The executive committee of the Tokyo International Film Festival has rejected the movie "Mishima" for showing at the first-ever Tokyo festival, describing it as a work unworthy "in quality of art."
Kyushiro Kusakabe, programming director of the festival, which will run May 31 to June 9, said Monday the committee sent a Japanese-language cable, written in Roman characters, to Tom Luddy, the American co-producer of the film about the life and works of the late Yukio Mishima, informing him of its decision. "At no time from the beginning was there any consideration of whether (Japanese) rightists might cause trouble if the movie was shown," Kusakabe said.
Earlier, both Luddy and the movie's Japanese co-producer, Mataichiro Yamamato, charged that the executive committee had rejected the movie without seeing it because the committee feared that rightists would cause trouble.
In a letter to the executive committee dated April 15, Luddy had complained that the group was exercising "pre-censorship" in rejecting the film.
Kusakabe and other officials of the film festival said the movie initially had not been considered because the producers failed to stage a screening for the festival's selections committee. They also cited what they called "legal as well as moral problems" involving claims from Mishima's widow, Yoko, that the producers have violated the "spirit" of the contract they signed with her. Mishima committed ritual suicide in 1970.
A screening was finally held for the selections committee Thursday, and its members met with the executive committee Friday, when it made its decision, Kusakabe said.
The committee's conclusion was sent to Luddy in a cable that said nothing about the dispute with Yoko Mishima. The cable declared that the executive committee would refrain from announcing publicly its reasons for rejecting the movie, in line with the custom of all international film festivals.
But it went on to advise Luddy to stage a screening for both Japanese "intelligentsia" and Toho-Towa, the motion-picture company that holds distribution rights in Japan but still has not committed itself to showing the film in movie houses here.
"To show this movie to Japanese intelligentsia who share the Japanese culture, which is the source of the works of art of the late Mr. Mishima, and to hear their opinions would have great meaning for this movie," the cable said.
The cable also said that members of the selection committee who saw the film Thursday "were not only representatives of the Japanese film world but also of the Japanese intelligentsia who viewed the film with no preconceptions and an open mind from a position of fairness." It noted that Luddy had claimed the movie was a "work of high artistic value" but advised him to sound out the opinion of Japanese about whether the movie did, in fact, have artistic value.
Kusakabe said the Japanese-language cable was sent to Luddy written in Roman characters "to avoid misunderstanding which might be created by translation." Kusakabe, a former movie critic, said: "The way Japanese and foreigners look at Mishima is very different. Therefore, it is natural that the way the movie (about Mishima) is viewed is also different."
The movie, directed by Paul Schrader with a Japanese cast, is being shown at the Cannes Film Festival today and will be released throughout Western Europe next week. Francis Coppola and George Lucas are executive producers of the film.
Warner Bros., which holds the distribution rights outside Japan, plans to enter the film in the New York Film Festival in September and then release it in the United States this fall.
Mishima, an author who often explored themes of violence and homosexuality in his novels and plays, seized a Japanese army general as a hostage on Nov. 25, 1970, and forced a band of 2,000 Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers to listen to him deliver a speech from a balcony outside the general's office. In it, he urged the soldiers to stage a rebellion to restore the pre-1945 status of Japan's armed forces as an institution serving the emperor.
The speech, however, was greeted only by cat calls and derision.
Mishima then stepped back into the general's office, slashed his stomach and was beheaded by a sword wielded by one of the members of his own personal "army." His killer also committed ritual suicide and was beheaded.
Both the horror of Mishima's death and the author's unconventional life style have made him a continuing source of controversy in Japan.
Although biographers of Mishima have interpreted Mishima's final act as part of the author's own sense of "drama"--an interpretation also made by the movie--some Japanese ultra-rightists took Mishima's appeal on the military seriously and now regard him as a hero.
When the movie was filmed last year, rightists threatened to disrupt production sites in Japan but, in fact, took no actions.
Mishima's widow told a Japanese newspaper in the spring of 1984 that the script of the movie violated the understanding she said she had with the producers that it would be an artistic work stressing Mishima's literature.
"Fragments excerpted from (Mishima's) novels have been overly simplified to distort the meaning to nothing but homosexuality and violence, with no artistic breadth beyond that," she said.
She also threatened to file a suit against the movie once it was released.
Henry Scott-Stokes, an author of a book about Mishima, also has threatened to sue the producers if the movie is found to have plagiarized lines from his book.
Charges and countercharges have flown back and forth from the producers of the movie and the Tokyo International Film Festival officers.
Luddy and Yamamoto both charged that the festival organizers initially refused even to consider the movie because of imagined troubles from rightists, while the organizers charged that the producers had failed even to request that the movie be considered for showing at the festival until April 12.
On May 3, Kusakabe and two other officials of the festival, Masakazu Mizuno and Shiro Sasaki, told foreign correspondents that the failure of Luddy and Yamamoto to settle their legal dispute with Mishima's widow was one of the factors in the reluctance of the festival organizers to include the film.
Mizuno, however, later acknowledged that the festival organizers never asked Luddy or Yamamoto to show them a copy of the contract that Mishima's widow had signed authorizing use of Mishima's works and his name.
Yamamoto said he had prepared a copy of the contract to show the organizers but said they never asked to see it.
The three festival officials also said Luddy's charges of "pre-censorship" amounted to an "insult to the Tokyo International Film Festival as well as to all film festivals."