TOKYO — Mataichiro Yamamoto, co-producer of the Francis Coppola-George Lucas film about the late Japanese author Yukio Mishima, knew from the beginning that the film would cause waves.
"In Japan, there are always problems," he said the other day in an interview. "You know there are certain projects which, if you undertake them, will cause you serious trouble. I knew from the beginning that 'Mishima' would not be a simple project."
Nevertheless, he said, when the coordinating committee of a Tokyo Film Festival refused to show 'Mishima' "without any reasonable cause and without seeing the film," he was shocked.
In a gesture of protest, Yamamoto resigned as director of a part of the festival, which is scheduled for May 31 through June 9 as a special event in connection with Expo '85 at Tsukuba, Japan. Yamamoto had planned to show 16 films.
Mishima, an author and playwright who became one of Japan's most internationally praised literary figures after World War II, created the controversy that has survived him by committing ritual seppuku (slashing the abdomen, followed by beheading) in the office of a Japanese general in 1970.
The act, said to have been carried out in the hope of restoring prestige to the Japanese military, made Mishima a hero to some rightist groups. But to many people his suicide symbolized the narcissistic quality of much of Mishima's literature and life style. They regarded his act as repulsive.
Yamamoto said the committee dropped his movie because of no more than a rumor that rightists would try to disrupt the showing because it was based on Mishima's life and literature. No group had threatened the committee, he said, and added: "Japanese actions become patternized. Japanese get to the point that they think that if we do this or that, the rightists will come."
He said the committee told him that it had acted to guarantee the safety of foreign visitors to the festival. He said he was told: "If an important foreign visitor comes to the festival and gets injured, it will cause grave trouble to the festival."
"I told them," he went on, "that the police should be called if rightists come, and that a film festival should place its concern in the quality of the films to be shown. I said I had never heard of a festival rejecting a film for political reasons."
But his argument fell on deaf ears, he said, and he foresees little chance that his film will be restored to the program. "Organizations in Japan, once they have made a decision, never act to overturn it," he said.
Yamamoto said he did receive threats from rightist groups last year when the film was being made, groups that opposed the movie for ideological reasons and groups that were simply trying to extort money.
"I tossed out all the groups seeking money and dealt with all the ideological groups, explaining to them my intent in making the movie," he said.
Yamamoto said he hopes that the firm Toho, a major film maker that owns many theaters, will agree to distribute the film, and he predicted that the firm will do so. Much of the movie was filmed at Toho's studios in Tokyo.
"They said they would not show it if it was an ideological film," he said, "but it is not an ideological film, much less one about violence or homosexuality. It is an extraordinarily high-quality, artistic film."
Toho executives, he added, have not seen the movie yet because the editing has not been completed.
Yamamoto said he has not complained to the Japanese press about the decision to drop his film from the festival, in part because the organizers are his associates in the movie industry.
"This incident is happening in my family," he said. "I can't just pull out a gun and shoot them. I have to figure out the best way to deal with this."
He said he intends to take his case to the press as soon as the American co-producers tell him what they plan to do to protest the film festival committee's decision.
"This will become a big international issue," he said.
He said he will need the support of the Japanese public, for "if I do some crazy thing . . . I may lose Japanese distribution, too."
Warner Bros. has the world distribution rights outside Japan, but Yamamoto's Film Link Co. has the rights here.
"Mishima" is to be released in France immediately after it is shown at the Cannes festival, then shown throughout the rest of Europe during the summer. The producers plan to enter the film in the New York Film Festival in September and then release it in the United States.
Yamamoto, who is 37, worked for several years at 20th Century-Fox in Hollywood.