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The Criterion Collection presents
Patriotism (1966)

"Long live the Imperial Forces!"
- The Lieutenant (Yukio Mishima), in his suicide note

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: July 07, 2008

Stars: Yukio Mishima, Yoshiko Tsuruoka
Director: Yukio Mishima

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:27m:35s
Release Date: July 01, 2008
UPC: 715515029827
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Patriotism runs less than half an hour, but it is in many respects the perfect distillation of the aesthetic of Yukio Mishima—film is proverbially a collaborative medium, but if the auteur theory ever had a place, it would be for a project like this one. Mishima wrote the short story on which the project is based, as well as the screenplay adaptation; he serves as director, producer, and leading man. Yoshiko Tsuruoka is the only other person appearing in the film, and the only other name appearing in the credits—this is Mishima's show in every possible respect, and is at once tantalizing and deeply unpleasant. (This Criterion release is the companion to the label's edition of Paul Schrader's film about the writer, and the projects, as you might anticipate, illuminate one another significantly.)

Mishima shoots his picture in the style of Noh theater, the frequently static, presentational format with a long pedigree in Japan, and the kind of thing that can be deeply puzzling to the uninitiated, especially to those of us weaned on the Western tradition of dramatic realism. And the trappings of the piece get at a larger difference between East and West, because the story told might essentially be unthinkable outside of Japan. Mishima plays a lieutenant who, in 1936, traveled with a group of conspirators plotting a coup; knowing of the lieutenant's great love for his beautiful young wife, they exempted him from their overthrow attempt, which failed. But the lieutenant is shamed simply by his association with the plotters, and vows to perform ritual suicide; his wife, sharing her husband's shame, will do the same. We learn all this in an opening scroll, and the earnestness of the piece is declared from the very beginning—the only decoration in the family's house is a scroll on the wall reading "WHOLEHEARTED SINCERITY."

The couple then proceeds to do exactly as they say—first, a final night of physical pleasure, more suggested than displayed. You can't help but think that the film functioned for Mishima in some respects as a calling card for potential liaisons—his military cap is frequently pulled down over his brow, so we hardly get a look at his eyes, but he's delighted to let the camera linger on his muscled torso. The extreme closeups are deeply evocative, almost sculptural—they're reminiscent of Man Ray photographs, or of early Buñuel.

And then as promised, we see him ritually disembowel himself. It's an extraordinary graphic and gory suicide, made that much more poignant by its juxtaposition with the melancholy final night of marital intimacy; from our vantage, knowing that Mishima took his own life in a similar manner only four years later, this starts to give off the deeply queasy vibe of a snuff film, or of a cinematographic dress rehearsal. And it's kind of stunning that it's all over in some twenty-seven minutes, almost as if the film dares us to believe its audacity. It leaves you ruminating on the Japanese national character (given the film's deeply ironic title) and on Mishima's accomplishments here as an artist, which may not be endearing, but are considerable.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white photography looks searing and sharp—it's almost more horrifying to see the splatter this way than if it were in color. The transfer is a strong one, with steady, deep blacks.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: There's a considerable amount of hiss on the audio track; given that there's no dialogue in the film, it's only a minor distraction, but the stillness of the story makes it that much more noticeable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 5 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: custom cardboard cover with sl
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. English-language version
  2. accompanying booklet
  3. color bars
Extras Review: The short film is unpacked exquisitely in an extras package with a running time many multiples of the feature. First is an English-language version (29m:05s), identical to the Japanese one but for the scrolls that introduce each of the film's acts. Two Days with Yukio Mishima (49m:45s) is a 2005 documentary reuniting the uncredited members of the film's crew for a screening and a discussion of their work—as the title of the documentary suggests, Patriotism was shot in two grueling days, as almost a renegade project, kept in the shadows from the Daiei Studio brass. All of the participants are somewhat restrained, but you sense both a healthy respect for and almost a primordial fear of Mishima.

Yoked together under the heading Mishima on Mishima are, first, two 1966 from Japanese television—in the first (4m:35s), Mishima discusses the impact of the end of World War II on him as a boy, and in the second (4m:57s), he expounds on one of his favorite and most recurring themes: death. An audio-only Q&A (49m:01s) conducted in English suffers some from compromised sound quality, which makes Mishima's accent a bit more difficult to puzzle out; still, it's fascinating to hear him ruminate on the film and the rest of his work, and to parry with his questioners. Finally, a substantial accompanying booklet includes Mishima's original short story, his published reflections on the film shoot, and an essay on its place in the body of Mishima's work by Tony Rayns.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Brief, but shocking and horrible and memorable. This short film is the quintessential expression of Mishima's aesthetic; there's a kind of artistic bravery to it, without doubt, but one that makes it sort of horrifying to watch.


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