Mishima and the glory of suicide

By Tim Peters

“I was very enamored with suicidal glory. Christianity is a blood cult, and it glorifies suicidal sacrifice,” said director Paul Schrader, explaining the origins of “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” late Friday night at Ebertfest.

Schrader, as well-known for his criticism as for his filmmaking, attended the screening along with production designer Eiko Ishioka. With film scholar David Bordwell, the two talked well past midnight to conclude the third day of the festival.

The fourth film of the day began with Chaz Ebert dispelling a rumor that Roger would be in attendance on the weekend. She said that, despite what people may be saying, the risk is too great, and he will stay at home.

The theater was filled despite the 10 p.m. starting time.

Schrader brought his own print of Mishima, which is a biopic of the titular Japanese novelist who, in 1970, committed ritual suicide, or “seppuku.” The film portrays Mishima’s life as well as scenes from three of his novels.

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    Organized into four sections, the film flows back and forth from black-and-white to color, from modern Japan to surreal stage sets. Mishima is obsessed with purity, with lifting weights and carving his body, with preserving an eroding Japanese spirit, with overcoming the passivity of writing to make his life a form of art.

    Schrader, who was the screenwriter for Martin Scorsese films like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” described why he chose to portray Mishima.

    “I had done Taxi Driver. If you want to do suicidal glory, go to the East, go to an intellectual, go to a greatly accomplished man, go to a homosexual who was yet caught up in the same pretension,” he said.

    “[Mishima] was also greatly defined by his need to be loved in the West. He was so craven in his desire to be a Western-approved author, that I think he’s fair game for me,” Schrader continued.

    The last question of the night asked the director what Schrader: A Life in Four Chapters would be like, which films it would highlight and how it would end. With a few minutes to go until 1 a.m., Schrader refused to answer, saying he would think about it.