Yukio Mishima

I had heard for many years about the famous proud Japanese writer who killed himself in the public eye. Not just any suicide, but a ritual disembowlment; the "seppuku" or "hari kiri" that involves pushing a sword through the skin at the stomach to spill your insides out just before your death is sealed with a quick chop to the neck.

mishima, sworded Quite grim; a death requiring some serious discipline or madness. Of course the Japanese culture is rife with suicide; choosing the moment of death seems to be a point of pride. But in this case, it was a leading candidate for the nobel prize in literature, who had written many popular novels and plays. Plenty of writers have killed themselves, often in unusual or unsettling ways; but Mishima worked to make a symbol of himself, and his death the greatest advertisement for his views.

He killed himself in the company of a few young men - boys that he had recruited into his right-wing personal army. They trained with government sanction and government guns; the Japanese military proud to have a noted writer parading around on military grounds.

Black Lizard is a high-camp movie, at least now. Japanese detective adventure from the 1960s, rife with transsexual tension, articulate minds games, and odd behaviour. Yukio Mishima wrote the stage adaptation of a novel; he appears mostly naked as a human statue towards the end of the film.
Reporters in the West watch nascent Japanese nationalism with a sharp eye and a ready pen. So it is germaine to read about this man who was at once celebrated as a great author while he seems to have been considered a political crank. Somehow between his wildly protective grandmother and his own desire to understand and embody manhood, he came to revere the Emporer as the symbol for the best of Japanese tradition. Of course by the time Mishima was supporting the traditions of Japanese imperialism, the Emporer had already been severely demoted by the occupying American forces.

when the Prime Minister of Japan is seen as encouraging rearmament by visiting a shrine to Japanese war dead.

Towards this end, Mishima undertook a personal program to embody the aged and discarded Samurai ethic of body and mind balance. So instead of a wimpy writer curled over his typewriter, he was a tanned, buffed-out macho writer appearing in Gangster movies. So while he innovated himself, creating a rich life for himself in an unusual fashion, he felt anchored in a very traditional outlook. It reminded me of Proust - the obsession with faded moments, except in this case Mishima used swords instead of madelines to push himself forward into that world.

Life and Death of Yukio Mishima

life and death cover I haven't read any of Mishima's own work, only a biography of him written by Henry Scott Stokes, a journalist who knew him towards the end of his life. As a result, Mishima exists to me more as a symbol and a story himself, rather than a voice in my head. Someday I may address myself to his words directly. But until then I enjoy the chance to see how a mind might work itself into such an unusual state. And it did inspire me to work harder at maintaining some physical exercise. I believe one my professors at Berkeley mentioned that Mishima uses many rare and old Kanji - Chinese characters that evoke the traditions of Japan, while perhaps counfounding a casual or under-educated reader.

The early part of his life and the middle of his career is discussed in some detail, but the author's primary grasp on Mishima's comings and goings is near the end. There's a fascinating account of going to visit Mishima as he trained his squad of adolescent boys on the side of Mount Fuji. Mishima was proud and serious, but the troops and their exercises were lacking conviction or preparedness.

WB Borrowed the book from WB - thanks.

Mishima Links from the Summer 2001:
New York Times collection of articles
Yukio Mishima, Japan, and the 20th Century
Short biography and some pictures
Yukio Mishima Cyber Museum in Japan

Mishima face
Next Book: Confucius Lives Next Door

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