished film had a showing at the Tours Festival and was eventually released in Japan by the Art Theater Guild where it became — as was intended — a sensation.
Later, the film was revealed as something even more. It was a dry run for the actual event. In 1970, five years after making the film, Mishima himself committed hara-kiri and this time the blood was real. So was the public sensation — and the public criticism.
This chosen means of death embarrassed many people. Hara-kiri was military, rightist and, worst of all, old-fashioned. The author's often expressed political ideals had irritated many, but this Grand Guignol was too much. The curtain of taboo descended and Mishima was no longer to be seriously discussed. Readership dropped, former fame was ignored, and the film version of "Patriotism" was not to be revived.
Not reviving it was part of the general revisionist plan of Mishima's widow, Yuko. She loyally kept the image alive, but her husband was to be viewed only as a tasteful man of literature, an author who had never acted, sang, dressed up, body-built, or made movies, much less anything else.
Evidence contrary to this version was searched for. High on the list was the film version of "Patriotism," that half-hour that so flagrantly disregarded good taste and which so accurately portrayed the coming end. Copies were tracked down, but the original negative was hidden. And so it remained, locked away in carefully mislabeled storage, for nearly 35 years.
Now, the widow dead, the estate apparently acquiescent, this extraordinary film is once again visible.
Mishima had written several noh dramas during this period and decided to stage his drama in a noh-like set, and to restrict himself to monochrome film because, as the author/director said at the time, color would have made the blood too realistic.
Other restrictions were likewise observed. The lieutenant, like the shite (main protagonist) in the Noh, reveals his true nature first by disrobing — then by disemboweling. As in the Noh, there are few props and no scenery, but an amount of artificial gore and actual intestines (not Mishima's, but porcine) were used. All of this is quite difficult to watch, particularly if one considers what it led up to, but that is part of the intent.
What remains impressive is the utter seriousness of the film and (as in the Noh) the sense of inevitability that it evokes. Mishima's taste may be in question but not his sincerity. Though he had acted in films before, he had never before portrayed what turned out to be himself.
It is a retiring, anonymous performance — "method" acting at its most unobtrusive. Yet it is he who carries this inexorable half-hour (though Tsuruoka is just as accomplished) and who delivers the promised catharsis at its conclusion. Static and stately, the film is also beautiful.
How Mishima achieved this is the subject of one of the documentaries that accompanies this DVD package. Four of the original technicians offer a zadankai (symposium in Japanese, no foreign-language subtitles), which is extremely interesting. They tell about how Daiei film director Yasujo Masumura helped, how Mishima chose Tsuruoka and the problems caused by the stench of the pig guts.
There are two other documentaries — again without subtitles. One is about how the text was turned into a script and shows plans for the set, diagrams for the choreography, and lots of rehearsal stills. Also commented on are reproductions of the original calligraphy used in the film. This was all Mishima's — the big hanging scroll on the set, the various e-maki that unroll during the film, the written credits etc.
The other documentary is about the Mishima museum, a structure containing manuscripts, books, pictures. The big naked Apollo that used to grace the author's garden now stands in all of its slightly kitschy eminence by the front gate, but there is no mention (at least none in this documentary) of the last day — the curtain of taboo always goes up only so far. Included, however, is a very touching film interview with Mishima in which he is candid, honest, almost painfully sincere.
One gets a lot for one's money in this DVD set. In addition, there is a bound copy of the original story; besides the Japanese edition of the film, English and French, Dutch and German versions are included on the second disc. As a film without dialogue, these are in fact all identical, the differences being merely in the language of the opening text, credits and the synopsis extracts. There is also an envelope containing (in French) cast, credits and story outline. Nowhere, however, does anyone address the music. For that reason, I shall.
The music throughout is Wagner. From the first, Mishima, concerned as he was with love and death in this film, wanted "Tristan and Isolde," but he did not want voices. He asked me, and I remembered the "symphonic synthesis" that Leopold Stokowski had made long ago with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This was searched for and eventually acquired.
Since I was now what Mishima jokingly called "the music director," I was asked to the Aoi Studio to watch sound and image put together. The experience was very strong. There was silence in the screening room after it was over. Mishima had tears in his eyes. Then, transforming his own emotion into gratitude, he turned to those who had helped him and, with a smile, shook his head as though to say that it wasn't half bad.
"Patriotism" remains a sobering, sincere film and it retains its power. The printing materials are in good condition, having been boxed away for nearly four decades. There is no getting away from the pops and crackles of a Wagner recording made in 1936 and taken from an aged 78-rpm recording, but this does not seriously detract from the horror and the pity evoked by this extraordinary adaptation.
—The Japan Times: Sunday, May 21, 2006