Note: I reviewed the Criterion
Collection’s 2008 DVD release of this film here at Cinema Retro. The product has now been upgraded to
Blu-ray by the company. Much of the following is excerpted and/or revised from
the original review, while also addressing the new Blu-ray.
Schrader has always opined that Mishima—A
Life in Four Chapters is his best film as a director, and I must agree.
Originally released in 1985 (and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola and
George Lucas), the film is a fascinating bio-pic about controversial Japanese
author/actor Yukio Mishima. Schrader, a successful screenwriter who has also
had an interesting hit-and-miss career as a director, co-wrote the film with
his brother Leonard and filmed it in Japan with a Japanese cast and crew.
Ironically, the film was banned in Japan upon its release due to the
controversial nature of Mishima’s infamously public display of seppuku (suicide) in 1970.
despite Mishima’s questionable act, there is no doubt that he was a formidable
novelist, poet, and artist—certainly one of his country’s greatest. Schrader’s
film attempts to visualize Mishima’s life and work, as well as make sense of his
final days in three different stylistic approaches that are beautiful to behold
and brilliant in conception.
“present” (that is, 1970) is in color, filmed realistically, almost
documentary-like, as we follow Mishima (expertly played by Ken Ogata) and his
cadets travel to and subsequently take control of a Japanese military base in
Tokyo so that he can deliver his public manifesto and commit seppuku. The past—the events of
Mishima’s childhood and rise to fame—is in black and white, almost as if we are
watching film noir. The motion
picture also presents dramatizations of scenes from some of the author’s
novels. These are presented in a highly stylized theatricality, in color, with
stage sets and “actors.” The narrative ingeniously jumps between these three
arcs, revealing the psyche of a complicated, but brilliant, artist. Why would
he kill himself as an artistic statement? Mishima—A
Life in Four Chapters attempts to explain this enigma.
Glass provides one of his most admirable motion picture scores to date, John
Bailey’s cinematography is exquisitely gorgeous, and Eiko Ishioka’s production
designs are perfectly suited to Schrader’s sensibilities. Whether or not you
know anything about Yukio Mishima, you will find the picture to be an
extraordinary cinematic experience.
Criterion Collection has done another outstanding job of producing a new,
restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut, which was supervised and
approved by Schrader and Bailey. There are optional English and Japanese
voiceover narrations (by Roy Scheider and Ken Ogata, respectively—the U.S.
theatrical release only had the Scheider narration). Personally, I agree with
Schrader’s view that the English-language narration by Scheider is preferable;
otherwise there are too many subtitles on the screen when simultaneously
translating the narration as well as the Japanese speakers. (There is an
additional “early” Scheider narration that I’m not sure adds much to the
viewing experience.) The film comes with an audio commentary by Schrader and
producer Alan Poul, recorded in 2006.
supplements are ported over from the original DVD release. This wealth of material
includes the excellent 1985 BBC documentary The
Strange Case of Yukio Mishima. There are vintage video interviews with
Mishima himself; more recent segments with Mishima’s biographers and
translators, Philip Glass, John Bailey, and other members of the film crew; and
the trailer. The booklet features an essay by critic Kevin Jackson, a piece on
the film’s censorship in Japan, and photographs of Ishioka’s sets.
Mishima—A Life in
Four Chapters is
a beautiful, emotionally-powerful film that is an immersive, visual and aural
treat. Highly recommended.
small film, which actor/co-producer/co-writer Jon Cryer says could be made 200
times for the budget allotted to Titanic,
is an absolute gem.
by Cryer and director/co-producer Richard Schenkman, Went to Coney Island… is part coming-of-age story, part mystery,
and part social problem film. The latter category encompasses the tackling of
mental illness, homelessness, and what one’s obligation might be to a loved
one—or simply a friend—who has ceased to function in society.
(Cryer), Stan (Rick Stear), and Richie (Rafael Báez) have been friends
since they were five, growing up on New York streets but basically living a
normal existence as precocious, middle-class American boys. As teens, Stan
underwent a botched medical procedure to correct a problem with his leg and was
left with a permanent limp, brace, and cane. Richie has a reputation as a
ladies’ man, but he holds a secret that he can’t reveal. Daniel is the
straight-arrow and probably the most intelligent of the trio.
the present day the threesome is in their thirties. Daniel works a regular job in
a pawn shop/jeweler, and Stan is an alcoholic and has a gambling problem. The
woman in his life, Gabby (Ione Skye), has about had it with him. Richie is
simply… missing in action. He disappeared years earlier after a tragedy
occurred in his family. One day, Stan hears that Richie is homeless and living
under the boardwalk in Coney Island. Using a childhood code for ditching school
and doing something more “important,” Stan tells Daniel that they have a “mission
from God”—they must go to Coney Island and look for Richie.
winter, so Coney Island is mostly closed-down except for a handful of sleazy
shops and midway attractions. The once famous amusement park is practically a
ghost town, on its way to oblivion. Daniel and Stan make their way around the
area, encountering various misfits and wackos, until they do indeed find their
long, lost friend. Richie isn’t in good shape. What follows is an intervention
of sorts, as well as a redemption for the two main protagonists.
in numerous flashbacks and contemporary (1998) scenes, Went to Coney Island masterfully draws the viewer into the intimate
lives of the characters. It explores their inner demons, but it also exhibits
what it means to be true friends. While this might sound like a dire
experience, much of the picture is hilarious. The various weirdos and how
Daniel/Stan react to them provides the kinds of laughs one might find in a John
Hughes picture—only these have a little more bite. This is “dramedy” at its
Cryer and Stear are excellent in their roles. Schenkman’s direction is
pitch-perfect, easily pushing the movie to the top of his eclectic body of
work. The way the flashbacks to the 1980s are handled reveal sensitive insight
on the mood and sensibility of the era. Schenkman’s handling of the Coney
Island sequences evokes a wide palate of moods and imagery.
is art-house cinema of the highest order.
new High Definition Blu-ray release incorporates a frame-by-frame digital
restoration from original 35mm film elements, and it looks spectacular. The
main feature comes with 5.1 Surround Audio (uncompressed PCM) and 2.0 stereo,
plus an audio commentary by both Schenkman and Cryer. The pair also appear in a
new, short introduction to the film. Supplements include a behind-the-scenes
featurette that contains new and vintage footage; The Producer,a comedy
short from the period directed by Schenkman; a photo gallery; and the original
theatrical trailer. A mini-poster comes in the package.
Went to Coney Island
on a Mission from God…Be Back by Five could stand alongside such low-budget
classics as My Bodyguard, Breaking Away, and sex, lies and videotape. Check it out.