For the production design on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, director Paul Schrader turned to famed graphic designer Eiko Ishioka. The below images of her groundbreaking sets, as well as this excerpted text, first appeared in the 2000 book Eiko on Stage. Ishioka worked on the film with Kazuo Takenaka, who assisted her on overall execution and was responsible for designing the reality-based sets.
“Production designer” was a term I hadn’t heard before, so I asked Paul Schrader what that position entailed. Before becoming a film director, getting into the film industry, Schrader used to write film criticism. Because of that background, he was very versed in film history. He told me that it was [Roman] Polanski, while making Chinatown, who first proposed to define clearly the position of production designer. Polanski said that a film should be made with three heads working in finely tuned balance. One head is the production designer, who has full responsibility for visual elements in the film. Another is the director of photography, who has full responsibility for the images. And then there’s the position called the director. It’s the director who has overall responsibility. These three heads should steer a film production. And the production designer, ideally, would oversee everything from the film’s title design to props and costumes to makeup and sets—all the visual elements of the film. Thinking how to meet and execute the challenges made me very excited. [. . .]
Yukio Mishima was, like other noted people in history, a very complex human being. Especially to live like he did in Japanese society. I think his complexity as a person ran quite deep. I thought it was possible to express that complexity visually to a certain degree. And I chose to show that in the segments depicting the three novels. So, in presenting the novels visually, I didn’t simply want to do what industry production designers would do with sets, like giving information about a situation or providing a background like wallpaper about the sort of person he was and the time he lived in. I didn’t want to just provide information like that. Rather, I wanted the sets to be more aggressively assertive. It would be like the sets themselves were characters, as though they were actors, and they would challenge the real actors. So that when the sets and the actors came together, they’d set off a spark and a new kind of energy.