The opening date of "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" is incorrect in today's Weekend section, which was printed in advance. The movie has been rescheduled to open Oct. 11.
SUSHI CHEFS, Ginsu knives, samurai movies. So much of the little we know about the Japanese concerns life on the edge.
Now director/writer Paul Schrader, who likes hanging out there himself, reiterates these sensibilities in "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters," a disturbing study of author Yukimo Mishima's work and ritual suicide.
Ken Ogata is intensely effective as the controversial Mishima, a sickly momma's boy who evolved into a 20th-century samurai, noted writer and leader of a fascistic emperor cult. Schrader theorizes that Mishima plotted his life through his writings, the novel "Runaway Horses" presaging his public disembowelment at age 45.
Often biography tells us as much about the biographer as the subject. And this one, weighted toward the purpler parts of Mishima's life, tells on Schrader -- not a man you'd want to meet in a dark alley, or any alley for that matter. As the author of "Taxi Driver" and the director of "Cat People" and again here, Schrader seems as driven by sexual obsessions and deadly fantasies as his subjects.
Mishima's family asked that his seamy sex life be excluded from the picture, so Schrader uses scenes from Mishima's novels to dramatize his preoccupations with sado-masochism, male narcissism and seppuku, a toney way of saying hara-kiri. These scenes are distinguished from the rest of the film visually via simple-seeming sets by Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka.
The film, cowritten by Schrader's brother Leonard, is divided into chapters and shot in three distinct styles. Present time appears as a peudo-documentary; past time in elegant, spare black-and-white flashbacks; and fantasy in the lurid reds, orchids and golds of Ishioka's 41 sets.
It becomes a labyrinth of dramatic excess and stagey gewgaws, freakish and visually ovrwhelming. Add Philip Glass' insistent, tantric score, and it becomes a tension headache, beginning with Mishima's first close shave.
Mishima was a complex man and a fine writer, according to other biographers, but here he seems one-dimensional, just a weak man drawn to pointed objects, both pen and sword. The biography is lopsided; the story is all spit and polish, razor cuts and terrifying purity. Finally, it seems that we are merely snooping on an ultimate act of cowardice, abetting the act of a macho adolescent who simply lacked the courage to get old.