Yukio Mishima was one of the most complicated and fraught figures in twentieth-century literature, and his sophomore novel, Confessions of a Mask, published in 1949, remains a classic. As Mishima grew older, his aesthetic obsessions—beauty, death, the erotic—became increasingly comingled with his fascist tendencies, ultimately resulting in his death in 1970 by seppuku at age forty-five in a failed coup d’état. A perfect figure for a Paul Schrader film.
Schrader’s 1985 film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters weaves Mishima’s life and his work, stitching together biography with dramatized portions of his oeuvre. Though the film’s language is Japanese, it was never officially released in Japan: threats from far-right groups over depictions of Mishima’s homosexuality have kept it a scandal.
The film also features a near-perfect soundtrack by Philip Glass. There’s one piece from the soundtrack I listen to over and over again while writing: “Runaway Horses (‘Poetry Written With a Splash of Blood’).” Nearly seven minutes in, the tensed frenzy of the string quartet gives way to the gentle break of pizzicato, before moving again towards crescendo. It’s a climax that makes a writer think that Mishima may have been right in his 1969 novel, Runaway Horses. Perhaps perfection is possible and achievable, if only one can somehow conjure a moment of transubstantiation, to somehow turn the writing on the page into lines of poetry written with a splash of blood.
—Nishant Batsha, author of Mother Ocean Father Nation (Ecco, 2022)