11.25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate: Cannes Review

This thinly realized film makes the Japanese author and militant nationalist look like nothing but a political nutjob.

Koji Wakamatsu's film about the eminent Japanese writer and self-styled political militant is blandly shot and gives no sense of a full man.

Desperately amateurish and entirely unilluminating, 11.25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate reduces the life of the eminent writer and self-styled political militant to that of a deluded and anachronistic nationalist. Blandly shot on video so as to resemble an indifferent student film and ludicrously scored by someone pounding away on a piano, Koji Wakamatsu's film will play successfully in the West only to those few cultists who still carry a critical torch for the 76-year-old former pink film, or soft porn, director.

Wakamatsu's film before last, United Red Army, in 2008, recounted the self-inflicted demise of the post-World War II Japanese far left and it's fair to say that this one performs the same function on behalf of agitators for the far right. Many of the repetitive scenes are devoted to Mishima ranting about the virtues of his brand of “ethnic nationalism;” the necessity of restoring Meiji-era institutions and the divinity of the newly humanized, and thus diminished, emperor; the “flaws” of modern Japan and waywardness of leftists protestors. If the director's intention was to present his subject as a lunatic devoted to a hopeless cause, he's entirely succeeded.

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In arbitrary fashion, the script hop-scotches through moments in the last decade of Mishima's life, 1960-70, to spotlight his growing rage and intolerance over what he sees as his country's abandonment of the ancient, insular virtues that made it great. He enlists in the army for training as preparation for heading up his own paramilitary group, The Shield Society, in which a handful of acolytes pledge fidelity to his extreme views, which, it isn't difficult to detect, have a strong death wish attached to them.

Countless scenes have Mishima, played by the too young and insufficiently fit Arata Iura, articulating his crackpot theories to his cronies, students and whoever will listen. A wife makes a fleeting appearance, Mishima's two children go unmentioned, as do his gay affiliations and intense workout regime. For some reason, the film claims that he gave up on writing by 1967 when, in fact, he had seven works published between then and his death.

There is, therefore, no sense of a full man, much less a creative and successful one, only that of a mouthpiece for an arcane ideology that has no chance of catching on. He seems, therefore, a failure, not to mention a tiresomely redundant obsessive with just one thing on his mind.

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On the date in 1970 cited in the title, Mishima, along with four cohorts, went to the Self Defense Forces headquarters in Tokyo, tied up the commander and took to the balcony to exhort the assembled troops to support his cause of imperial restoration. When he was jeered instead, he returned inside to commit seppuku, which he had evidently intended to do all along. The sight of a man disemboweling himself unavoidably has a terrible power, but in this telling no special feeling attaches to it, so fruitless does the act seem.

Consistently overlit and registering thinly on video, the film entirely lacks visual flair or kinetic expressiveness; the sets or locations are barely dressed at all and even a scene as important as Mishima's balcony speech is shot in a medium close-up that's intercut with random stock footage of supposed listeners in the crowd. Sometimes budgets are simply too low to accomplish what needed to be done.

In no way does the film's ambition or accomplishment rival Paul Schrader's controversial 1985 Mishima, which at the very least tried to grapple with the complexity of its subject by looking at diverse aspects of his life through diverse artistic means.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)

Production: Wakamatsu Prods., Skhole Co. Ltd. (Japan)

Cast: Arata Kura, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Shinobu Terajima

Director: Koji Wakamatsu

Screenwriters: Masayuki Kakegawa, Koji Wakamatsu

Director of photography: Tomohiko Tsuji

Editor: Kumiko Sakamoto

Music: Fumio Itabashi

International sales: Wild Bunch

119 minutes