Patriotism

"Excellent"

Patriotism Review


Flag waving and bumper stickers are today's most common displays of patriotism, but it wasn't long ago when patriotism meant the passion of life and death. For an artist like Yukio Mishima (poet, playwright, actor, and director), Patriotism was a film more about personal dedication to an ideal than the story of a Japanese army lieutenant's shame after a failed coup d'état.

So when Yukio Mishima cuts into his stomach during Patriotism's (Yûkoku, or Rite of Love and Death) climatic seppuku -- ritualistic Japanese suicide commonly known as hara-kiri -- our own bowels churn. Confused by Mishima's motivation as a disgraced army officer, but moved by the physical sacrifice, our initial questioning of a self-taken life highlights our own placed importance on the basic existence of human life and not the meaning behind that life.

Or maybe it churns because the star, writer,and co-director, Mishima, actually took his own life in a public seppuku four years later after a failed military coup d'état in 1970. So Patriotism is, first and foremost, Mishima's dress rehearsal for his own death (due to retrospect). That impression is inescapable. After Mishima's -- one of Japan's most celebrated authors -- life-taking demonstration, the prints of Patriotism were destroyed; only the negative was saved. Until the film resurfaced 35 years later, the impact of his reasons were never as deeply felt as Patriotism shows.

The story is told silently through inter-titles over a mere 30 minutes, but that hardly dulls the emotional sting. Rather than diving into Mishima's character, much of the story is told through the point of view of the Japanese army lieutenant's wife Reiko -- who also vows to kill herself alongside her husband. We are first introduced to the Lieutenant's shame and his suicide plan through her, and through her we understand and distance ourselves from their idealistic journey. While it's easy to be sympathetic toward the lieutenant's shame, Reiko's excited nervousness is as unsettling as the lieutenant's disembowelment. At one point, her feelings toward her impending suicide are described as the type of excitement she had on her wedding night.

These parallels between love and death are as apparent as the film's subtitle (Rite of Love and Death); if the devotion to an ideal escapes our understanding, then so does Mishima's connection between love and death. Patriotism fills the screen with as much passionate love as it does passionate death. Mishima presents and idea of sex and death being penetrating, passionate acts that are both committed out of love for an ideal -- be it another person or a personal belief. Perhaps our own modern-day social perceptions don't allow us to accept this idea. Take one look around our current cinematic landscape -- empty sex and the fiery passion of flaming explosions sell tickets; honest emotion doesn't. Because our emotions as an audience can be swayed by simple sentiment, we sympathize with the lieutenant's failure, and we are hurt by his self-imposed punishment. Because his wife is devoted, we see that as her flaw.

It would be easy to write off Mishima's Patriotism as an emotional gut reaction to those grandiose ideas of life, death and faith. But in the boldest possible statement, Mishima challenges our own ideals. We feel his passion, even if we are unable to understand it, and that emotional impact means something to us. Our value of life might not crumble in his presence, but it is shaken. His humanity and the sacrifice of self move us, even if we know could never make the same sacrifice. Patriotism is the realization of the genuine belief of the writer and director, played out in real life only a few years later, so you have to appreciate the enormity of the cinematic aspiration. In a time when most movies reach no further than the box office cash register, Patriotism makes for a fanatical and authentic expression of art, one which deserves to be preserved.

Aka Yûkoku.



Patriotism

Facts and Figures

Run time: 30 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 12th April 1966

Production compaines: Toho Company, Art Theatre Guild

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Yukio Mishima, Domoto Masaki

Starring: Yukio Mishima as Shinji Takeyama, Yoshiko Tsuruoka as Reiko

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