Blu-ray Review: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader | CAST: Ken Ogata, Masayuki Shionoya, Junkichi Orimoto, Yasosuke Bando, Hisako Manda, Kenji Sawada
RELEASE DATE: May 22, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $22.51, Blu-ray $25.99
BONUSES: commentary, two alternate English narrations, archival interviews, vintage documentary on Yukio Mishima, more
SPECS: R | 120 min. | Biographical drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | sound | Japanese with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall 

As the cover of its Criterion Blu-ray incarnation suggests, Paul Schrader’s (Cat People) 1986 film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a colorful, kaleidoscopic affair—a sometimes puzzling and elegantly puzzle-like portrait of Japan’s most famous and successful modern writer, who “performed” his 1970 samurai-styled suicide as its own work of art.

Having penned some 40 novels, 18 plays, 20 volumes of short stories, and a slew of literary essays (in addition to being an actor, swordsman and fierce nationalist), Mishima offered plenty of material for Schrader to draw upon–and  he does. His film (an American production backed by George Lucas and Francis Coppola that was made in Japan with an all-Japanese cast) is presented in a splintered chronology, with three theatrically stylized “chapters” representing a trio of Mishima’s novels and another one more traditionally detailing the final day in Mishima’s life. As a whole, it can be challenging to ingest, even with its “formal” presentation, but it does paint as enlightening an introduction to Mishima and his works as Western audiences unfamiliar with him are likely to ever going to get.

The good people of Criterion have ported over the supplemental features from their 2008 DVD release, so the only fresh aspect of the Blu-ray is the new, restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut of the film, supervised and approved by director Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey. That said, the transfer is gorgeous, further accentuating Bailey’s color palette, which ranges from the subdued to the garish, most notably in the hot pinks an wet greens of the masochistically sexy “Kyoko’s House” chapter. The black-and-white cinematography of the narrative flashback narrative thread that snakes through the film is also further enriched, as is Philips Glass’s hypnotically characteristic score, which is presented in a 2.0 Surround DTS-HD mix.

Buy or Rent Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.