Patriotism feels like a true look into what unwavering love can be and lets you decide if it’s worth it. Based on the true short story of the same name written by renowned and infamous Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, who also happens to star in and direct the film, is the story of a disgraced military lieutenant and his choice to end his life after a failed military coup. The movie is only a short 28 minutes long as well, and can be found for free on YouTube with a quick search and I definitely recommend watching it before reading this review as I will be analyzing each scene.
First I want to talk about how this movie looks because it has a unique but important style. It is filmed in black and white, has a square aspect ratio, takes place in a single room, and besides the 1940’s-esque romantic score, the movie is completely silent. All this might lead you to believe the movie is incredibly old, but it was actually released in 1966, which while still a long time ago was well after the advent of color, sound, and widescreen aspect ratios.
Normally I enjoy movies that are as wide, loud, and colorful as possible, but I really think that the choice to present this movie in this older, simpler fashion was a great decision. I think each limitation helps bring the actual point of the movie closer to the center of attention. The aspect ratio frames the room perfectly, as well as allowing the characters faces and emotions to take up the whole screen. The black and white, as well as the sole location, work in tandem to keep our attention on the subjects, they are what is important after all and they deserve our full attention. Lastly, and I do think most importantly, the lack of any sound and by proxy the lack of dialogue help us to see exactly what our characters go through during the film, we don’t need dialogue to see the pain and emotional anguish the characters face, their acting is more than enough.
The movie starts with a bit of expository backstory scrawled across scrolls that move along the screen. Shinji Takeyama and his friends had attempted a coup, but it did not go as planned and Shinji is condemned to take his friends lives. He cannot bring himself to slay his friends and in a final attempt to maintain his honor, Shinji decides to commit suicide by the way of harakiri. Before the inevitable suicide there are some intimate scenes with Reiko, Shinji’s wife. Reiko thinks back to better times, when her husband would hold her and caress her face, when life was simpler and they always had each other. This scene is beautiful as the ghostly, superimposed hands of Shinji, caress Reiko, but as the scene continues the hands fade and Reiko seems to be brought back to the grim reality she has to face.
As the second act begins Shinji arrives home, with his sword by his side as a grisly reminder of his inevitable fate. This is where the unbreakable love between our two characters becomes apparent. Reiko and Shinji initially sit apart, unmoving, almost as if they are hoping if they don’t do anything time would stand still, and they could be in each others presence forever. It can’t last forever though, Reiko eventually moves closer and they embrace, and in this moment the emotion shown by Shinji is so strong, yet so brief, it’s agonizing just watching. Shinji sweetly holds Reiko and starts to act out his suicide, and it is here where they decide that Reiko will also take her life along side her lover.
The third act demonstrates their last night together as they make love one last time. This scene is powerfully intimate, perhaps the most intimate sex scene I have ever seen. I love how the movie focuses on the little things with close-ups on each person, one moment we focus on Shinji’s flexing shoulders, and the next on Reiko’s breathing neck or her graceful hands. The choice to show these characters so close up makes you feel more intimate with them, and helps understand their intimacy, how they appreciate everything about one another. This scene feels like another effort of our characters to try and escape the looming events soon to come.
Time has come now to the fourth and fifth final acts, and it is in these scenes where our characters finally end their lives. This act is extremely powerful, surprisingly violent, and moves at a painfully deliberate speed, which leads to wanting it to be over as quick as possible, however it takes up the majority of the movie and I think that’s very important. This is what the movie has been building too, and it is the horrifyingly grisly act of love and death. Shinji and Reiko sit across from one another as Shinji starts the harakiri ritual. Preparing his blade he cuts into his abdomen, blood spatters the walls and soaks the floor, Shinji silently cries out in pain, and we see Reiko, tears running down her face, but still unflinching as Shinji carries on. His bowels fall from his stomach and he grows weaker, Shinji goes for the final cut to end his life, but he can’t manage and Reiko struggles to her feet to help him. Reiko again has shown her dauntless love for Shinji as she helps him to die, covered in her lovers blood she continues on. Shinji finally slumps to the floor and it has become Reiko’s turn to end her own life.
Reiko briefly leaves the confines of Shinji’s resting place to apply a bit of makeup one last time. I am still unsure the meaning of this brief detour, but I think it is to be a slight juxtaposition with Shinji’s gruesome death. Perhaps she is hoping her death will manage to be beautiful, and she will remain beautiful for Shinji even in death. As she returns to Shinji’s side she gives him one last kiss and then positions herself for her suicide. With knife in hand Reiko gazes on Shinji and smiles then swiftly takes her life, as blood spatters the walls Reiko lands softly on Shinji’s corpse. In the final moments the camera pulls back from a close up on the corpses to reveal they now lay in a sand garden, where they are no longer stained by blood and together they are at peace.
The film ends more ambiguously than it first appears I believe. While the movie shows you Shinji and Reiko at peace after their gruesome deaths, they are still very much dead, both still having the blades that killed them stabbed into their unmoving bodies. I think this is supposed to show exactly what it does, an initial perception of peacefulness, but on closer inspection you can see reality. They are dead, and are no longer able to caress one another, or show each other love in any way. This makes me wonder if their act really was a showing of true love, if neither of them can love each other ever again, then I’m not sure it was. The uncertainty doesn’t take away from the movie though, in fact I think it adds to it. Whether Reiko killing herself was the most loving thing or not, she was sure that it was, and carried it out without hesitation or fear.
This film is terribly bittersweet, the love shown between these characters is so strong and beautiful, but the whole time you know it is doomed. I am unsure how I feel about Reiko choosing to kill herself along side Shinji. I know it is meant to be a showing of true love, how could she go on without him if he is her true love? but I also think it is the ultimate act of foolishness. Romeo and Juliet isn’t a story about how much these kids love each other, it is a story about how foolish everyone is, to cause all of this strife and misery with their hatred. Reiko is angry that Shinji must kill himself and feels as though the only option is to join him in his suffering. I just can’t help but ultimately disagree with the character’s, especially Reiko’s, choice to end their own lives, and feel like it is dangerous to glorify people killing themselves out of love for someone else.
I really love this movie and while I disagree with the character’s actions, I think Patriotism is one of the most beautiful love stories ever, and it’s simplicity and elegance help portray that love beautifully.
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