Patriotism
























I remember reading in 2005 that Yukio Mishima's film Patriotism (Yūkoku in Japanese) (1966) had been found in his former home. His wife, who died ten years before the discovery, had requested that all copies of the film be destroyed after her husband's suicide in 1970, and so none were thought to exist for a number of years until the negative was found in a wooden box.


Patriotism is a film directed by Mishima and based on his short story of the same name, published in English in Death in Midsummer and Other Stories. It's thirty minutes long, black and white, and silent, and adopts the style of modern Nō theater, with intertitles to aid in understanding the context of the story. The context in part is the Ni Ni Roku Incident of February 1936, an attempted coup d'état in Japan. Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama (played by Mishima), who has been commanded to execute some of his fellow countrymen, decides to kill himself rather than carry out the orders. His wife, Reiko, agrees happily to go to "another world" with him. The film is divided into scenes (five, I think), and we are shown a process leading up to their deaths and then the suicides. The husband and wife make love for the last time before their deaths, and one close-up after another—shoulders, necks, chests, hair, backs, lips—tell the story of their bodies in love and then their bodies during and after death. The suicide of the lieutenant is graphic, with blood splattering and entrails seeping out, and is quite a feat in terms of realism for this age of film. What I found most compelling are the wife's subtle facial expressions, which do more to tell the story than what dialogue could have done if it were part of the film. In both the short story and the film, I hoped Reiko would come to her senses after her husband offs himself; but no, she cuts into and ends herself as well, though these moments are far less graphic.


Mishima would commit seppuku himself only four years later, and watching the film you can't help but wonder what influence his film had on his death. Had he decided already this was the way he'd go? Was the film a sort of dry run? Or was something else at play here? Like perhaps Mishima created a piece of art without linking it to himself on any personal level, only to have it affect him years later, perhaps without him even knowing. I'd like to think that the latter is true, that this is a case of life imitating art, or the taking of a life that imitates the art of someone who has portrayed that very type of death. So while the film doesn't point to Mishima's suicide directly or any plans to go out that way, it certainly foreshadows it as a creation coming from the same mind.

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