Visual Poets: Yukio Mishima & Jean Genet

Both Jean Genet and Japanese author Yukio Mishima rejected the dominance of words in their only films — Un Chant d’Amour and Yukoku (Patriotism), or The Rite of Love and Death — both just released on DVD this year. Omitting dialog, the films depend purely on gesture to express sexuality, desire, repression and escape, and both Genet’s homoerotic prison love and Mishima’s graphic act of harakiri resulted in the films being banned or lost for decades.

In Patriotism, Mishima preserves beauty by destroying it at its zenith. “Just before the pinnacle when time must be cut short is the pinnacle of physical beauty. Clear bright beauty. In that moment the beauty of a man and the beauty of a gazelle are in wonderful correspondence. Raising its horns proudly, raising the hoofs of the white-spotted leg ever so slightly in the face of the denial.” The characters in Patriotism are young — newlyweds of 23 and 30 years. They focus on their naked bodies in a manner similar to Yoko Ono’s film Fly, eventually committing seppuku — ritual suicide by disembowelment.

For Genet, film itself is the medium with which to immortalize beauty; corporal destruction is unnecessary. The gestures of Un Chant d’Amour then are those of life, despite being spent behind bars. Like Mishima’s, the film is a celebration of the body, and of beauty, and its silence forces the viewer to focus on close-ups of faces, armpits, semi-erect penises and cigarette smoke shared through peepholes. This artistically-rendered, highly sexualized atmosphere would influence Andy Warhol and other later filmmakers.

One Comment

  1. alberto
    Posted May 6, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I saw “un chant d’ amour in l971 at the university of texas.
    I think there was a scene where the prison guard masturbated. there is no such scene in the version i downloaded. in one of
    the photos published, i can see front nudity. i do not have it
    in my version. is this possible? i know that the footage foud
    varies. 25 minutes in the one i have. could this be the case?please answer.

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