Hey, readers! I hope your day is going well when you read this. Today I’m going to translate an article written by a Mexican friend of mine, Ruben Martínez Pintos. As you can see by the link, he’s a writer for the Mexican branch of Rotten Tomatoes, which is called Tomatazos. Ruben is a serious cinephile and Japanophile, so I thought this article about Yukio Mishima would be a great one to translate. It combines two loves of mine: Japanese culture and Spanish language! I definitely learned some new info about Mishima that I hadn’t known before. Enjoy!
Yukio Mishima and His Connection to Film
The iconic author left his mark on cinema
On a day like today in 1925, Kimiate Hiraoka, better known as Yukio Mishima, was born. Writer, actor, director and political activist, he was a man of contrasts and contradictions. His life itself became part of his art and body of work. His coup d’état attempt — which culminated in his suicide by seppuku — was an act that in many ways marked his final artistic work.
Death and beauty combined in frenzied ways in all of Mishima’s work; he obsessed over both topics, as well as a tendency to challenge the conventional. Although a nationalist in favor of Japan’s militarization, he was unable to fight during the Second World War because of his health. He worked on his physique to modify his formerly weak constitution and when he rejected a promising professional career in favor of writing, his father gave only one instruction: become the best writer in Japan, or don’t try.
Artistic concerns brought Mishima to work in the Japanese film industry. He starred in director Yasuzo Masumura’s Afraid to Die, and also sang its main theme song. He also acted alongside Shintaro Katsu and Tatsuya Nakadai in Hitokiri, a tale about a samurai (played by Katsu) — uneducated but skilled with the sword — whose aptitude for killing turns him into a legendary as well as tragic figure.
Mishima directed only one film, Patriotism, shot in black and white and without dialog, where the author plays a soldier who decides to end his life after he is ordered to kill colleagues involved in a coup d’état. In spite of it being his only work behind the camera, the writer demonstrated a great eye for composition and great potential that was never exploited. All the copies of Patriotism were presumed lost after Mishima’s widow had them burned, but fortunately the original negatives were saved.
Both the left and the right in Japan repudiated Mishima, the former for his nationalist conservative ideas and the latter for his declarations against Emperor Hirohito, who Mishima said should have abdicated his position for failing in World War II. Even today he continues to be a controversial figure and it was a foreigner who first brought his work to the silver screen. Paul Schrader wrote and directed Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which alternated scenes from the author’s life with passages taken from his books. Philip Glass frames the tale with incredible compositions while acclaimed actor Ken Ogata pours his all into a fully committed leading role from beginning to end. Schrader initially had the support of Mishima’s widow, but when the producer insisted on including a scene that showed the author’s homosexuality, the widow completely withdrew from the project.
Mishima’s life and works, always intertwined, are still being unraveled today. His impact on the arts is undeniable and the movies connected to the star are highly intriguing. Artists like him don’t come along all the time and that’s why we still remember him today.
Well, that was an interesting translation! I didn’t know much about Mishima other than the fact that he was a nationalist author who committed seppuku. Thanks, Ruben, for the lesson on Mishima and for permission to translate the article! I’m definitely interested in watching these movies now, and also in reading his writings. How about you?