One of the less-memorialized deaths of this year, at least in this country, was the still-active 71-year-old Japanese actor Ken Ogata, because it’s hard for us to really feel loss over the death of someone we only know as the guy from a couple of movies — even if that movie is Vengeance Is Mine, in which that guy gives a ferocious performance.
Starting today and continuing through next Tuesday, Film Forum revives Paul Schrader’s made-in-Japan biopic Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, in which Ogata stars as the body-building, private army-raising, probably gay seppuku-committing novelist, essayist, filmmaker and cultural celebrity Yukio Misihima. Criterion put this out on (a gorgeous) DVD earlier this year; then, the movie — alternating between death-day docudrama, black-and-white flashback and three stylized soundstage reenactments of key Mishima novels — seemed to me to be a fascinating precursor to, weirdly, Velvet Goldmine, for its obsession with personal and artistic self-creation. It still does, but I want to take a minute to think a little more about Ogata, an imposing, charismatic presence whose Mishima is a supremely charming obsessive. (Plus, you know, he wears the samurai manpanties Very Seriously.) Anyway, you should see this movie, if you have time, it ranks high on my list of Favorite Movies First Watched in 2008, and will on yours as well. (Or will not!)