Schraders also juggles contrasting visual strategies for each section, giving the film an out-of-time feeling that serves its anachronistic subject well. Schrader's worship of Ozu can be felt in the rigid classical compositions of Mishima's stifling childhood; the 1970 scenes have a hand-held immediacy evoke a '60s radicalism that already felt like ancient history in 1985; and the scenes from The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House and Runaway Horses couldn't be more contemporary. While Ogata is great as Mishima, the star of the film is production designer Eiko Ishioka, whose bold, expressive use of color and space (remastered and gorgeous on the new Criterion release) makes for a thrilling cinematic realization of Mishima's fantasies. The overt theatricality of these scenes frames the biographical sections as another form of performance, Mishima's obsession with perfecting his body and his life's final act as a transformation of his own life into a work of art (and suggests why, for some smart, socially alienated young males, samurai iconography has the same power as trenchcoats and death metal do for some of their angrier peers). For Schrader, whose filmography is filled with protagonists prone to violent acts as a statement and whose own life has been largely devoting to contriving his own persona, this venture into extremely personal territory results in his best work as a director.
But while Mishima is undoubtedly the work of an auteur, it's also a remarkable collaboration between its creative leads. Ishioka's sets, John Bailey's sharp cinematography, the precise editing by Michael Chandler and Philip Glass' exhilarating score (perhaps his best) result in a cinematic experience that is both intellectually provocative and a sensory delight. To say it's the kind of film they don't make any more would ignore the fact that films like Mishima have always been rare; one of exective producers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola's acts of atonement for their lavish success, it's the rare American film driven entirely by the strength of its ideas. Mishima is the kind of movie you let wash over you, its stunning images proving that, though rare, it is possible for cinema to serve as a marriage of art and action.