Sunday 14 February 2021

Opera Meets Film: Yuki Mishima’s ‘Patriotism’ & Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde

We really can recommend all of this series from David Salazar. We have included the full short film below.

Yukio Mishima’s “Patriotism” is arguably one of the finest cinematic adaptations of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.”

The 28-minute short silent film tells the story of Lieutenant Takeyama, a member of the palace, and his wife Reiko as they commit seppuku when Takeyama is ordered to kill his fellow mutineers. The film, set in the Noh theatre, is underscored throughout by Leopold Stokowski’s Symphonic Synthesis of “Tristan und Isolde.”
After the opening title cards, we see Reiko in a domestic setting, the music from the first Act confrontation between Tristan und Isolde at the forefront. With the sustained brass notes, Mishima uses the double exposure effect to show us Reiko remember sensual moments with Takeyama. While on the surface Reiko’s seemingly relaxed disposition might seem like a fierce contrast with the tense meeting between Wagner’s titular heroes, the sexually charged imagery also emphasizes and reminds the viewer of the sexual tension that pervades this opening scene in Wagner’s music.


憂国 - Yûkoku - Patriotism - Rite of Love & Death (1966) from Yukio Mishima on Vimeo.

With the sexual themes of the film already established, the music shifts to the horn calls that kick off the second act. Here Reiko stands up out of her fantasies, finding Takeyama arriving. They sit together for a moment and vow to commit seppuku together. The music playing here (“O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe) has the corresponding text:

O Night of love,
grant oblivion
that I may live;
take me up
into your bosom,
release me from
the world!”

The climax of this passage is met by title cards explaining the two succumbing and revealing their deepest passions before showing us a wide shot of their naked bodies spread across the stage. Mishima continues the exploration of love and violence by cutting to Takeyama’s sheathed sword.

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