Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

R  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  20 September 1985 (USA)
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A fictionalized account in four segments of the life of Japan's celebrated twentieth-century author Yukio Mishima. Three of the segments parallel events in Mishima's life with his novels (... See full summary »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ken Ogata ...
Masayuki Shionoya ...
Morita (segment "November 25, 1970")
Hiroshi Mikami ...
Cadet #1 (segment "November 25, 1970")
Junya Fukuda ...
Cadet #2 (segment "November 25, 1970")
Shigeto Tachihara ...
Cadet #3 (segment "November 25, 1970")
Junkichi Orimoto ...
General Mashita (segment "November 25, 1970")
Naoko Ôtani ...
Mother (segment "Flashbacks")
Gô Rijû ...
Mishima, age 18-19 (segment "Flashbacks")
Masato Aizawa ...
Mishima - age 9-14 (segment "Flashbacks")
Yuki Nagahara ...
Mishima, age 5 (segment "Flashbacks")
Kyûzô Kobayashi ...
Literary Friend (segment "Flashbacks")
Yuuki Kitazume ...
Dancing Friend (segment "Flashbacks")
Haruko Katô ...
Grandmother (segment "Flashbacks")
Yasosuke Bando ...
Mizoguchi (segment "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion")
Hisako Manda ...
Mariko (segment "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion")


A fictionalized account in four segments of the life of Japan's celebrated twentieth-century author Yukio Mishima. Three of the segments parallel events in Mishima's life with his novels (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses), while the fourth depicts 25 November 1970, "The Last Day"... Written by Nick Lopez <ntlopez@fas.harvard.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


On November 25, 1970, Japan's greatest author Yukio Mishima commited an act that shocked the literary world...


Biography | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

20 September 1985 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mishima  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$5,000,000 (estimated)


$450,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Paul Schrader considers this film the best he has ever directed. See more »


The word "country" written in Japanese kanji on the hachimaki is the simplified character. On the actual hachimakis, the kanji for "country" was the long traditional form. See more »


Yukio Mishima (Narrator): All my life I have been acutely aware of a contradiction in the very nature of my existence. For forty-five years I struggled to resolve this dilemma by writing plays and novels. The more I wrote, the more I realized mere words were not enough. So I found another form of expression.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Yukio Mishima is acknowledged to have been a real person, but his acts have been fictionalized by writers. Other persons and events in this film are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons and events is unintentional. See more »


Edited into Visions of Light (1992) See more »

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User Reviews

Brilliant, Magnificent -- But Not Flawless
24 June 2004 | by (Troy, NY) – See all my reviews

Someone else put his finger on where this magnificent film falls short when he said, "Mishima has already said it all, the film simply repeats." Ultimately, Schrader has made a movie which refuses to comment on Mishima one way or another, and which becomes somewhat lifeless and stilted in the final segment as a result. Because he is bending over backwards not to criticize Mishima, Schrader simply refuses to examine the uglier implications of his public suicide.

Ironically, this approach hurts the film precisely because Mishima himself was capable of much more perceptive self-criticism. In the first two chapters -- "Beauty" (THE GOLDEN PAVILION) and "Art" (KYOKO'S HOUSE) Schrader's work is nothing short of brilliant. With great subtlety, he interweaves black and white scenes from Mishima's early life with lush full-color scenes from his early novels. What makes these sections so haunting are the subtle, suggestive differences between Mishima and the people he is writing about. For example, Mizoguchi, the acolyte who destroys the Golden Temple, is not a homosexual, nor is he a talented writer. His stammering could be a metaphor for those things, or it could be a metaphor for nothing at all. The mystery of creation and imagination, wordless and inexpressible, really seems to come to life here -- particularly in the dissolve where the schoolboy Mishima "morphs" into the slightly older Mizoguchi.

The problems start in the third chapter, "Action." Here Schrader films scenes from Mishima's RUNAWAY HORSES (one of my personal favorites) as if they are not just similar, but absolutely interchangeable with Mishima's militarist activities with the Shield Society. Schrader seems to assume that the hero of the novel, Isao, is simply a stand in for Mishima. How can you tell? Because Schrader cuts out precisely those sections of the novel in which Mishima actually analyzes Isao's emotions and his illusions. The Isao of this movie is merely a straw man who spouts platitudes about the emperor and Japan's greatness. The Isao of the book is a courageous, unselfish, but very human teenage boy, whose callous and narrow-minded parents are unable to love and who plainly have had a crushing effect on his psyche. Mishima, whether consciously or not, included some truly vile scenes of parental cruelty and manipulation in this book precisely because he understood on some level that Isao's decision to end his own life was not entirely unselfish. The connection between the sordid ugliness of Isao's loveless home and his desire to die a violent death is clear enough in the book. But it is absent from the movie. Oddly enough, Schrader thinks he is protecting Mishima in the last section, by not moralizing about the suicide, but he is actually diminishing him as an author.

The RUNAWAY HORSES section is by far the weakest of the movie. The final scenes, in which Mishima at the moment of death attains "oneness" with his heroes, really are quite exhilarating. But they would have been still richer if Schrader had taken a more nuanced approach to RUNAWAY HORSES, instead of just viewing it as a "blueprint" for the last events in Mishima's life.

This is unquestionably a brilliant, inspiring film, but it's not quite flawless.

18 of 25 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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