[Yukoku / The Rite of Love and Death ]
Genre: Minimalist Depiction of Mishima's "Patriotic" Ideology
review in one breath
Directed, produced and acted by the infamous writer/political idealogue Yukio Mishima, this short, minimalist and stark film offers an unflinching depiction of Mishima's personal and political ideology. Filmed just four years prior to his suicide, the undeniable similarity between this film's narrative and Mishima's own personal demise caused the film to be "destroyed" at his wife's request shortly thereafter. In 2005, following his widow's death, the film was re-released. It is nothing short of fascinating, particularly for those familiar with the political views and death of Mishima.
This is an eery, almost haunting film given its similarity to the reasons and methods whereby Yukio Mishima took his own life on November 25, 1970. Mishima himself said of the film that it was the purest and most complete statement of what he had striven to say through his myriad writings and dialogues.
Several films have been based on screenplays or short stories penned by Mishima and some have been very good. The religio-politically charged Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavillion - 1976) is an impressive exemplar. Other films, perhaps most notably Black Lizard (1968), also based on Mishima's work, were campy oddities at best. (Mishima actually appears in Black Lizard as a naked, stuffed human doll which is licked and fondled by a transvestite antagonist!) In addition to Patriotism and Black Lizard, Mishima appeared in two other films, neither of which are based on his works and whose directors were apparently forced to cast the ambitious and popular "actor" in lead roles. And as our review of Afraid to Die (1960) makes clear, his appearances were far less than stellar.
Unlike the others, however, Patriotism is written, directed and acted by Mishima himself. Also unlike his other appearances, the result here is quite striking. It is highly stylized and minimalist, taking place solely on a Noh style stage. The intent is clearly to strike at the more traditional emotions and imaginations of the Japanese public, an aim which Mishima's body of written work clearly shares.
The film is only 30 minutes in length and was secretly shot in two days. This secrecy was due to Mishima's blossoming popularity and the questionable content of the narrative he was proposing. Not even the studios were aware that it was being filmed. The cast is limited to two characters, Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama (Mishima) and his wife Reiko (Yoshiko Tsuruoka). It is shot in black and white and contains no spoken dialogue. The context of the tale is conveyed through handwritten scrolls which Mishima himself penned in highly stylized Japanese calligraphy.
It is perhaps impossible (and meaningless) to critique this film without reference and acknowledgment of its similarity to Mishima's suicide four years later. In case you're unfamiliar with the details, here's the story:
On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of his private army (the Tatenokai) entered the Tokyo headquarters of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto listing their demands, Mishima stepped onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire a coup d'etat restoring the powers of the emperor. He succeeded only in irritating them, however, and was mocked and jeered. He finished his planned speech after a few minutes, returned to the commandant's office and committed seppuku (self-disembowelment). In accordance with this traditional suicide ritual, one of his four accomplices then beheaded him with a sword.
1970 photo of Mishima atop the Self-Defense Building minutes before his ritual suicide.
It is said that Mishima had planned his ritual suicide for over a year leading up to the incident. Given this history, the parallels between the narrative of Patriotism and the final acts of Mishima's life and death are profound indeed.
The film consists of five acts, all taking place on a Noh stage depicting the interior of the home of Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama. The film itself offers this description:
In February 1936, Tokyo was placed under martial law following a coup d'etat executed by a group of young military officers. They maintained that they were far more loyal to the Emperor than the corrupt Cabinet members they murdered. Lieutenant Takeyama was a member of this secret society but it was decided he should not take part in the coup d'etat. The others did not want to implicate him because they knew how much he loved Reiko, his beautiful young bride.
Following word of the failure of the coup and the imminent death of his comrades, Lieutenant Takeyama realizes that his noble ideal requires him to perform ritual seppuku, which he does after celebrating his deep love for his wife.
In terms of its history and insight into Mishima's thought at the time, this is really an invaluable little film. The obvious and startling similarity between this film and Mishima's own suicide caused his wife to request its destruction shortly after his death. The studios obliged by destroying all copies of it, with the exception of the film's negatives which one of the directors had stored away. Following the death of Mishima's widow in 2005, the negative was brought out of its 35 years of hiding and re-released to the public. It is now available in Region 1 DVD via the Criterion Collection.
I believe this film will have an impact on you. It did on me, perhaps given the gravity of the subject matter and the knowledge of how sincerely Mishima believed in it. In addition to the short film, the Criterion DVD comes with an excellent interview with the surviving director and film crew as they recollect Mishima, the film, and the strange context its production. The DVD also contains some early TV and audio interviews with Mishima as he discusses his impressions of the War, modern Japanese politics and culture, and his views on death and suicide. These interviews in particular are fascinating and re-established my respect for Mishima's mind and the depth of his his perspective, as idiosyncratic as they may have been.
This film is all about its history and context, and as regards these it is definitely worth seeing. Divorced from its context, however, it is likely not a film most viewers will find entertaining. It is steeped in minimalist style, portrays sentiments which modern audiences likely do not share or intuit, and casts the character of Takeyama as a hero of the purest, bravest form. It is indeed experimental in its traditional Noh parameters and politically driven by an ideology which in the end Mishima himself follows to his death.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD.
|Recently released short film by Mishima showing clearly and prophetically his political ideology and glorification of ritual suicide.||Graphic, realistic and prolonged depiction of self-disembowelment during ritual seppuku.||Sex "as pure and passionate as a ritual conducted before the gods". And b00bies.||This comes across rather powerfully and almost eerily given the knowledge that Mishima will commit suicide in the same fashion depicted here only a few years later.|