Prolific writer, who is considered by many critics as the most important Japanese novelist of the 20th century. Mishima's works include 40 novels, poetry, essays, and modern Kabuki and Noh dramas. He was three times nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. Among his masterpieces is The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956). The tetralogy The Sea of Fertility (1965-70) is regarded by many as Mishima's most lasting achievement. As a writer Mishima drew inspiration from pre-modern literature, both Japanese and Western.
"How oddly situated a man is apt to find himself at the age of thirty-eight! His youth belongs to the distant past. Yet the period of memory beginning with the end of youth and extending to the present has left him not a single vivid impression. And therefore he persists in feeling that nothing more than a fragile barrier separates him from his youth. He is forever hearing with the utmost clarity the sounds of this neighboring domain, but there is no way to penetrate the barrier." (from Runaway Horses, 1969)
Yukio Mishima was born Kimitaka Hiraoka in Tokyo, the son of a government official. Later he changed his name into Yukio Mishima so that his anti-literary father, Azusa, wouldn't know he wrote. The name Yukio can loosely be translated as "Man who chronicals reason." On his father's side Mishima's forebears were peasants, but his ambitious grandfather eventually climbed to the position of the governor of the Japanese colony on the island of Sakhalin. Mishima's mother, Shizue Hashi, came from a family of educators and scholars.
Mishima was raised mainly by his paternal grandmother, Natsu Nagai, a cultured but unstable woman from a samurai family, who hardly allowed the boy out of her sight. During World War II Mishima was excused military service, but he served in a factory. This plagued Mishima throughout his life - he had survived shamefully when so many others had been killed. "I believe one should die young in his age," wrote Mishima's friend, the writer Hasuda, who committed suicide after the war.
Mishima entered in 1944 Tokyo University, where he studed law, and then worked as a civil servant in the finance ministry for eight months before devoting himself entirely to writing. In 1946 Mishima met Kawabata Yasunari, who recommended Mishima's stories to important magazines. His first major work, Confessions of a Mask (1949), dealt with his discovery of his own homosexuality. The narrator concludes, that he would have to wear a mask of 'normality' before other people to protect himself from social scorn.
The largely autobiographical work reflected Mishima's masochistic fantasies. His preoccupation with the body, its beauty and degeneration, marked several of his later novels. Mishima wished to create for himself a perfect body that age could not make ugly. He started body building in 1955 and he also became an expert in the martial arts of karate and kendo. Perhaps preparing for his death, Mishima liked to pose in photographs as a drowned shipwrecked sailor, St. Sebastian shot death with arrows, or a samurai committing ritual suicide. In 1960 he played a doomed yakuza, Takeo, in Yasuzo Masumura's film Karakkaze Yaro (Afraid to Die). At the end Takeo is killed, dying in a stairway. Many of Mishima's later short stories and novels delt with the theme of suicide and violent death.
''Let us remember that the central reality must be sought in the writer's work: it is what the writer chose to write, or was compelled to write, that finally matters. And certainly Mishima's carefully premeditated death is part of his work.'' (Mishima: A Vision of the Void by Marguerite Yourcenar, 1985)
AI NO KAWAKI (1950, Thirst for Love), written under the influence of the French writer François Mauriac, was a story about a woman who has become the mistress of her late husband's father. KINKAKUJI (1956, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) was based on an actual event of 1950. It depicted the burning of the celebrated temple of Kyoto by a young Buddhist monk, who is angered at his own physical ugliness, and prevents the famous temple from falling into foreign hands during the American occupation. "My solitude grew more and more obese, like a pig." (from Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
The Sound of Waves (1954) has been filmed several times. The story, set in a remote fishing village, tells of a young fisherman, Shinji, who meets on the beach a beautiful pearl diver, Hatsue, the daughter of Miyata, the most powerful man in the village. Hatsue is loved by another young man, Yasuo. Miyata forbids Hatsue to continue seeing Shinji, but when Shinji shows his courage during a storm, he finally gives him and his daughter his blessing. The first film version from 1954, directed by Senkichi Taniguchi, was shot on location in the Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture, home of Japan's famous women pearl divers.
Mishima's reputation in Japan started to decline in the 1960s although in other countries his works were highly acclaimed. Silk and Insight (1964) dealt again lost ideals, but this time the story was set in the world of silk textile manufacturing and was based on a real strike that took place in 1954. The central characters are an old-fashioned factory owner, Komazawa, and a manipulating political operator, Okano.
Mishima was deeply attracted to the patriotism of imperial Japan, and samurai spirit of Japan's past. However, at the same time he dressed in Western clothes and lived in a Western-style house. In 1968 he founded the Shield Society, a private army of some100 youths dedicated to a revival of Bushido, the samurai knightly code of honour. In 1970 he seized control in military headquarters in Tokyo, trying to rouse the nation to pre-war nationalist heroic ideals. On November 25, after failure, Mishima committed seppuku (ritual disembowelment) with his sword. Before he died he shouted, ''Long live the Emperor.'' As he fell on the carpet, he was beheaded by one of his men, acting as akaishaku, the one who delivers the decapitating sword-blow.
On the day of his death Mishima delivered to his publishers the final pages of Tennin Gosui (The Sea of Fertility), the authors account of the Japanese experience in the 20th century. The first part of the four-volume novel, Spring Snow (1968), is set in the closed circles of Tokyo's Imperial Court in 1912. It was followed by Runaway Horses(1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970) and Five Signs of a God's Decay (1971). Each of the novels depict a different reincarnation of the same being, Honda, who dies at the age of twenty: first as a young aristocrat, then as a political fanatic in the 1930s, as a Thai princess before and after World War II, and as an evil young orphan in the 1960s. The tennin in the tetralogy's Japanese title refers to a supernatural being Buddhist theology, who has similarities with the Christian angel but who is mortal.
"Just let matters slide. How much better to accept each sweet drop of the honey that was Time, than to stoop to the vulgarity latent in every decision. However grave the matter at hand might be, if one neglected it for long enough, the act of neglect itself would begin to affect the situation, and someone else would emerge as an ally. Such was Count Ayakura's version of political theory." (From Spring Snow, 1968)
In his plays Mishima showed interest in the traditional Japanese theater and Western themes. His dramas, written for the Western style theatre, include Rokumeikan (1956), which deals with a ball given for the Emperor's birthday,Tenth Day Chrysanthemum (1961), Madame de Sade (1965), an effort to see Marquis de Sade through women's eyes, The Fall of the House Suzaku (1967), and My Friend Hitler (1969). Mishima wrote several Kabuki pieces. His last work, The Moon Like a Drawn Bow, was performed in 1969 at the National Theatre. The play ended with scene of a seppuku. Mishima was considered to be in his time the only living author talented enough to write Kabuki plays in traditional style.
For further reading: The Madness and Perversion of Yukio Mishima by Jerry S. Piven (2004); Mishima: A Biographyby John Nathan (2000); The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima by Henry Scott-Stokes (1995); Deadly Dialectics by Roy Starrs (1994); Escape from the Wasteland by Susan Napier (1991); Mishima by Marguerite Yourcenar (1985); Mishimaby J. Nathan (1974); The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima by H. Scott-Stokes (1974) - Film: Mishima (1985), directed by Paul Schrader, starring Ken Ogata, narration read by Roy Scheider. A violent kaleidoscope of the author's life. Scenes of Mishima's life shot in black & white, dramatizations of key fictional works in opulent color, photographed by John Bailey, score by Philip Glass. - Suom.: Mishiman näytelmistä on suomennettu mm. Sadannes yö. - See also: Yasunari Kawabata