Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)



Director:  Paul Schrader.

Starring:  Ken Ogata (Yukio Mishima), Masayuki Shionoya (Morita), Hiroshi Mikami (Cadet 1), Junya Fukuda (Cadet No. 2), Shigeto Tachihara (Cadet No. 3), Junkichi Orimoto (General Mashita), Naoko Otani, G Rijf (Mishima, Age 18-19), Masato Aizawa, Yuki Nagahara (Mishima, Age 5), Kyuzo Kobayashi (Literary Friend), Yuki Kitazume (Dancing friend), Haruko Kato (Grandmother), Yasosuke Bando (Mizoguchi), Hisako Manda (Mariko).

Based on the biography of Yukio Mishima, one of Japan's most celebrated post-World War II novelists.



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Yukio Mishima was Japan's most celebrated author.  On his death, he left a body of work of 35 novels, 25 plays, 200 short stories and 8 volumes of essays.  On November 25, 1970 Mishima and 4 cadets from his private army entered the Eastern Army Headquarters, forcibly detained the commander and addressed the garrison. 

Chapter I.  Beauty:  Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956)

Mishima's wife has taken the kids to school.  He lays out his Shield Society uniform on the bed.  He has an envelope labeled "To Shinchosha Publishing Company, November 25, 1970."   The famous writer has found another form of expression: action.  He puts a seppuku knife in his briefcase. 

Flashback.  At seven weeks of age, he was taken from his mother by his grandmother.  He is to visit with his mother today, but grandmother tells her aide to tell the mother that grandma is too sick for a visit.  Next week, she says.  Grandmother tells Mishima "You would have died in your mother's care.  A delicate plant like you must not go outdoors."  She has her grandson rub her legs. 

Mishima remembers that his grandmother always told him stories and would take him to the theater.  At twelve years of age, because grandmother was dying, he was returned to his mother.  He remembers playing king of the mountain, being called the "poet", and "mama's boy" and dislodging the king.  He learned that in this world there are words about the world and then there is the world itself, which has nothing to do with words. 

Temple of the Golden Pavilion was published in 1956.  The movie presents some excerpts from it.  At the Golden Pavilion, a stutterer is befriended by a young man with a deformed foot.  Since the stutterer is a virgin, the young man tells him how to pick up girls.  His advice is to make the girl pity the deformity, then worship it.  They see two girls and the young man tells the stutterer to screw one of the girls while he charms the other.  The girl with the stutterer is very forward with him, but he cannot do anything.  This upsets the stutterer and later he wishes that the American bombers would come and destroy the Golden Pavilion.  The war is over!  The stutterer is upset that the bombers did not destroy the Golden Pavilion.  So he places some straw in a corner of one of the rooms of the Golden Pavilion and lights it on fire.  He then spreads the fire around the room.   

Mishima remembers seeing a picture of a painting of a handsome young man tied to a tree and bleeding from several arrows in his body.  The future author becomes excited and starts to rub himself.  At 18 years of age Mishima had air raid duty.  He dreamed of dying for the Japanese emperor.  Later he took the pen name of Yukio Mishima.  A "respected" poet writes that Mishima will never be a poet. 

At a military medical exam, the doctor checks him out and declares he is unfit for military service.  He has incipient tuberculosis.  Mishima comments that he was always dreaming of dying on a battlefield, but then quickly adds that his words are lies.  He never really wanted to die.  He deliberately exaggerated his health problems to the military doctor.

Mishima goes to a house of prostitution.  After having sex, the prostitute tells him that he did fine.  She adds that he is always so serious.  Mishima tells her that he will soon be famous that he soon will make headlines.  The prostitute just laughs and laughs.   

Chapter 2.  Art. 

Back to the present.  Mishima in his uniform gets into a car with four cadets.  He will commit seppuku, but he wants the other cadets to make sure that the general does not commit suicide.  The three cadets in the back seat say that they want to die with Mishima.  But he just tells them to follow his orders.  They must stay alive to defend their ideals and actions in court.

Flashback.  After the war ended, Mishima felt left behind.  He quit his job in the Ministry of Finance so that he could write his novels.  He wrote Confessions of a Mask in 6 months, Thirst for Love in 5, Forbidden Colors in 9, Sound of Waves in 4, Modern No Dramas in 3, and Temple of the Golden Temple in 10.  He became Japan's youngest writer ever to publish his Collected Works

Kyoko's House (1959).   Mother and son talk at her job as the owner and operator of a snack shop.  The son is an actor and is pretty successful at getting women in bed.  But mother has a big problem.  She owes a lot of money to the owner of the building in which her snack shop is located.  One day a collector shows up at the snack shop and throws coffee in mom's face.  The son tries to intervene on his mother's behalf, only to be knocked down by the collector.  The son pays a visit to the owner of the building.  The woman tells him that his mother is a very difficult person and that she soon will take over the snack shop.  But the female owner is so taken with the looks of the son that she tells him that she will cancel the entire debt if he will sign a statement that he belongs to her.  The son signs.  The owner really admires his body, but she also likes to cut it.  The son finds the pain pleasurable.  It's not long before the son's body is bruised and cut in many places.  Later they commit suicide together. 

Mishima dances with another man.  The guy tells him that he is a bit flabby.  This very much upsets Mishima and he quickly leaves the dance place.  The fellow calls Mishima on the phone and they agree to meet in 15 minutes.  Mishima explains that he cannot even stand to look at himself and then goes back into his house.  He complains that he has always suffered from a "monstrous sensitivity".  He starts working out to get his body in good shape and he achieves this. 

In a discussion of the merits of beauty versus art, a landscape painter tells Mishima that to retain personal beauty one must commit suicide at the height of their  beauty.  He seems to take this message a little too seriously.  He has his picture taken.  He says he decided not only to be the seer, but also to be seen.  One of the poses he strikes is that of the semi-nude man tied to a tree with arrows stuck in his body.

Chapter 3.  Action.

Back to the present.  Mishima and the four cadets sing in the car on the way to army headquarters. 

Runaway Horses (1969).  Young men are practicing sword fighting with long sticks.  Isao is the best swordsman on the team.  He is also a little strange.  He says that Japan is losing her soul.  He plans a coup d' etat to put the emperor back to his proper position in Japanese society.  He says that Japan will be purified.  He philosophizes that actions are better than just words, but in reality there is a harmony of words and action.  Isao works to gain the support of the army.  But the army deserts his cause.  Isao says the army men were bought off by the capitalists.  He adds that they must purge their nation of capitalist evils.  Isao decides that his group will assassinate key Japanese leaders.  But before they can take action, the police descend on them.  Isao finds himself in jail.  He either escapes or is let out of jail and he uses the opportunity to kill one of the chosen Japanese leaders.  He then runs to the coast and commits suicide. 

Flashback.  Mishima speaks for the Shield Society in their new uniforms.  The society is based on a philosophy resembling that of the character Isao.  Cadets pass in review before Mashima.  He has started forming his own private army.  Although some call them "toy soldiers", Mishima desperately wants to restore the way of the Samurai in Japan and the Shield Society will protect his imperial majesty.  

The radical left students grab a bit of power at Tokyo University.  They then challenge Mishima to come and talk to them.  Mishima accepts the challenge.  But he does not make a hit with the students.  Most of the time they are shouting various names at him or criticizing his views. 

Mishima acts in a movie based on Runaway Horses

Chapter 4.  The Harmony of Pen and Sword.

Back to the present.  Mishima has an appointment to see the general, the commandant of a section of the Japanese army.  He comments that the Shield Society cadets were allowed to train using the facilities of the regular army.  The author also comments that once he made up his mind to take the general hostage, he never wavered. 

On the military base Mishima and the four cadets greet General Mashita.  Mishima shows him his 1620 sword.  The general is very impressed by the weapon.  Mishima tells him that he has a permit to carry the sword.  They jump on the general and tie him up; barricade the doors; and put on their red sun headbands.  Mishima tells the general to tell the garrison to assemble out in front of his building.  The general asks:  "Are you crazy?"  They are to assemble at 11:30 a.m. 

Soldiers rush into the room, but are pushed back out by Mishima and the four cadets.  Some of them receive sword wounds.  Mishima then speaks to a colonel who tells him that they agree to his demands to assemble the troops, but that it is already past 11:30.  So Mishima tells him to assemble the forces immediately.  The military assembles along with a great deal of police. 

Mishima and Morita climb out the window in the general's office to stand on top of the roof of the entrance to the building.  Standing with arms akimbo, Mishima starts to regale the men and women below.  He tells the men that the army is the last hope for Japan.  But those assembled only shout curses and criticisms at Mishima. 

Mishima reflects on the moment.  He says that he had discovered that death unites words and deeds.  And now here is the moment that he had always been seeking. 

He asks the military personnel:  "Will no one join with me?  No one?"   Mishima then goes inside.  He tells those in the room that he does not think the men and women even heard him (with all the shouting). 

Mishima prepares himself for death.  His takes off his coat, shirt and pants.  He takes the seppuku knife and stabs himself in the gut. 


Good movie.  I did not like the mixing back and forth of his writings with the events of the famous writer's own life.  At times it was a little hard to keep reality and writing separated.   I just kept thinking that this guy has to be mentally ill.  After the terrible defeat of the Japanese, after two atomic bombs, after the realization of the brutality of the old Japanese society, this famous writer longs for the old imperialistic Japan.  He obviously is no fool, but he is a political idiot or insane.  Would the United States and the Soviet Union allow Japan to go back to their old fascist ways?  Very, very doubtful.   And the Japanese had specifically rejected that old society in their constitution.  Japan opted for only defensive forces rather than offensive military forces.  The only thing Mishima might have accomplished was that he reminded people just how insanely cruel Japanese society was before and during World War II. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1970 November 25  --  the bloody last day of his life.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)