“You can’t award 𝘵𝘸𝘰 golden furby’s in a row, Max?” I hear you all saying in unison, “And Will just awarded a Persian Rug, are you two just in a good mood? Tossing out awards like old tissues?” Let me tell you something, reader, I can do whatever the blooming heck I want with my reviews! If I feel I’ve been slack on categorising, then let me rectify that until I inevitably forget again next week! Anyway, a couple of months ago I was habitually surfing through ‘hidden-gem-film’ articles and stumbled across a film that I willingly let haunt my mind, like a flirtatious ghost, for weeks after its first viewing. The film– in which I accepted a form of 𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘵𝘪é 𝘢𝘮𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘦𝘶𝘴 with– was Paul Schrader’s box-office bomb, 𝘔𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘮𝘢: 𝘈 𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴.
The film is somewhat of a biopic, and follows Yukio Mishima, a Japanese poet/novelist/playwright/actor who was active during the mid-20th century. Through a “final mission” backdrop and narrated flashbacks, the dramatic events and traditionalistic philosophies of Mishima’s life are recounted in juxtaposition with visual dramatizations of three of his famous novels, which explore the defining themes which he was so famous for: beauty, art, action, and harmony of the pen and sword.
The lifted sections from Mishima’s novels serve as a visual map for his traditionalistic ideologies, gradually elaborating on his fatal obsessions as we watch him grow from a fragile, sick young boy to an acclaimed writer, regimented by masculinity and traditional values. The fictional dramatizations include: a stuttering man whose love for a golden temple causes him to liberate it from the world’s impurities and burn it down (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘰𝘭𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘗𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘰𝘯); an actor whose desire for physical gratification is satisfied with a fatal relationship with a masochistic landlord (𝘒𝘺𝘰𝘬𝘰’𝘴 𝘏𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦); and, a student samurai who assembles a team to embark on a suicidal mission to topple the zaibatsu (𝘙𝘶𝘯𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘺 𝘏𝘰𝘳𝘴𝘦𝘴).
Much of the film’s beauty is ultimately in the design and pacing of its plot(s), the evolving ideas of Mishima narrated by his own literature and aided with surreal dramatizations in Eiko Ishioka’s dream-like dioramas. Mishima’s methods of writing were to calculate the themes he obsessed over, unpack them into abstractions, and then fall asleep, letting his dreams write the remainder. It’s only fitting that Paul Schrader’s representation of these themes are brimming with surrealism like pocketed subconscious, appropriating the imagination of the novels, and the emotional evolution of Mishima, illustrating how synonymous the two are.
What’s left is a chilling link between fiction and fact: the fiction is a microcosm of Mishima’s factual universe. We follow these breadcrumbs with fearful intent, the frog in our throat fed, and dearly caressed, by Philip Glass’ score: melancholy in the face of a spiritual self-imprisonment but defiant in its determination of self-actualisation. The ticking clock of recurring violins guiding Mishima in his suicidal pursuit for purity.
Paul Schrader’s notoriety for anti-directorial conformities and esoteric style (he was a student of Japanese cinema, Ozu specifically) arranges 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴 into a beautiful tale of the spiritually hungry. The questions of beauty, art, action, and harmony are frightening and dire, but rather than frown at how unattached you may feel toward the answers, revere the mysterious beauty of it all. Mishima penned himself the “𝐤𝐚𝐦𝐢𝐤𝐚𝐳𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐛𝐞𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐲,” a self-proclaimed destiny which he spent his entire life guided by. It isn’t so much a glorification of death, rather an evocation of meaning.
A career that is widely summarised as “Scorsese’s writer” causes Schrader’s name to be swept under the rug—deafened by the crickets of empty cinemas credit rolls—and 𝘔𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘮𝘢: 𝘈 𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴 (𝟷𝟿𝟾𝟻) may always be the gem that never was. But sometimes beauty is better off hidden in the company of ugliness.
Sometimes to liberate the temple, we must burn it down.