The cherry blossom trees behind the Carnegie Museum have almost reached the end of their brief bloom. The delicate pink and white petals inevitably remind me of Japan. And anytime I am reminded of anything, it’s time to browse the stacks and see what we can find to scratch that itch. With Japan in mind, my browsing led me to an old favorite, the works of Yukio Mishima. I might have preferred a nice non-fiction, perhaps something about the visually arresting and dramatic samurai period, maybe a samurai film (CLP has a great collection), or a fun travelogue.
But I ended up with Mishima. He is the type of author you can’t ever leave permanently. I read several of his novels about five years ago and I knew then I would be back for another round. For a guy who likes non-fiction and genre fiction, Mishima is an odd choice. This is good. You have to shake things up. His books are complex and engaging, and at times rather difficult. But a reader is richly rewarded. Characters are dissected to their core amidst sensual and precise descriptions of casual detail that work magic on the reader’s subconscious.
Mishima’s work stands on its own. But no discussion of it is really complete without a look at his life and death. I imagine there could be others, but as far as I know, Mishima is the only author to have attempted a coup d’ état.
That’s right. Mishima and a few members of his private army attempted to stage a coup d’ état.
You read correctly. Mishima had a small private army. Two of its members assisted Mishima in the completion of his ritual suicide after the coup inevitably failed.
Mishima ended his own life in the traditional samurai fashion. Although he was a wealthy and highly successful author, he did have a bit of a reputation for outlandish behavior in the press with his late turn to nationalism , a private army, and the persistent discussion about his sexuality. But no one was prepared for his actions on November 25th, 1970. The coup and suicide were incredibly shocking.
This all happened in 1970.
If you have a pulse, at this point you must be at least mildly curious about this man and his work. For those wishing to start with a critically acclaimed and accessible novel, I would recommend After the Banquet. It’s an engaging story about the conflicting pressures of love and ambition. If you are just wondering about the life of this unique and conflicted man then you should have a look at Henry Scott-Stokes The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima. Confession of a Mask, the story of a closeted homosexual, was the first of Mishima’s works translated in the west. I am currently reading The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. Don’t worry, there are multiple copies. And I would be very remiss if I failed to mention Mishima, A Life in Four Chapters, an amazing film about his life and work.
For the truly ambitious there is the Sea of Fertility, a tetralogy starting with Spring Snow. These novels delve deeply into Buddhist theology and ideas about reincarnation, spinning a decades long storyline into a shocking conclusion. The manuscript of the final volume, The Decay of the Angel, was submitted to the publisher on the very day of Mishima’s death.
Anyone interested in themes of love, life, beauty, and death, will find much to admire and enjoy in Mishima’s work.