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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Mishima’: art taken to the mad extreme

Of all the films being offered this week during Spokane's annual Japan Week celebration, the one I had never seen was Paul Schrader's 1985 curiosity "Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters." I fixed that by going to the Magic Lantern last night where, with about a dozen other movie fans, I sat through the whole 121-minute … uh, ordeal.

It's not as if I'd had an excess number of opportunities to see the film before this. I can't even be sure it ever played Spokane. And with so many other films vying for my attention, I haven't been driven to go back to see a 28-year-old biographical study based on the life of a Japanese writer who - though boasting a high reputation in international literary circles - ended his life in such a bizarre fashion.

Read about the incident here. Schrader's movie follows this scenario almost literally, though it stops just short of Mishima's death.

What Schrader has done is meld Mishima's work with bits of his autobiographical musings and staged it all as a kind of memoir-drama. What Schrader doesn't do, to my satisfaction at least, is explain why the man was so obsessed with what he saw as a trademark samurai sensibility. Or, to be honest, why I should care. Schrader's film, in the end, is as inexplicable as Mishima was himself - even to the Japan he wanted so desperately to influence.

Ah, well. The Japan Week series continues tonight at the Magic Lantern with a showing of Akira Kurosawa's 1958 film "The Hidden Fortress." I do remember seeing that film, back when the Magic Lantern still sat atop the Atrium Building, next to the train tracks.

It's a bit of a puzzle, too. But nowhere near as puzzling as "Mishima."