Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Blu-ray Review
One of the most visually and aurally distinctive biopics of all time
Mishima Film Review
Paul Schrader's visually opulent, Philip Glass-scored Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters remains the director's most personal and most inaccessible projectThe writer/director arguably best known for penning Taxi Driver (he actually wrote 4 Scorsese screenplays, including Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ), Paul Schrader's filmmaking career never quite ignited in the same way as his peers, succeeding in a number of impressive offerings, but eventually hitting a somewhat downward spiral that he's struggled to break from.
His debut was the powerful and underrated Harvey Keitel / Richard Pryor drama Blue Collar, but he also made the dark and equally underrated Richard Gere drama, American Gigolo. But for every good film he made in the early days, he's suffered under disappointing films in his last few years, including the likes of The Canyons and the Nicolas Cage-starring Dog Eat Dog, with a potentially good Cage vehicle, Dying of the Light, removed from his hands and re-edited for a producer's cut.
His latest, the Ethan Hawke-starring First Reformed, has been released to rave reviews and hopefully it's the return-to-form that Schrader needs, because he hasn't been on fire for what feels like a quarter of a Century. Mishima remains emblematic of a possible high point in his career, even if it is hard to describe it as the filmmaker's 'best' work, instead celebrating a point in his career where he felt secure enough to make such a personal and accomplished project, even if it was inherently always going to be one which audiences struggled to embrace.
Despite the refined style, Schrader struggles to make it accessible.
Author, poet, actor, model and activist, Yukio Mishima is the Japanese icon that nobody talks about, his life coming to an unceremonious end following a failed coup ostensibly engineered with the intention of attempting to reclaim more traditional Japanese cultural ideals following the world-changing events of World War II.
Integrating biographical events with adaptations of a number of Mishima's own authored works, A Life in Four Chapters is still - essentially - a pure biography, finding very personal revelations often more forthcoming through the supposedly fictional segments (which explore everything from sexuality to activism) that clearly tapped right into the man's psyche.
Schrader uses all the tricks in the book - black and white photography for the flashback sequences, distinctive colour gradings for the different novel segments, and a hearty, perpetually dramatic score from composer Philip Glass (whose work for film has been heard, most recently, in the likes of Watchmen, The Illusionist, the Fantastic Four reboot, and Stoker, but whose work here bears a closer resemblance to his score for the underrated Vietnam film, Hamburger Hill).
Despite this, and the refined, almost perfected style that he applies to the vast and complex, sprawling multi-tiered narrative, Schrader struggles to make it in the least bit accessible to viewers, who may find Mishima as elusive as he has always been; the icon that nobody talks about that nobody knows how to talk about.
Mishima Blu-ray PictureCriterion's UK Blu-ray release of Mishima affords the 1985 film a 4K restoration from the original 35mm print, which provides a fantastic backbone to this 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition release, framed in the movie's original theatrical release of 1.85:1 widescreen.
A very visually distinctive production, the 30+ year old film looks really quite striking now, courtesy of the hard work Criterion have done to clean it up and re-time it, with Schrader on hand to make sure it fits his original intended style.
A great video presentation.
Detail is excellent, easily at its best during the monochromatic sequences, but even very impressive in the various alternatively-styled colour scenes. Close-ups reveal strong facial textures and strong clothing definition, whilst the perfectly framed environments pop to life.
The colour scheme benefits from some excellent black levels (again, contrast is at its most impressive during the monochrome sequences), and rather vibrant tones which ignite the oftentimes surreal scenes in a way that may never have been as vivid as here. Overall its a great looking video presentation that belies the film's age and budget.
Mishima Blu-ray SoundCriterion afford this release a number of different audio options, all in the movie's original Japanese, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 core as a backbone to three of the options, which basically centre on the narration, whilst the fourth option gets a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
The film was originally released with a Blade Runner-like voiceover by Roy Scheider, which was added to help US audiences better understand the film. In some territories there was also a release with an alternative test voiceover, which is the one provided in basic DD2.0, however that's the one least likely to be selected. Of course there's the option just to watch it with no voiceover at all, which is what the disc defaults too, however given how inaccessible the film already is, the Scheider option is arguably the best.
The Philip Glass score stands out.
All of the lossless tracks afford strong reproduction of the dialogue, clearly and with prioritisation across the array, whilst nominal effects bring forward everything from tweeting birds in the background to noisy streets.
It's the Philip Glass score that stands out, however, right from the outset, bringing forward a powerful percussive, orchestral offering which sweeps you into the film even when little to nothing is actually happening. It's a deeply resonant, emotive accompaniment which is a high point in the whole production.
Mishima Blu-ray ExtrasCriterion once again pull out all of the stops on the extras front, with a package headlined by the Audio Commentary from their own 2006 Blu-ray release of the film, featuring writer/director Paul Schrader himself, who talks passionately and informatively about this labour of love.
Criterion pull out all the stops on the extras front.
There are also two feature-length archival Making-of Documentaries, The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima and Making Mishima, as well as a 22 minute Producing Mishima Featurette, a half-hour 2008 Interview with Chieko Schrader, a half-hour Interview with some of Mishima's colleagues, and a short Interview with Mishima himself.
Mishima Blu-ray VerdictA thoroughly inaccessible mood piece.
Criterion's Blu-ray release of Mishima is an excellent package, boasting excellent 4K-remastered video and strong lossless audio as well as a tremendous set of extras. Fans of Schrader should certainly investigate his labour of love, even if it is a thoroughly inaccessible mood piece.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £25.99
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