Forget what you know about biopics, because Mishima is different. The title character, a real-life Japanese writer, has similarities to Travis Bickle, another Paul Schrader creation, if Travis was a well-known educated author. Both are "God's lonely man", but Mishima was able to transform his celebrity into a cult, which is reflected in this movie.
Schrader has a problem: Mishima embodied many things. Schrader broke this down into Mishima's childhood, his success as an author, and his ritual suicide, and leads us through these various parts of Mishima's life with a fascinating use of color. Childhood scenes are in black-and-white, and the "present time" (when he kills himself) is in straightforward documentary-like color. Schrader also uses excerpts from three of Mishima's novels, and these recreations are treated like stage productions, with gaudy, eye-catching colors. The color scheme ensures that we are never lost, even as the film's timeline bounces around.
Schrader presents Mishima at something approaching face value, much as he did with Travis Bickle. We get a sense of the inner being that was Mishima, but Schrader avoids easy explanations. We are left to wonder at this remarkable man who had delusions of grandeur that were at times actually fulfilled. His suicide came as he hoped to lead a coup by soldiers to restore the Emperor to power.
After watching Mishima, I feel I know more about Paul Schrader ... the movies fits well into Schrader's career. The remarkable methods Schrader uses, though, makes me think I still don't know much about the actual Mishima. With Ken Ogata as the adult Mishima, music by Philip Glass, cinematography by John Bailey, and production design by Eiko Ishioka.