by Jaime Grijalba.
a.k.a.11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate
(Japan, 119 min)
The Valdivia International Film Festival was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time, 5 days devoted entirely to the watching and conversation about film with people you know and don’t know, from your city or even from another countries, all coming down south to enjoy and receive the hospitality of this city and its people, as well as acknowledging this film festival to be one of the most important in Latin America. There you have the oportunity to see the new voices of Chile, Latin America and the world in a friendly competition that lasts the whole week and that manages to bring up the most intelligent of the issues and filmmaking conversations, as well as theorical. It is one of those few festivals in which you can actually find a stance, an editorial of sorts, that they will always prevail the auteur content abova all, as well as contemplative narrative, and to top it all: an abundance of documentaries, put along side fiction works competing for the same prize. This year, the competition was great and the winners in both competitions (international and chilean) were my respective favorites of the competition films I saw: ‘De Jueves a Domingo’ (International) and ‘Where the Condors Fly’ (National), which I rate **** and ****1/2 stars respectively. Now, outside the competition, its obvious that we will find many other screenings, and while the special showings weren’t as star-studded as years before (they managed to bring ‘Film Socialisme’ forward before many other countries in the world), it managed to have ‘Holy Motors’ (one of the most talked about films of the year, and that I rate ****1/2) and this film, that also played in Cannes Un Certain Regard with other films. While not as good as the other films that I watched in the festival, it is still a must watch to many people that are interested in japanese culture, history and film.The film is directed by Kôji Wakamatsu, a director that has made quite a turn in his life directing-wise, starting with pinku violence and pinku erotic films (being the most shocking and the most impressive achievement ‘Go, Go, Second Time Virgin’ (1969), and during these last two decades, turning out historical and dramatic pieces that are quite impressive in their scope and depth of the analysis of the people and place in which they are. It is quite impressive to see this change, as I shall avoid saying the word evolution, as his erotic and violent films have, to me, as much, or even more, value compared to his recent historical dramas. Wakamatsu, this time, has finished what he called his ‘Showa Era’ Trilogy, three historical and political films about recent events in the history of Japan: ‘United Red Army’ about the militant student groups of the 60′s, ‘Caterpillar’, taking place during the Sino-Japanese war in the 40′s, and finally this film, that takes place during the revolts of the students of the new left in Japan and the death of Yukio Mishima, one of the most recogniced authors in the literary history of this country, as well as one of the most interesting and talented. That, nevertheless, didn’t make him a great person, and that’s what makes him such an interesting character to approach and make a movie about, if you can stomach his views about a post-modernist Japanese Empire with a god-like Emperor, one that could do anything he wants for the good of the people of Japan, or so was what Mishima believed that would happen if the military ever rebelled and tried to take over the government, as he felt they should. His obsession over the goal of having the militars do the coup, that he stopped writing (loosing his opportunity to win the Nobel, having it handed out to Yasunari Kawabata, still a deserving choice, maybe even a better writer than Mishima, but that’s for other day) his novels and enrolled in the army, so he could start his own para-militar force that just wanted to be called out during the leftist protests so they can bash in some communist heads and reivindicate the ruling and place of the emperor.
That’s the are and the time where the movie takes place: the enrolling, the military knowledge, the protest and the university ambient as the students get easily sucked into one side or the other politically, Mishima having a close relationship with the kids that conform his para-militar group, and suddenly how it finally evolves, ending in one of the most bizarre, daring and stupid actions in the history of political-military action, where Mishima manages to make a speech in front of all the forces in the capital, as he has kidnapped the general so he can be given the opportunity of doing his political speech (that is translated entirely to the film in an epic and pathetic manner, as we see how it progreses and looses strenght as the audience doesn’t receive nor cares about the message being told), and then goes back inside to do the deed he has always known that he has to do, and if you know your history, you know what I’m talking about. As you can tell, its pretty much a punch by punch, fact by fact, telling of what happened in the last three years or so on the life of Yukio Mishima, and as interesting as it can be, and for someone who knows where it all ends up, I wished that the film itself were a little shorter, it feels overlong and sometimes tiring to see some dialogue and scenes saying the same things we already know about. The acting here is tremendous, specially from the actor that plays Mishima, Arata, an amazing actor that has been in the rise for the past few years, and with this role he must be in the peak of his glory.
The cinematography and the art direction are adecuate and sometimes beautiful, but as the film avoids showing the outside of the houses (mainly because of a budget constraint), you can’t be too picky about how much of an era are we going to see, so I think the decoration of the houses and meeting points are interesting and well done. The film should be a must watch to anyone who likes Mishima, so he can see its more unknown side of his political stances and views, as well as to see how impressive the work of Wakamatsu is, having to idealize and then maniacally mock (in the most respectful way) those fascists views of Mishima, because we all know how much into the left Wakamatsu is, but… what do we care? Borges was almost a nazi, that didn’t prevent me from liking his work and naming him the best writer that ever existed. Anyway, I hope this one gets a nice distribution, it deserves it, as some will really appreciate the work done here. Sorry to those who expected the capsule reviews, this was more urgent and interesting in its own.