Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

R | 121 mins | Biography, Drama | 1985

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HISTORY

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters , loosely adapts three Yukio Mishima novels: The Temple of the Golden Pavillion (1956), Kyoko’s House (1959), and Runaway Horses (1969). In the 1990 book Schrader on Schrader , director Paul Schrader explained that he chose to adapt these three novels because they were written in different periods of Mishima’s career and represented different themes in his personal narrative: an obsession with beauty in the first, a preoccupation with homosexuality and body fetishism in the second, and an enchantment with violent revolution in the third. In a 1990 interview with Kevin Jackson, Schrader noted that he was also interested in incorporating Mishima’s overtly homosexual novel, Forbidden Colors , into the screenplay but, as reported in a 1 May 1984 HR news item and a 27 Sep 1985 LAT article, Yoko Mishima, the author’s widow, insisted the filmmakers emphasize her husband’s status as an artist while downplaying his homosexuality and penchant for violence. This stipulation ultimately led to her refusal to provide the production with adaptation rights to Mishima’s most controversial books. Consequently, the filmmaker resorted to using the lesser-known Kyoko’s House , where he was able to locate the desired themes of narcissism and sexual ambivalence. Although a formal contract was signed allowing Schrader to adapt the three novels, Yoko Mishima, eventually withdrew her promise to cooperate in the making of Mishima , as reported in the 1 May 1984 HR news item.
       Schrader’s rendition of Mishima’s life also resulted in difficulties for the production. As explained in ... More Less

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters , loosely adapts three Yukio Mishima novels: The Temple of the Golden Pavillion (1956), Kyoko’s House (1959), and Runaway Horses (1969). In the 1990 book Schrader on Schrader , director Paul Schrader explained that he chose to adapt these three novels because they were written in different periods of Mishima’s career and represented different themes in his personal narrative: an obsession with beauty in the first, a preoccupation with homosexuality and body fetishism in the second, and an enchantment with violent revolution in the third. In a 1990 interview with Kevin Jackson, Schrader noted that he was also interested in incorporating Mishima’s overtly homosexual novel, Forbidden Colors , into the screenplay but, as reported in a 1 May 1984 HR news item and a 27 Sep 1985 LAT article, Yoko Mishima, the author’s widow, insisted the filmmakers emphasize her husband’s status as an artist while downplaying his homosexuality and penchant for violence. This stipulation ultimately led to her refusal to provide the production with adaptation rights to Mishima’s most controversial books. Consequently, the filmmaker resorted to using the lesser-known Kyoko’s House , where he was able to locate the desired themes of narcissism and sexual ambivalence. Although a formal contract was signed allowing Schrader to adapt the three novels, Yoko Mishima, eventually withdrew her promise to cooperate in the making of Mishima , as reported in the 1 May 1984 HR news item.
       Schrader’s rendition of Mishima’s life also resulted in difficulties for the production. As explained in a 17 Sep 1985 DV article, Henry Scott Stokes, the author of a 1974 biography titled The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima , threatened to sue the makers of Mishima for copyright infringement. According to Scott Stokes, the flashback structure, pattern of sequences, as well as at least seven instances of invented dialogue, were appropriated from his book by Schrader without permission. In an 8 May 1985 NYT article, producer Tom Luddy refuted Scott Stokes’ accusations, claiming that the Mishima script was based on “years of research” performed by Paul Schrader and his brother Leonard, and was written in collaboration with the executor of Mishima’s estate, Jun Shiragi.
       The film opens with an introductory statement: “Yukio Mishima was Japan’s most celebrated author. On his death, he left a body of work consisting of 35 novels, 25 plays, 200 short stories and 8 volumes of essays. Both his personal life and artistic works were closely followed by the general public. On November 25, 1970, Mishima and 4 cadets from his private army entered the Eastern Army Headquarters, forcibly detained the commander and addressed the garrison.” Another statement, appearing immediately after the opening credits, details the four sections of the film and the literary sources which they use. Following that, additional intertitles with section headings appear before the beginning of each of the film’s four sections. The closing credits are preceded by an intertitle which reads: “Scenario conceived in collaboration with Jun Shiragi, literary executor of the Mishima estate.” In addition to intertitles, Mishima relies heavily on the voiceover narration of its protagonist as a means of elucidating the plot and its themes. The film has two voiceover versions: one in Japanese, narrated by Mishima ’s lead actor Ken Ogata, and one in English, narrated by the American actor Roy Scheider.
       According the Autumn 1984 edition of S&S , Schrader originally came to the idea of making a biopic of Yukio Mishima following the novelist’s suicide. Mishima intrigued the filmmaker because of the former’s desire to transcend the limitations of reality by making himself into a work of fiction. As explained in the 27 Sep 1985 LAT article, Schrader found similarities between the characters he invented, such as Taxi Driver ’s Travis Bickle (see entry), and the novelist Mishima in that they all seemed uncomfortable in their own skins and were desperate to escape, even through death.
       According to articles in the Autumn 1984 edition of S&S and the Sep – Oct 1985 issue of Film Comment , the first moves to launch the Mishima project were made by Leonard Schrader, Paul’s older brother and longtime writing collaborator. Leonard, who once lived in Japan and had a Japanese wife, contacted Yoko Mishima with an offer, but was flatly refused. In subsequent negotiations, which lasted over several years, he managed to appease the widow with a number of promises and concessions but he lacked the necessary $50,000 to execute an agreement. In the spring of 1980, Paul Schrader contacted Tom Luddy, director of special projects for Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, and asked him for the money. Luddy succeeded in securing the budget, and later flew to Japan to broker a deal with Yoko Mishima.
       Film Comment reports that after the box-office failure of Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982, see entry), Zoetrope fell into hard times, and was unable to follow through on the rights payment, let alone offer more funds to finance pre-production. Mataichiro Yamamoto, Mishima ’s Japanese producer and the head of the Tokyo–based production company, Filmlink, came to the rescue and convinced the distribution company, Toho-Towa, and the Fuji Television Network, to partially stake the Mishima project in exchange for exclusive Japanese distribution rights.
       By November 1983, the script for Mishima was ready, but according to Film Comment , the Schraders had only a small part of their planned $5.5 million budget committed. Nevertheless, they traveled to Japan to begin work on the film. On hand was cinematographer John Bailey, Schrader’s regular collaborator, who, according to Schrader in the Film Comment article, joined the project against the advice of his agent. As described in S&S , Bailey and Schrader devised an elaborate shooting scheme in which the film’s present-tense was to be shot in newsreel style, with bleached colors and a hand-held camera; past-tense scenes in black and white, echoing the classic Japanese films of Ozu, Naruse, and Mizoguchi; and fictional segments in a hyper-stylized fashion, using a saturated color scheme. It was their plan to use Sony video technology for the fictional segments but, according to Film Comment and S&S , early tests proved inadequate, and consequently the film was shot entirely in 35mm Panavision.
       To complement Mishima ’s visual strategy, Schrader hired the services of innovative designer, Eiko Ishioka, to create the high-concept sets for the fictional scenes. As reported in S&S , Ishioka, best known at that time for her best-selling high fashion book Eiko by Eiko (1983), had never worked on a film before, and was helped by veteran art director Kazuo Takenaka, who was also responsible for designing the sets for the non-fictional scenes and credited as executive art director. In Schrader on Schrader , the director commented that he wanted the design of the fictional sections to be color-coded to make the film more comprehensible for the viewer. Consequently, he asked Ishioka to have the sets of Golden Temple designed in gold and green, Kyoko’s House in pink and grey, and Runaway Horses in black and “shu,” an orange hue used in temples.
       In terms of casting, S&S describes how Schrader tested a number of professional and non-professional actors before deciding on Ken Ogata, who was a recognizable figure in Japan unfamiliar to western audiences. Ogata bore no physical resemblance to Mishima and lacked the novelist’s androgynous allure, but Schrader thought he would be right for the part because he was a skilled actor who could provoke sympathy for a relatively unsympathetic character, according to S&S .
       During pre-production, Schrader faced considerable financial difficulties. As reported in Film Comment , funding from Toho-Towa and Fuji was slow in coming, forcing Luddy and Yamamoto to contact George Lucas in January 1984. Lucas agreed to step in as co-executive producer and provide the necessary funding. According to a 23 May 1984 article in Var and a 2 May 1985 article in DV , Warner Bros. invested $3 million in exchange for distribution rights in all territories except Japan. American funds finally came through in April 1984, shortly after shooting began.
       As reported in S&S , the crew was largely Japanese, and Schrader used four bilingual interpreters, including his sister-in-law, Chieko, and Alan Mark Poul, who were both associate producers, to help relay his directions and offer advice on the quality of performances.
       The production was attacked by outside sources. According to an 1 May 1984 HR news item and a 22 May 1984 Var article, Yoko Mishima told a Tokyo newspaper that she decided to publicly disassociate herself from the film. Political resistance to the project came from the Japanese fringe right as noted in several contemporary reports, including DV on 26 Oct 1984. The right felt the film would misrepresent its most celebrated hero. According to a 2 May 1985 DV article, rightist demonstrations took place outside of Toho Studios and Mataichiro Yamamoto’s office during production, and, in a 29 March 1985 LAT article, Yamamoto was quoted as saying that the crew received threats from rightist groups. According to LAT and S&S articles, Schrader and Yamamoto separately explained that the film’s Japanese producer spent a considerable time persuading the mainstream right to control its fringes. These efforts were apparently effective, since the production, according to Film Comment and a 22 May 1984 Var report, successfully wrapped in June 1984.
       Postproduction took place at Lucasfilm in San Raphael, California. During this period, Schrader associated closely with composer Phillip Glass, who was working on his first fiction film. As recounted in Schrader on Schrader , the filmmaker contacted Glass before production and asked him to approach the score of Mishima as he did in his previous biographical operas of Einstein, Gandhi and Akhnaten. Glass wrote the score with knowledge of the script, but without having seen any of the film. Schrader then cut the music to fit the edited film. He presented the reworked score to Glass and asked him to recompose it to the images.
       The film’s worldwide premiere was scheduled to take place at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by a Japanese premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival. However, the directors of the Tokyo Festival withdrew Mishima from their program, as reported in the LAT on 29 Mar 1985. As indicated in multiple contemporary sources, producer Tom Luddy sent a telex to the festival’s executives protesting its policy of “pre-censorship” with the signatures of fifty seven filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, George Roy Hill, Louis Malle and Robert Benton. Producer Yamamoto told a LAT interviewer that he resigned from his position on the festival’s organizing staff in protest, accusing festival directors of buckling under pressure from Japan’s political right. According to Film Comment , shortly before Mishima ’s May 1985 screening at Cannes, the Tokyo Film Festival ran a full-page ad in Var accusing Luddy of not submitting the film on time and failing to resolve the legal and moral problems existing between the production and Mishima’s widow and literary executor.
       The Cannes premiere, according to Film Comment , was “respectfully but not ecstatically received.” Nevertheless, the film did go on to win a special jury prize for the artistic contributions of Bailey, Ishioka, and Glass. The subsequent French release did not prove to be highly successful. Mishima was first shown on nine Paris screens, but by the eighth week it was appearing only in one small Left Bank theater, according to Film Comment . The picture later played in festivals, including Boston’s Phoenix Film and Video Festival, the Toronto Festival of Festivals, the Mill Valley Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Festival. before its Fall 1985 U.S. theatrical release. Mishima was intended to be distributed in Japan’s Toho’s theater chain, but, as reported in a 4 Jun 1985 DV article, Toho-Towa president, Harumasa Shirashu, ultimately decided to postpone the film’s launch. According to a 2009 Cineaste review, Mishima was never released in Japanese theaters, but, according to an 11 Feb 1987 Var news item, pirated VHS copies of the film were available for purchase in Japan.
       The response of Japanese critics present at the Cannes premiere was largely negative, with the only positive review coming from Nei Kawarabata of the Yomiuri Shimbun , according to a MFB review and a 4 Jun 1985 Var article. American critics were more enthusiastic. Todd McCarthy’s DV review from 15 May 1985 described to film as “a boldly conceived, intelligent, and consistently absorbing study,” while Duane Byrge of HR on 15 May 1985 described it as “deliberately layered, unfolding in precise but ever-expansive cadence.”



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Dan Chyutin, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, with Lucy Fischer as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
18 Jul 1983.
---
Daily Variety
26 Oct 1984.
---
Daily Variety
2 May 1985.
---
Daily Variety
15 May 1985
p. 4, 7.
Daily Variety
4 Jun 1985.
---
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1985
p. 6, 12.
Daily Variety
11 Oct 1985.
---
Film Comment
Sep-Oct 1985
p. 48, 57-60.
Hollywood Reporter
1 May 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 May 1985
p. 3, 9.
LAHExam
15 Mar 1985.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Mar 1985
p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
27 Sep 1985
p. 1, 13-14.
Los Angeles Times
3 Oct 1985
p. 1, 7.
New York
7 Oct 1985.
---
New York Times
8 Mar 1985.
---
New York Times
20 Sep 1985
p. 4.
Newsweek
17 Jun 1985
p. 89.
Sight & Sound
Autumn1984
pp. 256-260.
Variety
2 May 1984.
---
Variety
23 May 1984
p. 7, 40.
Variety
15 May 1985
p. 14.
Variety
18 Sep 1985.
---
Variety
11 Feb 1987.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
November 25, 1970
Kyoko's House
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Runaway Horses
November 25, 1970:
Flashbacks:
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion:
Kyoko's House:
Runaway Horses:
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PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A film by Paul Schrader
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
U.S. prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Line prod
WRITERS
Japanese scr by
Scr research by
Scen conceived in collaboration with
Literary executor of the Mishima Estate
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Key grip
Dolly grip
Grip asst
Grip asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
Still photog
Still photog
Filmed in
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Exec art dir
Art dept
Art dept
Art dept
Art dept
Art dept
Set artist
Asst to Eiko Ishioka
Historical art consultant
Title calligraphy
FILM EDITORS
Tokyo ed
1st asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutting
(U.S.)
Negative cutting
(Japan)
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst set dec
Const coord
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Prop asst
Prop asst
Prop asst
Prop asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward asst
Ward asst
MUSIC
Mus prod by
Mus cond by
Mus rec eng
Mus personnel mgr
Solo violin and concertmaster
Mus rec at
New York City
SOUND
Sd des
Prod rec
Boom person
Boom person
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Addl sd post-prod at
San Francisco
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Title anim
MAKEUP
Ken Ogata's hair
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Asst casting dir
Asst casting dir
Exec prod asst
Scr supv
Bodybuilding instructor
Asst to Mr. Schrader, Japan
Asst to Mr. Schrader, U.S.
Aide to Mr. Schrader
Loc coord
Action dir
Unit pub
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod accountant
Prod accountant
Prod accountant
Prod accountant
Prod accountant
Prod coord
Post-prod services provided by
A Division of Lucasfilm Ltd.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Mishima
Release Date:
1985
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival screening: 3 May 1985
New York opening: 25 September 1985
Los Angeles opening: 4 October 1985
Copyright Claimant:
The M Film Company
Copyright Date:
18 December 1985
Copyright Number:
PA274564
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in selected theatres
Color
Black and White
Lenses/Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
121
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Japan, United States
Language:
Japanese
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters explores the life and work of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima through interweaving narrative strands.
       Beauty:
       Mishima awakens, goes through his morning routine, then dons a military uniform and packs his samurai swords in a briefcase. As he leaves his mansion, his younger self appears in a nearby window. It is the prewar period, and Mishima is a fragile child living with his grandmother. She takes him to the theater, where he sees an actor backstage in female costume, and marvels at the power of art to change the world. In middle school, a bully laughs at his poetic endeavors, and young Mishima responds by pushing the bully off a fence. The fight ends inconclusively, but Mishima is left with a stutter. Also afflicted by stuttering is the temple acolyte, Mizoguchi, protagonist of Mishima’s novel Temple of the Golden Pavilion . In the imaginary landscape of the novel, Mizoguchi has a conversation with his clubfooted friend, Kashiwagi, who bemoans the burden of deformity. Returning to the time of Mishima’s youth, Mishima finds himself sexually aroused by an image of Saint Sebastian. Back at the temple, the cynical Kashiwagi advises Mizoguchi that the way for him to lose his virginity is to make girls worship his disability. Mizoguchi attempts to make love to a girl but is rendered powerless by the splendor of the Golden Pavilion standing in the background. Reporting on his failure, Mizoguchi tells Kashiwagi how the beauty of the Pavilion ... +


Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters explores the life and work of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima through interweaving narrative strands.
       Beauty:
       Mishima awakens, goes through his morning routine, then dons a military uniform and packs his samurai swords in a briefcase. As he leaves his mansion, his younger self appears in a nearby window. It is the prewar period, and Mishima is a fragile child living with his grandmother. She takes him to the theater, where he sees an actor backstage in female costume, and marvels at the power of art to change the world. In middle school, a bully laughs at his poetic endeavors, and young Mishima responds by pushing the bully off a fence. The fight ends inconclusively, but Mishima is left with a stutter. Also afflicted by stuttering is the temple acolyte, Mizoguchi, protagonist of Mishima’s novel Temple of the Golden Pavilion . In the imaginary landscape of the novel, Mizoguchi has a conversation with his clubfooted friend, Kashiwagi, who bemoans the burden of deformity. Returning to the time of Mishima’s youth, Mishima finds himself sexually aroused by an image of Saint Sebastian. Back at the temple, the cynical Kashiwagi advises Mizoguchi that the way for him to lose his virginity is to make girls worship his disability. Mizoguchi attempts to make love to a girl but is rendered powerless by the splendor of the Golden Pavilion standing in the background. Reporting on his failure, Mizoguchi tells Kashiwagi how the beauty of the Pavilion is poisoning. Kashiwagi describes beauty as a rotten tooth that must be pulled out. To this, Mizoguchi replies that his life would be bearable only if the Pavilion were to be destroyed by American bombers. Returning to the events of Mishima’s younger years, he is now a teenaged air-raid sentry watching the skies for planes. He has started writing to express his wish to die for the Emperor, and adopts the pen name Yukio Mishima. His desire is thwarted when an enlistment office doctor diagnoses the young poet with tuberculosis and deems him unfit for military service. Upon leaving the examination, however, Mishima admits to exaggerating his illness because he did not truly want to sacrifice himself for his ruler. Returning to the story of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion , Mizoguchi learns that the war is over. Realizing that his deliverance will not come in the form of an American air raid, he determines to take matters into his own hands. After losing his virginity to a prostitute and telling her that his name will soon make headlines, he sets fire to the Golden Pavilion.
       Art:
       As the adult Mishima leaves his mansion, he meets his four lieutenants parked outside. Although they argue that they want to die with their leader, Mishima commands them not to follow his example and also commit suicide. He tells them they need to remain alive to defend his actions at the subsequent trial, and they reluctantly agree to his demands. While driving to military headquarters, Mishima notices a large poster of himself, hanging in a bookstore window. In Mishima’s younger life just after World War II, he stands before a book shop admiring copies of his latest poetry collection, Confessions of a Mask . Although still young, he has earned the respect of Japan’s literary and theatrical establishment, and his work has been translated into six languages. While sitting in front of his desk at midnight writing, Mishima imagines the possibility of remaking himself into a work of art. In Mishima’s story, Kyoko’s House , Osamu gazes indifferently as a woman emphatically performs a monologue from Romeo and Juliet . Later, he confides to his girlfriend a desire to improve himself through bodybuilding. As a young man, Mishima is teased by a lover about being flabby while dancing at a gay club and becomes obsessed with attaining beauty through sculpting his body just as the character in his book. The character Osamu argues that bodybuilding is an art form, but one of his artist friends comments that human beauty is not sustainable because of aging and, unlike beauty represented in art, it can only be preserved if a person commits suicide. Later, in order to save his mother from gangsters she is indebted to, Osamu strikes a bargain with Kiyomi, a female crime boss. Osamu agrees to give his body to Kiyomi in exchange for the debt. This leads to a sadomasochistic relationship in which Osamu’s sense of existential unreality is dispelled through Kiyomi’s incisions on his body and they fantasize about committing suicide together. Mishima’s highly developed body becomes an aspect of his artistic expression. He is photographed exposing his chiseled corpus in a desire to be seen as beautiful, and poses as St. Sebastian, hanging from a tree with arrows penetrating his torso. In Kiyomi’s apartment, Osamu shows her his bruised and lacerated body and declares that art is a meaningless shadow as Kiyomi takes out a rope and knife.
       Action:
       Resuming the car ride on the way to the Eastern Army Headquarters, Mishima and his cadets sternly sing together and prepare for their meeting with General Mashita. In story of Mishima’s novel Runaway Horses , the young army cadet and Kendo swordsman, Isao, forms a revolutionary cell aimed at restoring Japan’s purity by assassinating its leading politicians and industrialists, burning the Bank of Japan and reinstating the Emperor. He seeks the help of Lieutenant Hori, but is disappointed by Hori’s refusal. Without substantial military support, Isao’s plan is bound to fail. Nevertheless, the cell members commit to the task, unto death by seppuku. Meanwhile, the Shield Society, Mishima’s private army, vow to restore Japan’s Imperial government and show their commitment by signing a pact in blood on Mishima’s command. In the days leading up to his meeting with General Mashita, Mishima trains his Black Shield soldiers, preparing them for the day when the Emperor’s honor will be restored. He argues his case to a crowd of radical left-wing demonstrators at Tokyo University, but they fail to understand his logic. Words, for Mishima, have become a deceit; art must be combined with action. In Runaway Horses , Isao’s band of conspirators is ambushed and taken to prison. An interrogator attempts to persuade Isao that death is not required but he disagrees. Isao escapes and assassinates the businessman Kurahara. After reaching a cliff at dawn, he prepares to commit seppuku. Mishima, on the set of his short film, Patriotism , dramatically performs seppuku as a rehearsal for his final creative act.
       Harmony of Pen and Sword:
       Mishima and his lieutenants enter the military compound, take Mashita prisoner and demand that the garrison be assembled in the courtyard. Standing on the balcony of Mashita’s office, Mishima attempts to encourage a political coup as reporters and cameramen record the scene. The garrison responds with jeers, and a disappointed Mishima returns to the office to commit seppuku. As the author plunges the sword into his abdomen, his fictional characters—Mizoguchi, inside the burning temple; Osamu, dying at his lover’s side; and Isao, disemboweling himself as the sun rises—all reach the destructive climax of their stories.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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