Yukio Mishima’s The Black Lizard
May 11 through June 2, 2012 (Thurs-Sun)
In 1968, Kinji Fukasaku turned Yukio Mishima’s bizarre play The Black Lizard into a campy film starring the drag queen Akihiro Miwa. It’s only available on VHS, but you can watch a blurry version of it on YouTube.
The Imago Theater in Portland is currently performing the play in English for the first time ever, thanks to a new translation by Laurence Kominz and Mark Oshima. I’m not much of a theater-goer, but I’m obviously a huge fan of Mishima’s work, so I didn’t want to pass up this rare opportunity to see one of his plays staged for a live audience. Most movies put me to sleep, so I was a little worried about the two-and-a-half hour run time, but it was so well directed and performed that I was completely engaged the whole time.
The translators made some smart choices and the dialog felt natural, even though the play is highly stylized and peppered with psycho asides and dreamy philosophical musings. It’s essentially a detective story, with private investigator Kogorō Akechi tracking the Black Lizard, a manic lady crime boss who is obsessed with youth and beauty. Watching it was like watching a really good B-movie from the 60s or 70s. It wasn’t gory, but for some reason snippets of Dario Argento flicks came to mind. There actors played it over-the-top for laughs, and I think I overheard someone mention the old Batman TV series.
The obsession with youth and beauty is the Mishima connection. In the filmed version, he played a one of her taxidermized “dolls” with “muscles of steel,” preserved forever after losing a knife fight. In the Imago staging, Black Lizard tells one character:
You were so beautiful when you wanted to die. When you wanted to live, you became so ugly.
Mishima aspired to the samurai ideal, the cherry blossom that blooms beautifully and falls quickly, fearlessly making poetry with a splash of blood. Two years after the film’s release, Mishima cut his stomach open in a gesture of protest against the coming technocracy and a world without magic or beauty. Black Lizard revels in decadence and decline, but Mishima dreamed of a better world—a world where the Emperor was a god on Earth protected by Mishima’s own spiritual army, the Tatenokai.
In Kominz and Oshima’s translation, the detective explains that “every crime has a dream in it.” When the Black Lizard is foiled, she murmurs, “In this world, there will never be another miracle.”