Paul Schrader’s lifelong cinematic search for God’s loneliest man reached its apogee with this 1985 examination of Japanese author and eccentric Yukio Mishima (full title: ‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters’). Part straight biopic, part stylised interpretation of Mishima’s headspace, the film is a breathless plunge into the creative soul that was unparalleled until Todd Haynes’s ‘I’m Not There’. Mishima was a fairly unsavoury character: unbearably self-important, obsessed with surface beauty and eager to turn back the clock on Japan’s modernisation.
But in Schrader’s hands he becomes likeable, even laudable, possessed of a dry wit, a grandiose sense of personal honour and a restless dedication to his art. And it’s how Schrader depicts this art that provides the film’s most astonishing moments, recreating key scenes from Mishima’s novels on stunningly designed, luridly textured soundstages and exploring the parallels between personal and artistic development. Graced with a throbbing orchestral score from Philip Glass and John Bailey’s luminous photography, this is appropriately monumental filmmaking.