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.
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.
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 MishimaI 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.
Borrowed the book from WB - thanks.
Japan Books | bukz | ritteds
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