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Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm starting to relate to Wong Kar Wai. Worrisome.

Yes, dear Swiftyholics, my dear faithful readers, my millions and millions of female fans around the world. I have spent the past week or two working intensely on my short film, Vertical Distance. And being the insane workaholic I am, I have been working day after day on my film. We've finished principal shooting, and I am now entering the postproduction period, where I've been spending sleepless nights in the editing suites of my university, doing my editing.

And I am not kidding when I said sleepless nights, with the exception of last night, I have not slept more than 4 hours for the whole bloody week. My temper was pretty fiery, I was hallucinating, I wandered around campus like a zombie, my female friends were so sympathetic of my sudden vulnerability that they offered to give me major huggy wuggies, which I politely declined, saying that I still have my 'mysterious and cold' image to maintain. The life of an artist, after all, is a lonely one.

What happened to Vertical Distance? Everything was fine... sorta. We had a trained stage actress, Rachel, for the lead female role, and she brought in her best buddy, Ryan, for the lead male too, and Ryan, despite not having any experience in acting, did seem pretty damned photogenic and charismatic onscreen (actually, he might have been a bit too hardcore-looking for a role that was originally meant to be a geeky Woody Allen-ish character, since the protagonist of the film is some dude who makes references about Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express). Some major accident happened during filming two weeks ago, and we lost a huge amount (almost all) of the crucial dialogue for the film.

And because of that, I had to rethink methods of presenting the story in Vertical Distance. How can things work without dialogue? Ironies of irony, I ended up emulating Wong Kar Wai's method of improvisational shooting, and presented the story with voiceover narration from both the main guy and the main gal. Something like Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. Although in truth, I was more influenced by the anime short, Hoshi No Koe, which was done by one person, Makoto Shinkai, couple of years ago. But like Justin had said, damn it, the inevitable has occurred, despite everything I've tried, I AM transforming into a Wong Kar Wai-style director, with my constant recurring themes of regret and lost love! (Yes, Vertical Distance, which was originally meant to be a cheery little romantic comedy, has turned into another meditation of hearbreak and lost love).

More and more, I find myself relating more to Wong Kar Wai than most other Hong Kong directors I can think of (and even my most worshipped Johnnie To!). It's not that I don't work with a script, it's more that I tend to feel that everything I've shot seems to have MORE potential without following what I have written entirely, and thus I would make some drastic changes upon it. In The Mood For Love is originally conceived as a comedy, then it turned into an elliptical tale of repressed emotions and unrequited love.

... well, bad news, the same thing had happened with Vertical Distance.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

(I'll review The Da Vinci Code when I have the time, I promise!)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Photos of Sunday's 'Vertical Distance' (My Short Film) Shoot.

Photos taken last Sunday (14th of June, 2006), when we were shooting a climatic scene for Vertical Distance, my short film. Yeah, been so busy that I can't even update this site myself, seriously.

my beautiful crew in action

my cast preparing

my beautiful crew giving instructions to rachel

my crew filming a scene for vertical distance copy


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

20th Century Japanese Literature in Grade School Terms

Swifty: Updated on the 19th of May by adding links, technorati tags, formatting the entry properly etc.




20th Century Japanese Literature is often considered an impenetrable morass of nature poetry, vague description, and suicidal authors. In order to improve on this reputation and open these works up to a wider audience, we undertook an intensive program - and after months of study, we discovered that the most prominent authors (including two Nobel Prize winners) could best be understood in terms of a grade school class. This intensive research has infallibly determined that all of the writers mentioned below pretty much conform to the simplistic stereotypes I’ve reduced them to, both physically and in terms of their writing.


YUKIO MISHIMA



Mishima is someone who'd be awesome to have as your friend, like you could call him up and just tell him things and he'd understand, or else he'd be at a party and he'd be making everyone laugh and have a good time even if he was sad or pissed off about something.


JUN'ICHIRO TANIZAKI



Tanizaki is that funny fat kid in your class who everyone laughs with and at, and then after everyone's laughed at him he goes home and stops smiling and masturbates for five hours, and then his mom walks in and she's like "Oh, Jun'ichiro..." and he doesn't care and keeps wanking.


YASUNARI KAWABATA (Nobel Prize)



Kawabata is that spaced out kid that eats paste and never blinks, but sometimes gives this really strange smile even if there doesn't seem to be any reason for it.

OSAMU DAZAI



Dazai is that guy who's pretty smart and funny, but he's kind of an asshole too and if you piss him off he doesn't really forgive you and you just end up feeling bad, even though you really have a lot in common.

KOBO ABE



Kobo Abe is that kid that's really into science and math and doesn't have any social skills.

KENZABURO OE (Nobel Prize)



Kenzaburo Oe is that kid that gets perfect grades but cries if he gets like one answer wrong on a test or something, and all his friends are girls but not in a cool way, and he's always telling on you if you try to do shit to him.

BANANA YOSHIMOTO



Banana is that girl that everyone likes and you'd kind of want to marry some day, but not quite yet because she doesn't seem all that exciting, even though she makes awesome cookies.

HARUKI MURAKAMI



Haruki Murakami is the most popular kid in class, but he's actually really bland and you can't imagine him doing anything in the real world.


RYUNOSUKE AKUTAGAWA



Akutagawa is the really smart and sarcastic kid who gets a little depressed sometimes.


NATSUME SOSEKI



...and Natsume Soseki is the teacher. He thinks he should really be teaching high school or college, and he's pissed off at having to dumb down his material for kids he considers beneath him. He has his lunch alone in the classroom and takes a lot of paper airplanes to the ear. Despite this, he still thinks of himself as "the cool teacher.”

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Swifty Begins Shooting Short Film, Vertical Distance

The Cast and Crew of Vertical Distance


Here's a photo taken after we finished Day 1 of our shoot. Vertical Distance, as I've mentioned before, is a romantic comedy about a neurotic young man, Devin, who happens to have small man syndrome, and is facing all kinds of pressures by going out with a girl who is taller than he is. The whole thing is like Wong Kar Wai meets Scrubs meets Annie Hall and any other Woody Allen films that feature Woody Allen's neurosis.

One of the finest aspects of this production is the fact that my main actors are best friends, thus the chemistry between them are pretty dazzling even though we only shot two scenes today. Rehearsing sessions are pretty encouraging though. And I got to use VTL for the very first time, and it seemed to work well.

Things are going to be pretty hectic (we plan to finish everything within 4 days), but I'll keep you all updated with the photos I've taken.

(and hopefully, I can write my Hayao Miyazaki piece when I'm free)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Visual Thought Learning, A Fabulous Method For Directing Actors.

Tifa Cosplayer 3VTL, short for Visual Thought Learning, is a rehearsal tool devised by Annie Murtagh Monks, my teacher for Directing Actors class, a year and a half ago. And to me, it definitely changes the way I've always thought actors should be directed.

Basically, the whole point about VTL is to aid actors in remembering their lines, and allowing themselves to get more into character, immersing themselves completely into the scenario as presented to them in the screenplay. It isn't about memorizing your lines like a robot, but feeling and understanding why your characters are saying those lines in a particular scene. For VTL to work, the best method is to make sure the actors haven't read or memorized that particular scene.

To perform a VTL session, what you do is to have your actors sit closely to each other so that their knees will touch, and that they won't cross any part of their bodies. Then, sitting beside the two facing figures, you will read the script to them.

1) But actors are not supposed to try remembering the lines read to them.

2) They should imagine and picture the scene while it is being read to them.

3) The scene will be read to them by the director three times.

First time: The director reads through a scene. When a character of an actor speaks, the director will put his hand on the actor's shoulder. But once again, the actors don't have to say anything, just imagine the scene.

Second time: The director reads the scene again. This time when the actor's character has a line, the director places his hand on the actor's knee. The actor should just listen, get the thought, and when he is connected to what his character wants to say, deliver the line as his character would. Note, the director has to read it in a monotonous manner as he is NOT showing the actors HOW to say the lines.

Third time: The actors remain silent whilst the director speed reads through the scene. All actors have to do is to picture the scene and see the scene in their minds.

Then let the rehearsal begins, the director will tell the actors their first lines and they try to see what comes back to them. They don't have to worry as the director will prompt them.

Now I wonder how do the other directors actually direct their actors. Are there any other methods that they plan to share with the others?

Tifa Cosplayer 6Personally, the actual short film I last directed, Forced Labour, was more than a year ago, and since then, I've been learning many things that can hopefully help increase my filmmaking skills. Directing actors is something I was pretty weak in, hence everything I learnt in my Directing Actors class had been absolutely enlightening.

For example, I'm not supposed to ask my actors to act out EMOTIONS ("be happier!" "be angrier!" "be sad!") as they are way too vague and difficult to pull off (they can ask: "how happy?" "how much angrier?" "how sad?"). Emotions are usually byproducts of actions, hence most of the time, directors should use verbs when directing (like, "to irritate", "to cajole", "to impress", "to seduce", "to antagonize" blah blah) or use 'as ifs' ("do it as if your cat had just died" "do it as if you have just won the lottery" "do it as if you've just gotten laid") for the sake of helping actors visualize what they have to do even more.

These are all pretty basic stuff, but you'll be surprised how many aspiring filmmakers, or student filmmakers, have made mistakes such as these.

On the other hand, the following are some things I've started to do nowadays when dealing with actors.

1) I don't send them entire scripts, probably just a summary of the full story, or a few scenes. That's because letting them know how the film will end will ruin the suspense for them, preventing them to invest full emotions into their character. It was a mistake I made with my last short film, Forced Labour. Since all actors knew that their characters were going to become buddies in the end, they didn't allow their actors to show genuine hostiliy or hatred towards one another.

2) I usually come up with a character background for the actors. Even if the backstories of those characters aren't even mentioned at all in the film, at least actors can act them out like fully fleshed-out human beings.

3) Use VTL during rehearsals. (of course!)

Anyway, I will be shooting Vertical Distance, a Woody Allen-esque romantic comedy that involves a neurotic shorty with Small Man Syndrome and his slightly taller girlfriend this weekend, so I'm absolutely pumped to put what I've learnt into use. Wish me luck, my dears.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Clive Barker

Posting on behalf of Justin.




chi cosplayerWhen I first got seriously into reading, sometime around age thirteen, Clive Barker was one of the names that I delved into. I'd read some of his material earlier and been impressed, and ended up going through most of his entire output fairly quickly. Clive is one of the few authors with a large bibliography where I've made a point of reading most everything he's done: from the early story collections on through to the massive split-into-two-books Imajica. Why? Well, Clive has a very distinctive writing style: it developed from being spare and almost stabbing in its depiction of the grotesque to more flowing, poetic, and ironic (witness the little asides on culture in books like The Great and Secret Show). In all its phases, though, Clive's stuff has always been undercut by a subtle humor, sometimes quite vicious, even perverse, other times mildly satiric. He's also not afraid to depart from consensus reality - although, as Clive sees it, all the visions and manifestations and other-worlds in his novels aren't really separate from that reality, but a fundamental part of it. In other words, mystics might be able to tap into astral realms flooded with Lovecraftian monsters, but those same mystics have to shit, eat, and fuck, too. So, most likely, do the monsters. This democratic approach doesn't mean Clive is devoid of wonder: on the contrary, his works often end with some kind of transformation, the consequences of which aren't fully resolved or explained. Rather than return to the status quo, Clive likes to upset it for good and see what the consequences are. So, let's take a look at each of his books in more detail, and see where the goods lie.

The Books of Blood/The Inhuman Condition/In the Flesh: Clive's early work and short stories are sharp, sour, and dirty: real blood and guts, shit and semen horror. What keeps it from falling into pure pulp is that Clive can write a pretty sentence: even if his characters aren't always troublingly deep, there's a certain sick elegance to the prose that's missing in more forgettable fare. The advantage this stuff has over later novels is its concision: the characters may not be great, but the ‘stabbing' effect I mentioned earlier is in full force. There are signs of the later mysticism to come in stories like “The Madonna” and “In the Flesh.” But, this was about the time Stephen King put out his "I have seen the future of horror and its name is Clive Barker." quote. This statement now seems a little strange seeing as how Clive would radically shift his genre concerns; although it's easy to understand given how what he was writing at the time must have seemed light-years beyond its contemporaries, even in the 80's horror boom.

The Damnation Game: The Damnation Game is the culmination of Clive's horror period: filled with banal, grotesque reality, failed and venal characters, an exhaustive host of sickening concepts (necrophilia, pedophilic cannibalism, swallowed razors, animal cruelty, rotting zombies doused in cologne), and an impossibly bleak worldview, there really wasn't anything left for Clive to do in the horror genre. The novel is almost a cul-de-sac: you can't imagine it doing any more without descending into self-parody. That said, Clive deserves credit for maintaining a somber tone throughout: only a vestige of sick humor 'lightens' things. There are no ghosts or gods here: just humans confronted with death, and the changes its contemplation produces in them. The novel concerns an immortal man, Mamoulian, and the people he manipulates into sharing his secrets. The opening chapter, set in Poland devastated by World War 2, contains some of the best prose Clive has ever penned.
So, what was Clive to do next? Genre change! On to fantasy!

The Hellbound Heart ...or, not quite yet. The Hellbound Heart is actually a novella, but we'll include it anyway. It echoes the style and tone of his short stories of the time, in that it's a tight-ass piece of horrific nightmare-prose. I read this when I was around twelve and it destroyed my mind. The first chapter alone is possibly one of the most horrifying things the genre has ever produced. In case you're wondering, yes, this book was the inspiration for the Hellraiser film series. Those movies have had their edge dulled by time and sequels, but imagine how scary this shit was when no one had heard of Cenobites. Much of the really horrific, torturous shit is only implied, making it that much worse - not that Clive shirks on descriptions of skinned corpses and bodies dismembered by hooks. The plot and character development aren't really that great in hindsight, but the beginning and the end are ridiculously intense.

Weaveworld: Clive's first fantasy novel. Must have been something of a surprise at the time. Weaveworld is about the Seerkind, a magical race hiding from persecution inside a carpet. (yes, that sounds really fucking stupid, but they're not literally folded up in the carpet, but instead magically translated into its threads).
Something Clive pulled off with this book was the invention of Neil Gaiman. I don't mean that he literally sired Gaiman; just that he established the basic template for which Neil's novels would follow: a 'touchingly ordinary' man, going about his daily business, finds his life somehow intersecting with a magical reality adjacent to but not separate from the ordinary world; with the result being that he falls in love with a mysterious woman and has his worldview and outlook irrevocably changed. Cal Mooney, this book's protagonist, is essentially the exact same person as the protagonist of Gaiman's later Neverwhere.
Weaveworld falls prey to something that would affect later Barker books as well: villains so badass you want them to win. Clive stated in an interview that, even when writing about godlike or alien powers, he still wants them to have recognizable human traits and weaknesses. This often has the (unintentional?) effect of making his villains more sympathetic than the heroes. This time out, it's super-hot sorceress Immacolata (she has a magic power called 'The Menstruum' - this is very Barker) and her sidekick, the 'shabby salesman' Shadwell, with his magical wish-granting vest. Even though these characters torment the protagonists, I couldn't help but like them, and found myself anticipating any chapters featuring them. In contrast, I can't remember much about the main characters – although the structure here is quite tight; lots happens and there's a really solid and intriguing third act having to do with the angel Uriel and the creation of the Seerkind. Weaveworld has become something of a cult novel: it deserves to be better known, and is better than better-known books of its kind. A good starting point for readers wanting a shot of Clive.

Cabal: Clive actually detoured back to horror here, with this collection of novellas and stories. Everything's pretty tight, especially the title story and 'The Last Illusion', the inspiration for the 'Lord of Illusions' film (the title story inspired 'Nightbreed'). Clive's descriptions of sliced bodies, spilling guts and strange creatures are first-rate as ever. That said, this probably isn't good enough for someone who isn't a fan of horror: it's a cut above, definitely, but it's still about, you know, zombies and shit.

The Great and Secret Show: First book of the Art trilogy. With this, Clive tried to top the elaborate and epic Weaveworld by creating an even more in-depth mythological structure underpinning the ‘real' world (this sense of escalation would get ever-more epic with the later Imajica). Here it's the dream sea Quiddity, which humans visit three times: at birth, at death, and on the night you first sleep with your true love (the last one strikes me as an incredibly silly criterion for entrance to a metaphysical reality, but is, again, very Barker).
The Great and Secret Show is pulpy: we see, among other things, Clive trying to write American characters and depict Hollywood-style intrigue (something he'd return to with Coldheart Canyon). Some of the dialogue is quite bad (Clive really doesn't know how to write American teenagers) and the plot needlessly convoluted and tedious. The 'rooting for the villain' syndrome strikes again here: the sorcerer Randolph Jaffe begins as a 40-year old loser working a mail room in Nebraska, sorting through dead letters to find anything of interest (this is how he finds out about the secret magical world that's in every other Barker book). Although petty and stunted, Jaffe's ambition and sense of humor make him more interesting than any of the other characters. There's an attempt at star-crossed romance, but it's a joke compared to the romance between Judith and Gentle in Imajica, or even Cal and Susannah in Weaveworld. You get the usual Clive mainstays like strange creatures, metaphysical alter-realities, sex and violence, and flawed but interesting characters. This book isn't bad, but it hasn't aged as well as some of Clive's other stuff.

Imajica - Clive goes epic. Imajica is the book Clive had been moving towards since Weaveworld; a real fantasy trilogy in which, having created his own self-contained world, he could sit down to play with it in depth. The difference being that instead of creating one new world, Clive created five (The Dominions of the Imajica), and that instead of being an actual trilogy, Imajica is three books' worth of material crammed into 1000 pages. Briefly, it concerns the efforts of Gentle, a modern Christ figure (this isn't just symbolism: he's literally the son of God), to perform the Reconciliation: opening the Dominions up to each other. Toss in metaphysical crap, secret socities, strange creatures, and the usual Clive stuff. It's good.
Tifa Cosplayer 2The weird thing about Imajica is that it almost isn't long enough. Although the characters pass through all five Dominions, and although Clive makes an effort to distinguish them (the most interesting is the First Dominion, a vast and uninhabited city whose structures are literally made out of the flesh of God), you don't really get the sense of having lived in any of them, really soaked much up, because the characters seem to be in such a hurry to complete the plot. That being said, this is probably preferable to a slow-paced, padded-out set of books, but an extra hundred or so pages wouldn't have hurt. There just needs to be more distinctive detail in a few sections to create the necessary scope.
That said, this is probably the best thing Clive's written.

The Thief of Always: Young Adult book. Actually better than some of Clive's adult stuff, benefitted greatly by its concise prose style which manages to retain Barker's poetry. Lots of interesting ideas and creatures.

Everville: Second Book of the Art. It's like the pages of The Great and Secret Show shuffled together with Imajica, then cut in half. Make of that what you will. Much more metaphysical crap and strange creatures than the comparatively grounded (but still pretty out there) Great and Secret Show, which will make it better or worse depending on your opinion. We're still waiting for the third volume of this trilogy, by the way. (it's been over ten years)

Sacrament: The gay book. Clive was probably going to do this sooner or later; but, sadly, he didn't manage to pull it off. Sacrament is aimless, preachy, and slack, and filled with tons of graphic gay sex. The plot: can't really remember. Something to do with a spirit that goes around murdering endangered species. Doesn't even work as a piece of gay erotica, because there's lots of pretentious prose about 'living and dying, we feed the fire' and how this relates to environmental conservation and gay men. Or something. Highly not-recommended.

Galilee: Haven't read it, but it's a Romeo and Juliet-styled family saga. Seems atypical for Clive, and is in first-person to boot (Clive almost never does this). Will probably get around to it eventually, seeing as a sequel's in the works.

Coldheart Canyon: Haven't read it. Got some poor reviews from long-time fans, though. Having read as much Clive as I have, I can pretty much tell how everything will pan out just based on the back-cover description. Let's see: magical alter-world, lots of perverse sex and violence, one-note satires of Hollywood and America...wait, wasn't I trying to make Clive sound awesome? Sorry. It's just, in certain books, his stylistic tics have a way of taking over. I suspect this might be one of them.

Abarat: Haven't read it, but heard it sucks. The artwork sure looks nice, though. Seeing as this children's series will be taking up most of Clive's time for a good few years to come, we probably won't see that third Book of the Art for a while, sadly.

In conclusion, Clive Barker is an incredibly imaginative and distinctive writer, some of whose writing I will go so far as to call GENIUS. At his best, Clive really does try to 'push it' - that is, go beyond what similar writers had thought possible to pull off. Although his style and subject matter can become predictable if you get really into him, he's got at least three books that I would term pretty fucking masterful (roughly, The Damnation Game, Weaveworld, and Imajica), and a whole lot of others that are at least high-quality. Looking over my reviews, I see that his recent stuff hasn't been up to snuff, but we've still got 'The Scarlet Gospels' (read: Harry D'Amour vs Cenobites) and the third Art book to look forward to. And despite his numerous attempts to sell out, going as far as affiliating himself with Disney for Abarat, Clive HASN'T SUCCEEDED. This is good, but...it means less people are reading him. So get to it!

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Mission Impossible 3'

Appreciating films that have Tom Cruise in it has made me an object of ridicule during the last few years. How could a manly man like I cite Jerry Maguire as one of his all-time favourite romantic comedies (I listed it as one of the must-watch movies for Valentine's Day earlier this year)? How could a rational film student like I call Minority Report one of Spielberg's finest films? How could a person like me always feel excited whenever a Tom Cruise film is about to come out? Be it War of the Worlds (... yes, the ending sucked, but I wrote a fanboyish review right after I saw it last year, before it occurred to me that the film wasn't THAT good after all) or The Last Samurai (... yes, the ending sucked too), I would always be the one rushing to the theaters for their premiere.

And the critically-drubbed Vanilla Sky? Hell, I think that was a great film. I watched that and Moulin Rouge back to back and I definitely liked Vanilla Sky much more (I can never understand why everyone I know love Moulin Rouge that much). Hell, even the upcoming short film I wrote began with a Tom Cruise reference. Maybe the Great Swifty IS a closet Tom Cruise fan! OMFG. What a horrible thought. But hey, films with Tom Cruise in it are generally better than stuff with, I dunno, Orlando Bloom? At least his body of work's more impressive than say, Colin Farrell's? And yeah, I think he's actually more consistent than Brad Pitt too.

Oh, what the hell, why am I focusing so much on a particular actor in my recent film reviews? But come on, Mission Impossible 3 is ALL ABOUT TOM CRUISE! The franchise basically means 'get a director and allow him to stamp his style on the latest film of the franchise while making Tom Cruise look cool!'. That's WHAT Mission Impossible 3 is about, people! If you can't stand Tom Cruise's offscreen persona, and are desperate to bring it up whenever you see him onsreen, you just can't stomach Mission Impossible 3 at all.

Mission Impossible 2 was a horrible film that made me cringe whenever I think about it, so horrible it was that I lost respect for John Woo (it had never been recovered til this very day, but then, Paycheck didn't really help matters much). It was so horrible that I didn't want to see Thandie Newton in another film. So I definitely wasn't looking forward to another Mission Impossible film, neither was I having any high expectations. Yes, putting J. J. Abrams in charge is kinda interesting, but unfortunately, I've only seen a grand total of one Lost episode (the first one), and a couple of Alias episodes (which I do kinda like, yeah), so no, he didn't reassure me that much either.

And then, two people who saw it in the last two days gave me their positive comments. My dad said he liked it, saying that it was a great action thriller, Tom Cruise is at his best, J. J. Abrams had constructed the action setpieces well, Philip Seymour Hoffman adds a lot as a bad guy and et cetera, while my friend Sebastian more or less echoed what my dad said, except he hoped J. J. Abrams wouldn't stick with flashbacks that much. Then I read some reviews on blogs that seemed pretty positive too, so I ended up actually having some kind of expectations for this film when I went to see it with my friend today.

It definitely didn't disappoint!!! (... disappoint me, that is) Yes, after I walked out of the theaters, immediately, I said to my flatmate "Whoa, that was pretty freaking intense". And Mission Impossible 3 IS intense. The action scenes are filled with tension and suspense, watching Ethan Hunt jumping from one Shanghai skyscraper to another, watching helicopters assaulting a bridge with missiles, watching badass Ethan Hunt gunning a helicopter down, watching helicopter chases (and then being destroyed by propellers whoohoo!) Watch... ah, so many explosions! So much fun!

(Have you seen a filmmaker's blog where the filmmaker makes himself look so unashamedly fanboyish when everyone else's analyzing the bodies of work from Tarkovsky, Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman, Godard and Truffaut, their deeply philosophical subtext and the cultural influence they have blah blah? Or analyzing Wong Kar Wai frame by frame and then decontructing them, picking them apart and them interpreting what this poet of loss and heartbreak from Hong Kong had been doing? Ah, I am so utterly middlebrow)

And there are more spy stuff too, along with Hunt-Flying-On-A-Wire and identity-switching masks. Oh, and best of all, this has PLOT TWISTS! Something that had been missing in MI2. Yeap, I like it, how Ethan Hunt is made more human compared to his counterparts in earlier films, this is an Ethan Hunt who is getting married, then gets married, then has to lie about his job as it will place his wife in jeopardy. This is an Ethan Hunt you can feel for and care for hence things become much more suspenseful when you see him in danger. Very unlike MI2, where the guy is such an untouchable action hero that you knew when guns are fired at him, he would just stop the bullets with his mouth, chew them into pieces and spits them back at the baddies. Or is so perfect in martial arts that he can easily punch a hole through someone's chest and rips their hearts out. (that's why MI2's actions scenes bored me to the point of contemplating murder) Yeap, an emotional connection is definitely established between the main character here and the audience.

Academy Award-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an all-out bad guy Owen Davian who is not just some smooth Euro terrorist, but a cruel evil bastard who plants bombs in people's heads and let them explode for fun. He doesn't know kung fu, but he's smart enough to make Ethan Hunt's life a living hell. Won't dwell into it that much. Watch it yourself.

The rest of the cast are great too. Ving Rhames (definitely adds more as a character compared to the past two films), Laurence Fishburne (haven't seen him in anything since Matrix Revolutions, oh wait, there was Mystic River too), Michelle Monaghan (ah, she was in the fantastic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang last year, no wonder she's so familiar!), Keri Russell (pretty!), Billy Crudup (I didn't even know that he was in this film!), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (definitely much manlier here compared to Match Point)...

Oh, and I've been Q'd by Maggie Q. (Note to Maggie: You don't have to appear in those Hong Kong B-movies anymore. Hollywood needs you!) Whoohoo!

This film has its flaws too, for example, Ethan's relationship with Julia makes Ethan look more human, yeah, but we know so little about Julia that the potential of certain scenes that involve her towards the end just didn't fully get to work THAT well. Also, even if I've accepted the fact that this is essentially a Tom Cruise film, I was kinda interested with the other new characters in Hunt's team, Zhen (Maggie Q) and Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), there just weren't that much about them. Hope they won't be removed completely in the fourth Mission Impossible movie.

Ah, this film actually makes me look forward to a Mission Impossible 4! I think it's a good action thriller and it's one hell of a way to start this year's summer (... compared to Kingdom of Heaven last year...).

But for Mission Impossible 4. I want Wong Kar Wai to direct. Or Darren Aronofsky. Wait, maybe Alexander Payne or Wes Anderson would be interesting choices too. Or Jim Jarmusch.

Watch MI3's Trailer:



Watch MI3 reviews:



Read other reviews of MI3 (will do something rare by shifting attention to Malaysian reviews):


Lin Ge Zhi | Mossism | Ramblings of a Perverted Corporate Slave | Ivan Choe

If you have reviewed Mission Impossible 3 as well, post the URL to your review at the comments section. (no, you don't have to be Malaysian to do thus)

P. S. One-minute long shot of Tom Cruise running through this village near Shanghai was awesome. It was made more awesome due to the fact that I went there last year. The place is called Zhou Zhuang, widely regarded as the "Venice in China".

Friday, May 05, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'American Dreamz'.

I have no idea how it started, but I think I am starting to fall in love with Mandy Moore.

Maybe it has to do with the latest film she starred in, American Dreamz. An amusing comedy that pokes fun of the Bush administration, American Idol, the contestants of American Idol, and the fans of American Idol.

She plays a manipulative, ambitious karaoke queen from Ohio, Sally Kendoo, whose dream isn't only to appear on American Dreamz, an American Idol-like show that happens to be the number one show in the world, but to win it all. So determined to win it all that she dumps her long-time boyfriend (Chris Klein), who joins the army, is sent to Iraq, and then gets shot. Which gives her the perfect opportunity to reunite with him when he returns, not because she loves him, just because he will give her a great backstory, allowing viewers to sympathize and vote for her. Wonderful idea!

There are times when I wish that I have a gimmick which can earn me the sympathy of the public so that my film projects can be received with more excitement, and that I will get away with anything I do. Ah, the sympathy card, anyone who plays with it will always win, anyone who disses anyone who plays the sympathy card will always get shot. Such is the way of the world.

Of course, standing in her path is an aspiring terrorist, Omer (Sam Golzari), who wants to avenge the death of his mother (she was killed by an American bomb). Being hopelessly incompetent as a terrorist, he is sent to live with his relatives in America, and is discovered while belting some show tunes at the basement of his relatives' home. Thus he is given the chance to appear on the show too, kinda like William Hung with a catchphrase ("You have been Omer-ized!"), and suck less.

The American Dreamz show is controlled by Simon Cowell-like Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), who is also scheming and manipulative, doing whatever it takes to increase ratings for his shows. The most powerful man on television, he sits on a chair with the audience, dishing out biting criticisms on contestants, tearing them apart Cowell-style, but yet oddly charming in a way capable only by Hugh Grant whenever he plays a badass.

So powerful the show is that USA's President Staton (Dennis Quaid), newly reelected and living in seclusion after reading the newspapers for the very first time, decides to appear in the show finale as a guest judge. The president is nothing more than a puppet controlled by his Cheney-like Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe), everything he does is instructed by the Chief of Staff through a secret receiver placed in his ear canal.

Therefore, knowing that the president will be at the finale, Omer is given a mission to blow him and the president up during the show.

So yeah, that's basically the plot. Hugh Grant is great as always, Dennis Quaid sort of pokes fun of George W Bush, yet he is oddly sympathetic. (Numerous members of the audience actually made 'awww' of pity in certain scenes.) Sam Golzari is hilarious as Omer.

But Mandy Moore's Sally Kendoo, whoa, WHAT A MALICIOUS, EVIL BITCH! And I meant that as a compliment. Man, if such a person exists, she will be perfect as my partner during my mission to rule the world. If she looks like Mandy Moore, I will be a even happier person. This brings me back to what I was saying at the beginning of this film review, I think I am starting to fall in love with Mandy Moore. Seriously, how can somebody be so deliciously attractive when playing an evil, opportunistic bitch? I think she was wonderful in Princess Diaries as the cheerleader bitch who harassed Anne Hathaway, and I think Princess Diaries 2 is so utterly disappointing because of her absence (... and also because the love interest in the film is as interesting as a piece of rock. Gah.) Sally Kendoo reminds me so much of... myself. It scares me.

Anyway, Mandy Moore's Myspace page is here. And yes, it IS actually her. You people can visit her all day and witness her greatness.

(Note to Miss Moore: Please forget about your musical career, you'll do just fine as an actress.)

Anyway, American Dreamz is an amusing film that had me chuckling and guffawing numerous times. Didn't really fulfill its potential as it may have tried aiming at too many different targets at once to make fun of. It could've done without the president subplot by focusing more on satirizing American Idol. After all, whatever shots intended at the Bush Administration, it just didn't really work that well. It feels more like a comedy than a satire (it's really not that mean, but then, I'm not American, so I might have missed some things) I still think it's a pretty funny film, though not as memorable as director Paul Weitz's other works, American Pie and About A Boy (I've not seen In Good Company).

Watch other reviews of American Dreamz.





Watch the trailer of American Dreamz:



Read other reviews of American Dreamz:
The Story Of A Girl | Blogcritics.org's first review | Blogcritics.org's second review | Tinfoil, whiskey, and computers

(I think I'm the most positive reviewer among them all...)

On a rather unrelated note, if you are looking for someone who satirized the Bush Administration more effectively, just download the video clips of the incident everyone's been talking about during the past few days. Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central, roasting Bush during the White House Correspondences' Dinner. If what you've watched in the video makes you want to thank Stephen Colbert, go to the Thank You Stephen Colbert website.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Blood and Flowers: Purity of Action in The Sea of Fertility

Posting this for Justin.




Blood and Flowers: Purity of Action in The Sea of Fertility


by Justin

Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.
-Wallace Stevens, 'Sunday Morning'


This hot Japanese chick, cosplaying as Kasumi from Dead Or Alive, would have loved Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogyOn November 25, 1970, Hiraoka Kimitake, or the (three times nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature) novelist Yukio Mishima, as he was known to the public, seized control of the military base of the Japanese Self Defense Force in Ichigaya. Mishima, aided by the Shield Society, his private army, wished to read a speech he had prepared to those assembled, in which he would enjoin them to return Japan to its purest form. When they refused to listen, Mishima disemboweled himself.

Mishima's last work - rumored to be completed and handed in to his publisher on the very morning of his death - was a novel called The Decay of the Angel. This novel was not a standalone effort, but the final volume of a tetralogy known as The Sea of Fertility. Coming in at around 1400 pages in English translation, The Sea of Fertility is about - among other things - Japan in the 20th century. It covers a span of sixty years, taking in both World Wars, the American Occupation, and the beginning period of Japan's rapid economic growth. To give a (very) brief summation, the novels are concerned with the reincarnation of a spirit, a kind of angel, and the lawyer who acts as the spirit's friend, advocate, stalker, and finally father in the various stages of its existence, from a young man all the way to a Thai princess.

I will consider each novel in turn before giving some observations on the tetralogy as a whole.


Spring Snow

"His own heart seemed to him to be much like an arrow stripped of the flashing white feathers that gave it direction."

Spring Snow takes place in 1912, the dawn of the Taisho era. The Meiji age of heroism is over, and a new era - marked by increased Western influence and the decline of the power of the old aristocratic families - is beginning.
Spring Snow's protagonist, Kiyoaki Matsugae, was raised by the Ayakuras, one of the families of the old nobility. Kiyoaki is a bishounen before anyone had even imagined the term: an effete, listless, melancholy young man. Before long, he falls in love with Satoko Ayakura, and embarks on "a love affair that is as doomed as it was inevitable." (quoting the back cover here)

Also present is Kiyoaki's friend Shigekuni Honda, who is the real protagonist of The Sea of Fertility. Honda and Kiyoaki are foils, with Kiyoaki representing Dionysian abandon and Honda inhibited Apollonian reason. Throughout Spring Snow, Honda is forced to watch and sometimes intervene as Kiyoaki and Satoko's affair becomes increasingly dangerous when Satoko becomes engaged to an Imperial prince.

On the surface, Spring Snow would seem to be an almost painfully traditional study in star-crossed romance. Certainly there is the yearning, the clandestine meetings, even a Friar Laurence-like figure in Satoko's attendant Tadeshina.
But this is too simplistic. The key to understanding Spring Snow is that Kiyoaki is impelled to act only after the Imperial sanction for Satoko's marriage has been granted. He could have claimed her publicly before then, but refused out of stubbornness after Satoko angered him by accusing him of immaturity. Even before that, his initial interest in Satoko is spurred by his need to have a girl to show off to his friends, visiting Thai princes. Earlier on in the novel, having known her for his entire life, he regards her as unworthy of notice. But, after the weight of the Imperial sanction falls down, he realizes his love for her. He's more attracted to the concept of impossibility than he is to Satoko herself.

"...as long as conscious desire is at work, it will permit distinctions to exist. But if one can suppress it, these distinctions dissolve and one can be as content with a skull as with anything else."

Early in the book, Honda relates a Buddhist parable about a monk who falls asleep in a cemetery, awakens in the middle of a night, and reaches out for a drink. He decides that the water he has found is the coolest he has ever tasted. Then, in the morning, he discovers that his drinking vessel was a human skull. He immediately becomes sick, but realizes that his sickness is an illusion, as was his impression of freshness - both are distinctions created by the subjectivity of desire. Later on, almost at the very end of Spring Snow, Honda hears a Buddhist Abbess speak of the laws of cause and effect, and how time arises from "beings in existence annihilated from moment to moment." Both the story of the skull and the Abbess's lecture are oblique explanations of Kiyoaki's life: its burning passion, self-deception, and emphasis on youth and the moment.

Tifa cosplayer is pretty, no?"...don't you think that would be marvelous? To take your own ideal and bend the world to it like that. Wouldn't that be a remarkable force? It would be like holding the secret key to life right there in your hand, wouldn't it?"

Kiyoaki's passion is real, then, because he makes it real for himself. There's a kind of grave ambivalence present throughout the whole novel at this prospect. By the end, more beautiful than ever as he lays dying, Kiyoaki has become a kind of Buddhist magician: he consciously revolves his life around the fulcrum of Satoko, flowering ever more intensely the more distant she becomes. The only problem is when they are actually together. Kiyoaki's form of beauty is not well-suited to contented happiness.

"He thought that if the two of them were suddenly charred to ashes by a bolt of lightning, well and good. But what was he to do if no dreadful punishment fell from the skies and things remained as they were? It made him uneasy. "If that were the case," he wondered, "would I be able to go on loving Satoko just as passionately as I do now?"
"It seems that you don't much enjoy walking with me like this," she said in her usual clear and untroubled tones. "I am drinking in every passing moment of happiness, but...you seem to have had enough of it."
"It's just that I've come to love you too much. And happiness is something I've left far behind me," he answered gravely. Even as he uttered this rationalization, he realized that he need no longer worry about any trace of childishness in the way he spoke.

The irony in this passage is almost beyond comment. Through a kind of alchemy, Kiyoaki is able to transmute his life into beauty by dying for the Satoko he has made unattainable through his own actions and inaction.

"The symptoms of a man afflicted by true beauty are much like those of leprosy."

Mishima is doing something complex here. You could look at Kiyoaki as being a dilettante, whose exaggerated emotions are completely removed from reality, someone who persists in all decisions seemingly just to be contrary. Certainly at times he seems more like a Romantic archetype than an individual. You could also see him as embodying the idleness, indecision, and self-absorption of the Taisho-era "I-novels," contemporaneous with the setting of Spring Snow. But wait - there's the scene where Kiyoaki's grandmother, a remnant from Japan's proud military past, exhorts his affair with Satoko as a kind of throwback to the actions of the heroes of old, rather than as a symptom of entrenched spiritual decay.

Even a character like Count Ayakura, elegantly dissipated to the point of complete inaction in any situation, is described at an Imperial Poetry reading as discharging his obligation to the Emperor with supreme fidelity. Clearly, Mishima doesn't provide any one-sided portrayals.

"He could not help thinking that these words, like inscriptions cut into stone exposed to the weather, would fall from his mind, flake by flake."

The formation of the young Honda's character is, at times, unbearably painful. Unlike Kiyoaki, Honda is incapable of living passionately. His entire sensibility is shaped by clear, reasoned responses to events. All too aware that he has been excluded from this aspect of life, there is nothing for him to do but help Kiyoaki move towards his (self) fated end. In the meantime, he studies for his exams. Attending a court case to gain experience for a legal career, Honda empathizes with the defendant, a murderess, for her ability to open herself so completely in her confession.

"She imagined that the chill must be like the surface of the moon, directly exposed to the vastness of the universe."

As for Satoko, who eventually becomes a nun and is declared insane after an abortion and withdrawal from the imperial marriage, she pays the price of her unmediated love for Kiyoaki. Dying is the easy way out: Satoko must continue to live in austerity. In the final pages of the book, all that is left of her is a muffled cry, barely heard behind the wall. This is the real tragedy: understated, accepting, silent.

But Honda and Kiyoaki will meet again. Death is not the end...

"Just now I had a dream. I'll see you again. I know it. Beneath the falls."

Runaway Horses



"'Well and good. But let me ask you this: what do you wish for more than anything else?'
This time Isao was silent. When he spoke, though his voice stammered slightly, his words were bold: 'Before the sun...at the top of a cliff at sunrise, while paying reverence to the sun...while looking down upon the sparkling sea, beneath a tall, noble pine...to kill myself.'
'Hmm,' said the Lieutenant."

While Spring Snow addressed politics only obliquely, mostly through its setting and some mild caricatures, Runaway Horses absolutely plunges into the world of political fanaticism, replete with rhetoric, references to historical events, and incredibly in-depth terminology. Now we're getting to the heart of the matter.

It's 1932. Honda is older now, an established judge, and a man comfortably set in a rut. He is troubled only occasionally by memories of Kiyoaki, whose dream journal he keeps hidden under his desk. He's married to a quiet woman, Rie, who essentially acts as his housekeeper. The trajectory of the rest of his life seems set.

But then while presiding over a kendo meet, he happens to encounter Isao, the son of Kiyoaki's old tutor, Iinuma. A youth fiercely loyal to his personal notions of honor and purity, Isao is also a nascent fanatic.

Then something irrational happens, something that undermines the foundations of Honda's meticulously dispassionate world of reason. While purifying himself beneath a waterfall after the kendo meet, he happens to observe a group of three moles on Isao's body. The same moles, Honda remembers, were also present on Kiyoaki. And Honda remembers Kiyoaki's dying words: "I'll see you again. Beneath the falls..."

"And one clouded stream that never ran dry was that choked with the scum of humanism, the poison spewed out by the factory at its headwaters. There it was: its lights burning brilliantly as it worked even through the night - the factory of Western European ideals. The pollution from that factory degraded the exalted fervor to kill; it withered the green of the sakaki's leaves."

Inspired by a patriotic novel of Meiji-era heroism, "The League of the Divine Wind," Isao has begun to gather his friends together in order to do something about the poverty and corruption besetting Japan in the inter-war years. Isao is determined that the plan will end with both his enemies and himself dead...

"The League of the Divine Wind", Mishima's novel-within-a-novel, is a work of nationalistic fervor. It's significant that Mishima devotes nearly 100 pages of Runaway Horses to reproducing the full text of The League, which is a work full of suitably noble and incendiary actions, just the kind of thing that would stir the heart of a young man like Isao. It details the disastrous uprising and attempted coup against the military by a group of Meiji-era men devoted above all things to the Japan of old. Determining their actions through the Shinto rite of Ukei, said to reveal the will of the gods, the group initially meets with success in seizing military bases, but are eventually overcome and dispersed. Hunted by the police and the military, the members of the League decide upon mass suicide. In a virtuosic, sustained sequence lasting over ten pages, Mishima, writing as "Tsunanori Yamao", depicts the individual circumstances of each member's seppuku. The members range from middle-aged men slicing open their stomachs on mountain-tops at dawn to teenagers evading their parents, retreating to their rooms to slash their throats. One of the League's surviving members speculates that the gods gave their approval, knowing the venture would fail, in order to give the League the chance to conclude their lives with purity and fidelity. This notion that suicide is the only conceivable response when expressing one's loyalty comes to be the core of Isao's beliefs.

"The law is an accumulation of tireless attempts to block a man's desire to change life into an instant of poetry."

Honda - abandoning his judge position to defend Isao in court - himself analogizes the 'purity of motive' present in Isao and the men of the League with the purity of love that motivated Kiyoaki: he mentions how "just at the moment of death, I saw his face become the very face of one who had been born to die for love. All incongruity was wiped away at that moment." This fatal incongruity, the sense of not wholly being who one aspires to be, of lacking a fixed self, is what comes to the fore at their most paralyzing moments of introspection. For Isao and Kiyoaki, death is the only way to purify the complexities of their lives, the compromising circumstances and self-doubts which imperil their senses of love and honor.

"Since men are the offspring of the gods, however, if they preserve themselves from all polluting transgression and, upright, just, and pure of heart, worship in the ancient manner, they can put off the death and corruption of this world and ascend to heaven to become one with the gods."

The suggestions of reincarnation imply that Isao's life is another form of Kiyoaki's: whether or not Isao is literally Kiyoaki's spirit in another vessel or not seems to be beside the point, which is that their dilemma is, when rotated slightly, the same: how to act. For Kiyoaki, the question was how to transact, or rather, create a love affair with the most adverse possible conditions, perhaps subconsciously with a tragic end already envisioned and planned for. For Isao, it is how to preserve the purity of his motivation in the face of the complexities of the adult world.

"If men were pure of heart, if they revered the Emperor above all else, the Divine Wind would rise at once, just as in the time of the Mongol Invasion, and the barbarians would be swept away."

To this end, Isao and his comrades determine to seize power stations and assassinate the major heads of finance in Japan, a plan involving members of the military sympathetic to their cause. After the nation has been placed under martial law, Isao and his friends - the "Showa League of the Divine Wind" - will kill themselves. Remember that "Divine Wind," after all, translates to "kamikaze."

From a practical standpoint the League's plan is ludicrous: murdering individual businessmen won't stem the progress of capitalism in Japan, nor will it halt foreign influence. Isao and his friends make themselves into terrorists rather than samurai.

But for Isao, raising his sword against the evils of capitalism and foreign incursion is just a pretext for him to turn it on himself. In the same way that the "League of the Divine Wind" text devotes over ten pages to the self-slaughter of all its members, focusing minutely on the time, place, and conditions of each samurai's suicide, so the central action, for Isao, is not the assassination itself but what follows.

Isao's purity is inextricably linked to his immaturity, short-sightedness, and ignorance of the complexity present in both political conflict and human nature. If Runaway Horses is to be criticized for glorifying ultranationalism and murder, let it never be said that Mishima doesn't depict Isao realistically, shortcomings alongside strengths. That the final ten pages or so seem to be an embrace of the kind of violent course of action that Mishima himself would choose upon the last day of his life should be understood in the context of Iinuma's preceding monologue.

Imprisoned for a year after he and his comrades are arrested, Isao concludes that the notion of brotherhood inevitably implies betrayal, as the concentrated purity of the League's union will inevitably produce its antithesis: the "perfect black crystal" of betrayal. His resolve beset on all sides, there is seemingly no one Isao can rely on: not his hypocritical, treacherous father; weak, defeated mother; or his older lover Makiko: wounded, selfish, and all too willing to compromise Isao's ideals in order to keep him. Returning to his house after his internment, Isao is subjected to a long rebuke from his father, who, he discovers, was the one who turned him into the police. Although Iinuma shares his son's ideals, he resents the thought that his son would have accomplished something he never did. And Iinuma's 'Academy of Patriotism' is funded by Busuke Kurahara, the capitalist Isao has sworn to kill.

In his long speech, Iinuma tells Isao that he turned him in because the time wasn't right for action: that it was best for him to be arrested because the publicity will ensure the success of better-planned future attempts. Iinuma's words, while undercut with hypocrisy, have a certain logic.

But then Isao heads to Kurahara's house alone.

"Then, with a powerful thrust of his arm, he plunged the knife into his stomach. The instant that the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disk of the sun soared up and exploded behind his eyelids."

"An adult? I'd rather...yes! Maybe I ought to be reborn a woman. If I were a woman, I could live without chasing after illusions. Couldn't I, Mother?"

The Temple of Dawn



"I inherited only my body from Queen Sunantha. My heart came from Japan, so really I should leave my body here and only my heart should go back. But to do that I should have to die. So I'll just have to take my body along, like a child with her favorite doll. Do you understand, Mr. Honda? The pretty me you see is really only the doll I carry with me."

The Temple of Dawn, the penultimate volume of The Sea of Fertility, portrays the flow of time in greater depth than its predecessors. Set in 1940, 1945, and 1952, the novel picks up Honda's story on the cusp of World War II, the verge of Japan's defeat, and the ensuing Occupation period.

In the first section, Honda - who feels that his intervention in Isao's life "had led to naught, and he had experienced only a shattering failure that had born home to him the total futility of altruism." - visits Thailand on business, and is eager to reacquaint himself with the Thai princes he first met, nearly thirty years before, in Spring Snow. Although this doesn't happen, Honda is granted an audience with one of the princes' daughters, Ying-Chan, the insane "Princess Moonlight," who, at their first meeting, confesses she is the reincarnation of Isao, and begs Honda to take her back to Japan. This jarring opening sets the tone for a novel of surprise and confounded expectations.

"Honda knew immediately what the child was looking at: she was seeing simultaneously time and space. That is to say, the area beneath the squall belonged to some future or past undetectable by the human eye. To be beneath a clear blue sky and to perceive so clearly a world of rain meant that different time periods and different spaces coexisted. The rain cloud permitted a glimpse of the gap between separate times, and the vast distance involved testified to the hiatus between the two spaces. The Princess was staring into the deep chasm of the universe."

The Temple of Dawn is the point when Honda is revealed more clearly as the tetralogy's protagonist alongside the reincarnated spirit of Kiyoaki. While Kiyoaki and Isao were developed as three dimensional characters in their own right, it's significant that Ying Chan, the new reincarnation, is not given any interior monologues or even scenes by herself; the narration remains firmly lodged within Honda's consciousness for the entire novel. Honda, who has been accomplice and confessor, witness and advocate, is confronted with, in Ying-Chan, a reminder of his advancing age. And yet Honda, who has never known any form of passion, is to find himself on the verge of love.

"All ideas, all gods were jointly turning the handle of the gigantic wheel of samsara. The great disk like a spiral nebula was slowly turning, carrying masses of people who, unaware of the effects of samsara, were simply happy, angry, sad, or joyful, quite like those who lived their daily lives totally unaware of the rotation of the earth. It was like a ferris wheel at night all decorated with lights in the amusement park of the gods."

Departing Thailand for India, Honda undertakes a pilgrimage. Confronted with the filth and holiness of Benares, he realizes the inherent joy of the process of rebirth.

While passing through a series of holy caves, Honda senses a presence that seems to have just departed, and then finds himself facing a waterfall again, in an echo of the scene from Runaway Horses where Honda meets Isao for the first time. Beneath this final waterfall, Honda remembers Kiyoaki's dying words, and for a moment, past and present are bridged; all time is manifested in a single instant.

Honda's research into esoteric Buddhism is taken up again during the war years. Here, in a didactic section lasting some thirty pages, Honda eventually realizes the meaning of the Yuishiki doctrine that the Abbess of Gesshu began to unfold to him before Kiyoaki's death - the understanding that the world is destroyed and recreated each moment, slivers of eternity strung together with the seeds of karma, the consciousness creating existence. It's certainly interesting to read Mishima's thoughts on, among other things, Hindu deities, Greek Mystery religions, and Giambattista Vico; but this section seems to be trying too hard to rationalize Kiyoaki's transmigration. While Honda is adept at applying his legal mind to abstruse theology, piecing together an epiphany from poems, texts, and doctrines, his final revelation has a curiously hollow ring. Even the poignant scene in which Honda visits the ruins of the Matsugae mansion and encounters Tadeshina (the aged, duplicitous matron who arranged the clandestine meetings between Kiyoaki and Satoko) cannot erase the feeling of a man clutching at straws.

It should be remembered that, at the same time Honda is poring over his texts, Japan is in the process of losing the Second World War. Honda's reductio ad absurdum cry of "But the world must exist!" is the sound of a man desperate to hold onto something, anything. That the entire edifice is unconvincing is no surprise; for immediately after establishing this vision of cosmic certitude, Mishima eagerly undercuts it, as if mocking Honda's desire to be at peace with the world.

"He was forty-six, Honda mused. Nothing of youth, power, or pure passion remained in either his physical or spiritual being. He would have to prepare for death, perhaps in another ten years. More than likely he would not die in the war."

The second half of The Temple of Dawn picks the narrative up ten years later, in 1952. Honda is, by this time, a rich man, with his own villa near Mt. Fuji, and even a swimming pool. Now retired, his life consists of poring over his books in solitude, and attending high-class society parties. It is through this milieu that Ying-Chan - now a beautiful young woman - enters Honda's life again.

But Honda has changed, has become a voyeur. When facing Ying-Chan again, for the first time in his life, Honda feels something of love, something of passion. Sitting on piles of useless money, his social status gone, Honda, once a prominent judge, is reduced to a pathetic peeping tom crouching in park bushes and straining at a crack in the wall for a glimpse of the nude Thai princess.

"'I wish I could die soon.' said Imanishi sentimentally as they sat drinking sake together.
'So do I,' agreed Mrs. Tsubakihara."

This Chi cosplayer probably loves Mishima tooHonda's new neighbor is the the imposing Keiko Hisamatsu, who fraternizes with American soldiers and is only too willing to take part in Honda's plans, offering her nephew Katsumi as a pawn to deflower Ying Chan. But are Keiko's intentions as transparent as they seem? Then there's Imanishi, the dissolute leftist intellectual and would-be novelist, whose "Millennium of Sex" proposes a hypothetical future society, a riff on Brave New World, where civilization has bifurcated through incest into the deformed and the beautiful. The former are "those who remember," worshippers of the latter, the beautiful, who are trained only to improve the condition of their bodies. At least, that is, until the point of their greatest beauty, when they are ritually murdered and eaten by those who remember, the deformed inhabitants who spend the rest of their time strolling through a graveyard filled with beautiful statues of their victims. "A factory for making gods," Imanishi calls this 'Garden of Loved Ones'. Similarly, in The Temple of Dawn, the cast of middle-aged voyeurs and self-styled artists exploits the purity and beauty of their youthful charges, in the very fulfilment of Imanishi's 'Land of the Pomegranate' where young people are literally cannibalized by deformed, sentimental monsters.

As for Honda, he is, simply, searching for meaning. His entire life has been marked by the conflict between his innate rationalism and the mystery of his friend's transmigration. The research into Buddhism, the pilgrimage to India, and the obsession with Ying Chan are all attempts to apprehend or invent some new perspective, one which will allow him to accept the reality of things beyond sensory, empirical understanding.

But at what point does the ever-aging Honda's obsession with Kiyoaki's youth, beauty, and purity degenerate into fetishism, particularly when Kiyoaki, as here, is recast as a beautiful young woman? The Temple of Dawn contains expressions of supreme perversity, and it's a reflection of Mishima's skill that the narration, seemingly so stately and objective throughout the entire Tetralogy, is able to pose questions such as this, questions that would have seemed out of place in Spring Snow. Mishima shows and tells equally, but, as the tetralogy progresses, he reveals more and more the contents of his mind, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into less and less accessible caverns of fear and sadness, nostalgia and need.

It's not just Honda who feels the brunt of time. Mishima tightens the screws on all his characters, weighing them down with accumulated desires and resentments. Rie, Honda's bored, hypochondriac wife, sees his infatuation with Ying-Chan not as a singular outrage, but as the culmination of a marriage of lovelessness and neglect. Prince Toin, the former military leader and Imperial Prince who was engaged to Satoko, has been forced to open an antique shop to survive the postwar years, selling the trappings of his past. And Isao's lover Makiko, whose possessive selfishness was only hinted at in Runaway Horses, stands revealed here as an amoral puppet-master. Now a famous poetess, Makiko hasn't been shy about profiting from her connection to Isao's infamous death. Forcing her protege, Mrs. Tsubakihara, into sex with Imanishi, Makiko is another foil for Honda: while they are both manipulative voyeurs, Makiko, even in middle-age, is still cold, cruel, and beautiful: at least half the goddess Mrs. Tsubakihara thinks her to be. Honda, on the other hand, is comical even to himself.

Taken on its own, The Temple of Dawn's excessive exposition, unusual structure, jarring time jumps and acid portrayals of its defeated characters would seem to make for an inaccessible novel, but within the greater framework of The Sea of Fertility, its developments make sense. This is a novel in which the beauty and nobility of Spring Snow seem caught in a funhouse mirror, distorted into ugliness and selfishness. Honda, who early on pronounced himself a secondary character in his own life, finally has the spotlight cast on his innermost needs, fears, and desires, and who is to say the results aren't more interesting than the occasionally bland Kiyoaki?

There is no heroism (when, at one point, an important building burns down, no one rushes in to look for those still inside), no overtly sympathetic characters (even Ying-Chan isn't so much innocent as oblivious), and much lust, resentment, and disappointment.

In short, The Temple of Dawn is, as Mishima would have it, the novel of those who lived past the age of twenty.

"Only through this time-consuming process is the presence of the god really proved, is beauty attained for the first time, and is sexual desire distilled into love that is independent of possession. Hence, gods and humans are not separated in space, but there is a time lag between them. Here lies the essence of temporal polytheism. Do you understand?"

The Decay of the Angel



"We are too accustomed to the absurdity of existence. The loss of a universe is not worth taking seriously."

The final part of the tetralogy, The Decay of the Angel, is a gelid, poisonous novel. There's a funereal air to Mishima's prose, with countless suggestions of exhaustion and disintegration. Moreso even than The Temple of Dawn, this is a novel of old age and death. And its conclusions about human nature are yet more cynical.

"The ugliest of machines, very youthful, very exaggerated, romantic, self-advertising."

Ah, this Kasumi cosplayer is so adorable, yeah?Toru Yasunaga is young, brilliant, beatiful, and heartless, a sixteen year old "who was quite certain that he did not belong to this world." Toru is an orphan who, at 16, works as a signalman, watching ships enter a harbor. Living in a small room, Toru opens the novel with no needs or desires, only an unshakeable sense of his own difference, a sense that he is not, in fact, human, only "a hydrogen bomb equipped with consciousness." His only intimation of destiny comes when he is visited by an old man who seems, just at a glance, to understand him completely.

"Honda was much too old to have solemn thoughts about the nature of human life. He was at an age when he could justify malicious games. Whatever the malice, death was near, to make amends. He was at an age when youth was a plaything, humanity a collection of clay dolls, an age when, putting ceremony to his own uses, he could turn honesty and sincerity into the play of the evening sky."

Honda begins the novel aged 76, "old and stained with sin." His wife is dead, his sole companion is Keiko. Chancing upon Toru on a trip, he is struck by the three moles under the youth's arm - moles in the same place as those belonging to Ying-Chan, and Isao and Kiyoaki before her. Certain he has found the next reincarnation, Honda adopts Toru as his heir, determined to educate him in a way that will prevent him from having to die at age twenty, like his predecessors. But even at their first meeting, Honda recognizes in Toru his own form of evil: self-awareness. Can Toru really dispel Honda's belief that angels, to be beautiful, must also be unknowing?

Honda's program of educating Toru, his attempts to inculcate conformity and awareness, ends up empowering Toru beyond Honda's ability to control. Before long Toru is hitting Honda on the head with a poker and forcing his maids into sex. His first thought when he sees a picture of Momoko, a possible marriage candidate, is "The wait has been worth it. Here is someone worth injuring." The struggle for control escalates as Toru approaches his twentieth birthday, and Honda enters his eighties. The narrative here is honed to a knife-point, with no subplots and few secondary characters. It consists of little more than a mental duel between Honda and Toru.

"Perhaps I was dreaming of another world. I felt as if a moment containing death had brushed past the two of us, high-school students in pale sweaters on a bridge. The sexual fullness of love suicide crossed my heart. I am not one to call for help, but if help were to come, I thought, it would come only with the end of consciousness. There would be joy in the rotting of consciousness there in the evening light."

As Toru's courtship with Momoko progresses, he becomes obsessed with spiritually wounding her. As his plan - involving an older woman and a forged letter - progresses, Toru's diary comes to replace the narrative. In this section, Mishima has created a painfully accurate view of the kind of ubermensch self-delusion engaged in by solipsistic, intellectual teenagers, complete with unintentional hyperbole and pained calculation. Toru makes statements like "No rain has fallen to give me existence within the world" and "Probably at the end of unbearable pain I shall seek to become a god." while his cruelty to Momoko only increases. Despite this section's abundance of cliched sentiments, there are still passages of startling beauty that reveal Mishima's mastery of subtle description

"There were autumn cicadas in the evening groves, and the roar of the subway came through the calls of the birds. A yellow leaf dangled from a spiderweb on a branch far out over the swamp, catching a divine light each time it revolved. It was as if a tiny revolving door were floating in the heavens. We gazed at it in silence. I was asking what world would be opening beyond the dark gold each time it turned. Perhaps, as it revolved in the busy wind, it would give me a glimpse of the bustle in a miniature street beyond, shining through some tiny city in the air."

These moments come like oases in a desert of sadism. As in The Temple of Dawn, everyone here is at once a monster and only all too human. The only characters even close to innocence are portrayed as unsympathetic victims: Momoko's confidence in her family and her love is seen in the same light as Toru's psychotic friend Kinue's delusional sense of her own beauty. The betrayals and implacable cruelty are portrayed with complete detachment. Consider the sad and absurd scene in which the 80-year-old Honda manages to make it back to the same public park where he used to spy on young couples having sex. Honda encounters one of his old "peeping partners" and succeeds in finding a trysting couple, but here, as everywhere else in the tetralogy, little is as it seems: the man they watch turns out to be an old man himself, and springs a knife on the girl, stabbing her in the leg before running off. Honda, too slow and weak to escape, is first accused of the crime, then has his voyeurism turned into tabloid fodder. Written a certain way, this could be broad comedy, but Mishima keeps everything under precise control. Nor does the prose play up the absurdity of what happens: in Mishima's hands, the scene unfolds at a slow, resigned pace.

The depredations of the post-war period aren't overlooked either: the text is littered with numerous dismissive references to factory goods and Coca-Cola cans, often littering the beaches of Japan. As for the "real Japan," its "intensely native elements" have become caricatured even to the Japanese characters themselves, and Honda feels disgust as Keiko develops a superficial interest in traditional dress and visiting shrines.

And of course, the recurring theme of suicide is taken up: Honda rhapsodizes over those able to "cut the thread short" and kill themselves at the pinnacle of their youthful beauty, while Toru's language tutor Furusawa - whom the evil orphan later has dismissed - tells him a parable about a mouse that dreams of being a cat and commits suicide by jumping into a bowl of suds to make itself unappetizing to real cats, dying to "establish itself." The insane and delusional are seen as having the only real freedom: Honda is even pleased at the notion that Kinue and Toru's child - and, legally, Honda's grandchild - will likely inherit its mother's insanity, which is at least something other than the reason that choked Honda's life.

As for Toru, everything comes to a head when he is invited to dinner with Honda's old friend, Keiko. The earthy Keiko seems half angel herself, but if so, she is an angel of death: in The Temple of Dawn she destroyed any hope of Honda realizing his passion for Ying-Chan, and here, too she plays the destroyer, although, in her climactic scene with Toru, she speaks with a stern moral authority. This is one of the great scenes of the tetralogy, a vision of cynical old age destroying the conceits of youth. Mishima demonstrates - perhaps even better than Crime and Punishment - how a sociopathic personality can be undone not by fear and guilt, but by its own sense of self-importance. In a strange way, Keiko is Honda's conscience, reminding him of truths he can't bear to face, performing right actions he himself is incapable of.

"Probably he would make his visit as he was about to die. Satoko had been a person whom Kiyoaki must meet at the risk of his life; and a young and beautiful Kiyoaki calling out still to Honda forbade a meeting unless Honda, witness to the cruel impossibility, gambled his own life. He could meet her if he met death too."

And then, it's over. Honda sets out one last time to see Kiyoaki's love Satoko, still alive, now the Abbess of Gesshu. In this scene, which is the heart of the novel, and indeed, of the tetralogy itself, the reader seems to have stepped back into the pages of Spring Snow, back to the Temple of Gesshu, where we last saw Satoko. Now, Honda undertakes the same pilgrimage Kiyoaki did some sixty years before.

This is what readers of the tetralogy have been waiting for. Mishima feinted in this direction in The Temple of Dawn, where, during his meeting with Tadeshina, Honda considered a visit to the "still beautiful" Satoko. What will be the resolution to the mystery of Kiyoaki's transmigration?

In this final pages of this novel, Mishima does something completely unprecedented. It's not my place to say what, but it does nothing less than invert the preceding 1400 pages of the tetralogy. It's tempting to view such a move as a mere gimmick, and I have to confess that I felt a kind of anger as Mishima shattered everything I'd come to believe about these characters. Mishima's statements about "cosmic nihilism" could do nothing to prepare me for the ending of The Decay of the Angel, and it's possible to envision readers who fell in love with the characters of Spring Snow throwing this book across the room.

That said, the ending, when viewed carefully, is not a cop-out, not a gimmick. It is completely believable, which only makes it the more devestating. Readers expecting a sturm und drang ending, or else one filled with reconciliations and revelations, won't see this coming. Honda, who has spent so much of his life analyzing Buddhism through words, finally experiences it. There is "cosmic nihilism," to be sure, but - as Honda should know from his texts - the world is recreated in the same moment it is destroyed. That this ending, with its stark power and beauty, comes at the end of a novel of bitterness, cruelty and disappointment only makes it the more affecting.

And Satoko, who seemed on the verge of destruction in her last appearance, is given the last word.

"That too is as it is in each heart."

Conclusions


"Was there any way to live honestly with Japan other than by rejecting everything, than by rejecting present-day Japan and the Japanese people? Was there no other way of living than this most difficult one, in which ultimately one murdered and then committed suicide?"
-The Temple of Dawn

I'm not going to say anything as ridiculous as that reading The Sea of Fertility made me understand Mishima's motives for the last day of his life. However, I'll just say that I believe the motivation lies less with notions of 'traditional Japan' than it does with an eccentric, highly personal view of the nature of right action. These novels examine the basis for action in numerous forms, through romance, through political resistance, through Buddhist philosophy, and through social manipulation, and seem to conclude that purity of action is what you make it: physically ugly characters like Kinue in The Decay of the Angel make themselves into paragons of beauty through sheer effort of will; and the seeming incongruity between the effete sensualist, Kiyoaki, and the austere fanatic, Isao, is resolved when it is seen that both construct their own ideal, defend it from the pressures of reality, and eventually give their life for it.

Is it possible to kill yourself ironically? Does losing your life through decisive action confirm the purity of your motives, negating the troublesome fog of affectation that permeates most ideals? I believe Mishima would have liked to think so. The truth is this: he was getting old. Mishima was fanatically obsessed with youth, with the body, and physically trained himself to peak condition. The Sea of Fertility mirrors the obsession with the impossible, with the ever-retreating light of youth and beauty. Even Honda loves Ying-Chan not so much for herself as for what she represents to him.

But no matter how much you work your muscles, they will, over time, begin to sag. So why not "cut the thread short" before the encroaching degradations of old age? Everyone that cannot do this, that chooses to live, is either a voyeur - the path of "self-awareness" - or a fool. If you're still alive you're a liar. Anyone over 20 is shown to be an inhibited, depraved hypocrite, or else a pawn of the former. The only saints are the dead and the insane.

The theme of these novels is far from the simplistic "Through Western influence and occupation, Japan has lost its past greatness and idealistic strength." In fact, the political content of the novels is mostly a screen for Mishima's personal issues. To the extent that notions of an irretrievable past do figure in the tetralogy, it is only in romances like The League of the Divine Wind, and even there, the elements of traditional culture are heavily subordinated to a fantasy of beautiful mass suicide. Mishima is perceptive enough to realize that his romanticizations are just that. He recognizes that mourning the loss of the pure Japan is tending the flames of a fantasy, but neither can he live with the modern period's complete debasements. It would be simplistic and heavy-handed to conflate the spirit of Kiyoaki with the spirit of Japan itself, but it might be said that both seem, to Honda and Mishima alike, to be ever more beautiful in the light of memory, and ever more decayed in the present day. Commentators who fixate on kendo and seppuku are missing the point.

From a technical standpoint, The Sea of Fertility's writing is masterly. There are a few needless digressions - the Buddhist history and terminology is the one element which just doesn't work, and seems awkwardly grafted on rather than integrated in any real way (you can see what Mishima was driving at with the 'Laws of Manu', but it's far too heavy-handed and discursive), but everything else flows. All four novels are filled with memorable, striking images. Spring Snow, in particular, is absolutely bursting with poetry.

Mishima also has the ability to end novels in a fashion where the reader feels as if they've just been punched in the face. Although his style is frequently digressive and explanatory, when it comes to endings, he never lingers, never prattles, and often finishes squarely on a moment of sustained intensity - maximum climax, little denouement. His narrative strategy is usually to follow troubling developments with a "calm before the storm" period in which it seems the main line of action has been resolved, only to immediately explode with a sudden action or unpredicted revelation.

Think how unbelievably well Mishima's range is demonstrated in, for example, Honda's letter to Isao in Runaway Horses, in which, over the course of several pages, Honda details a mature, reasoned response to the fanaticism of The League of the Divine Wind. He points out that the League wasn't the only group at the time trying to bend Japan to its beliefs, making mention of the Christians and other fringe elements whose similar passion Isao seems unmoved by. Then, Mishima immediately switches the narrative viewpoint to that of Isao, who interprets the letter as the cowardice of an old man unacquainted with either action or life. Think how deftly Mishima is able to instantly shift to Isao's reception of the letter and make each party seem believable and persuasive. Superb control. That the same man who wrote this scene, who could understand both characters' mindsets so perfectly, eventually decided to follow his young protagonist into political revolt and suicide, says a lot about Mishima's capacity for "self-awareness" - the very quality Honda despises in himself.

Think about it: if you're serious enough to die for, ostensibly, the ideal of Japan - well, you're not kidding, are you? No one can accuse you of pretense (although there's always Kenzaburo Oe's remark that Mishima's suicide was "a means of entertaining foreign readers."). It's unlikely that Mishima felt his siege could really alter the course of the nation - even his speech mentions returning Japan to its ideal and "dying in the process." Clearly, this was a suicide mission from the start.
Thus, in the same way Spring Snow manages to be both a sweeping romance in the classical sense and an ingeniously subtle querying of the purity of such romances, so Mishima's suicide is an attempt to cut away distance and self-awareness, to merge with the immediate.

He could have won the Nobel Prize if he hadn't done it. But which is really more worthwhile: fleeting recognition from a bunch of Swedish senecescents, or the achievement of complete unity between life and art, word and deed? Mishima was the Japanese Don Quixote, a man who stepped into his own illusion with eyes wide open.

But even if you've heard of him, the chances are The Sea of Fertility was mentioned only in passing - as the book Mishima was working on before he died, for example. Or else, only Spring Snow was mentioned in any depth. When the literary masters of the twentieth century and their respective masterworks are discussed, Mishima's name is usually absent. Although only reading the books will truly convey it, I hope this essay has helped express what I believe: that The Sea of Fertility is one of the most underrated, criminally underknown works of the twentieth century. This isn't just "Japanese Literature" (whatever that is), it's on par with any of the great Modernist works from anywhere else. The reviews mention the Sea's Proustian scale, but it isn't simply the length that evokes Proust, it's the depth of character insight, the concern with the passage of time and recaptured moments.

The Sea of Fertility is also a master key to Mishima's other work. From malevolent, almost Nietzschean children (The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea) to forbidden young love (The Sound of Waves), oppressively beautiful temples and intensely introspective young men drawn towards evil (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion), a concern with homosexuality and bisexuality (Confessions of a Mask, Forbidden Colors) and, of course, ritual suicide as an act of supreme beauty and fidelity (Patriotism) - all of the motifs of Mishima's novels are reprised here and shot up in technicolour. It's no wonder he felt exhausted after finishing. With Mishima, unlike other writers who died young, there's no sense of "what could have been;" his ouevre was decisively finished.

And, after the ending of The Decay of the Angel, what really is there left to write?

But, I don't see it on anyone's list of the top 100 books of the 20th century, or even of all time. Why has Mishima been neglected? It's not for lack of interest - his life story and spectacular end completely eclipse the lives of even the most colorful of his European and American contemporaries (Hemingway seems quaint in comparison). Is it because the Buddhism turns people off? (I get the sense that a work with a basis in Christian symbolism would be embraced a lot more readily) In its concern with terrorism and religious fanaticism, it even takes on topical relevance. There's something here for everyone, and while it's tough going at times, that never turned anyone off trendier avant-garde works before. Perhaps it's the four-book structure: some readers might not realize that Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel are, in effect, a single novel (maybe a compendium edition would help).

Which leads to...

Should You Just Read Spring Snow?



As of October 2005, Spring Snow has been made into a movie. Not having seen it yet, I can't comment, but I feel that out of all the volumes, Spring Snow is by far the most accessible. In fact, many readers might not make it very far into Runaway Horses before giving up, finding it too different from what came before. I believe that The Sea of Fertility is far greater than just the sum of its parts, but it's up to the individual reader whether they'll go on or not.

While I have no doubt that Spring Snow will make a successful film, I very much doubt that the entire tetralogy will be filmed. Not that it's unfilmable by any any stretch of the imagination (although Mishima depends for much of his effect on dense internal monologues and moments of realization that can feel contrived when visualized with concrete images); indeed, there is much great scenery (the Japanese countrside, the cities), much sumptuously described clothing, the backdrops of both World Wars, murder, romance, satire, sex, suicide, and scandal. One word: epic. It's a shame David Lean (or Akira Kurosawa) never got his hands on this material. Now that film series are an established artform rather than just a minefield of cash-in sequels, it's conceivable that, given the right personnel, The Sea of Fertility could be made into some of the best films ever.

But it still probably won't happen.

Why?

Simply put, it's too dark. When going for the box office, there is a certain priority given to going for the widest possible appeal. And this tends to dictate against material that is too dark or troubling.

This babe is a cutie.The ending to The Sea of Fertility can't exactly be called unhappy, but it's not what most would think of as a conventional happy ending, either. The tone Mishima summons in the final pages is difficult to describe, much less bring to the screen, but those expecting Kiyoaki and Satoko to be somehow reunited would be in for a let down.

Also, something like Runaway Horses is, despite its emphasis on character, far too political. It's difficult to imagine many people lauding a film in which the Japanese ultranationalist protagonist triumphantly commits suicide after murdering a man he identifies with capitalism and the West.

If you continue reading The Sea of Fertility, Mishima will take you to darker places than are hinted at in Spring Snow. You will come to view the Spring Snow characters in a different light, but this is as Mishima intended, although it might seem frustrating. The final design is immensely more satisfying and awe-inspiring, but, simply put, Spring Snow can pass as a stand-alone novel even though the final page implicitly portends a sequel.

I'm not saying that a superficial reading of Spring Snow alone couldn't be an enjoyable reading experience, but when The Sea of Fertility is allowed to unfold, so many of that novel's details and minor characters come to to the fore in unexpected ways. Not reading the entire tetralogy means that moments like the startling shock of recognition in Runaway Horses when the reader realizes that Isao's pheasant hunt has come to exactly mirror one of Kiyoaki's dreams in Spring Snow would be lost. Spring Snow itself is smarter than a conventional romance novel, and there are hints and subtexts that suggest all is not what it seems, or at least there are deeper layers of deception and rationalization underlying the characters' motivations. But, again: it's more accessible than what follows.

It's your choice. Do you want a diversion through one of the greatest romances of the twentieth century...or all that, and one of the greatest examinations of the human dilemma in this or any century? Take your pick.




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