July 1, 2008

Patriotism (Criterion)


Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ***

Patriotism (also called "The Rite of Love and Death") is a 27-minute silent film directed by Yukio Mishima, the subject of Paul Schrader's film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (re-released by Criterion on the same day and which I reviewed here). The film was shot in secret and screened in France in attempt to raise Mishima's profile in Europe as he believed he was in the running for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The film, shot four years prior to Mishima's suicide by seppuku (self-inflicted disembowelment followed by beheading) eerily features himself in the lead role as a general whose men are unable to incite a coup and decides to commit harakiri (self-inflicted stab wound to the stomach). His shy, but beautiful and besotted wife pledges her devotion to him and agrees to also commit harakiri.

Channeling a long-running theme of sexual attraction to violence in Mishima's work, their mutual pact unleashes a previously unknown lust. And before committing the gruesome act they engage in a very artistically rendered carnal frenzy. (She, being a delicate flower, is careful to re-apply her make up before doing herself in.) This method of death is meant to symbolize Japanese strength, dedication and courage and as the film ends we see their bodies intertwined and unbloody in a perfectly-combed Zen garden.

Patriotism's storytelling and imagery is fairly perfunctory. The scenes are exhaustingly paced by today's standards and outside the setting of Japan's search for a cultural identity the themes feel far more aged than their mere forty years. And Mishima's exaltation of the self-sacrificing (silent, natch) woman is a tad "the lady doth protest too much" considering his now well-known closeted homosexuality.

What makes Patriotism appealing are the insights we gain into Mishima's inspirations and processes through the disc's generous bonus features. They include a 50-minute collection of interviews with the crew of the two day shoot, two short pieces of filmed interviews with Mishima and audio an address he gave (in English) to a Foreign Correspondents Press dinner in 1966. On this tape Mishima shows equal ease joking around with international reporters as he does espousing his far right-wing political beliefs.

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Posted by cphillips at July 1, 2008 8:52 AM
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