Serious Writer

Yukio Mishima’s bizarre, committed death — by seppuku, as the capstone of his misjudged Nov. 25, 1970, coup attempt — still overshadows his legacy to some degree, at least outside Japan. Nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in literature, he wrote a truly breathtaking number of novels, essays, poems, and plays in his 45 years. The compact yet inclusive three-film Mishima Retrospective pays tribute to his iconic status as a writer, actor, and subject. A Mishima short story is the basis for Ken, Kenji Misumi’s stark 1964 drama about the captain of a university kendo club whose impeccable discipline and unwavering idealism are out of step with the changing times. In the stylish Afraid to Die (1960), Mishima plays a young gangster who returns to the life after a stint in prison. Paul Schrader’s beautiful and haunting Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) is the best-known film of the three, yet still criminally underrated. The impulse to mark the round-number anniversary of a larger-than-life figure’s death — Mishima’s 40th, John Lennon’s 30th — is commendable but has the unwelcome side effect of spotlighting the sensationalistic aspects of the person’s demise along with their brilliant contribution. Mishima deserves better.
Nov. 26-30, 2010

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