Alan G. Chalk Guides to Japanese Films
Lesson 16: Patriotism/Rite of Love and Death
Reading: Patriotism, 1960 story, Mishima,
Viewing: the short film Rite of Love and Death, B&W, 1965; Mishima, or an excerpt from it (Schraeder, 1986);
or an excerpt from A&E Biography, The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima.
Suggested grades: Because of graphic depiction of the grisly act of "hara-kiri," this unit is recommended only for 12th grade Advanced Placement and college level literature courses.
The teaching possibilities of the work begin in shock and end in the encounter with the complexity of literary and filmic art in presenting a beautiful love story and a grotesque double suicide in the context of meaning. While the class may not agree with Mishima's thematic idealization of this act, or the students agree with each other, their experience can be the beginning of understanding and appreciation of the complexity of a work of literature and film approached from different critical approaches.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mishima's writings were generally taught with an emphasis on the biographical approach and his dramatic 1970 suicide. Although, I believe, Mishima is still widely taught as representative of "modern" Japanese writers, there seems to have been a decline with the discovery of newer, younger, writers. In a mature advanced placement literature class I decided to teach "Patriotism" as the quintessential Mishima story. Although acknowledging that it represents the convergence of his art, thought, and life which would lead to his suicide, I wanted to test student reactions to see if the story could stand on its own, separate from the comparison to Mishima's now-legendary suicide.
With that goal in mind, I used the three paragraph summary introduction to the story, eliminating the usual Mishima literary-biographical approach. The students, on the basis of those three paragraphs alone, had to interpret the situation, the suicide motive, and the author's apparent attitude toward this characters and their act. The key question was: In the author's view, was it a tragedy? I did not try to resolve the ensuing classroom debate but simply assigned the rest of the story for further interpretation.
Only after students had been guided through
historical, and sociocultural dimensions did I show the
Mishima film version.
Prior to locating this complete version I had, when teaching Mishima's
fiction, used the brief excerpts present in Schrader's Mishima
and the A& E Biography of Mishima. Viewing the entire Mishima film, we
were able to discuss the film as the author's interpretation of his own