After the Banquet

by Yukio Mishima
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747

After the Banquet is a political and social satire. Yuken Noguchi, the elderly politician in the novel, was based on an actual public figure, while the central character of interest in the narrative is Kazu Fukuzawa, the middle-aged proprietress of the Setsugoan restaurant, which was based on the famous Hannya-en restaurant in Tokyo. Although the work is written in the third person and the story is often told in a tongue-in-cheek style, the focus is on Kazu, who is treated more sympathetically than her elderly lover-statesman.

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The novel begins with Kazu having arrived at a point in her life when her love affairs are past and when everything seems quite clear to her; she has divided human psychology into firmly defined compartments and is confident of her point of view and her position. Indeed, it is just this prideful confidence and certainty that the action of the novel serves to undermine. The narrative development of After the Banquet begins when Kazu finds herself attracted to the retired politician Yuken Noguchi.

Although many of Noguchi’s gestures and comments make her think that he is an old man, Kazu is primarily fascinated by his dignified and stately manner. Furthermore, he seems to represent a world of the intellect, a realm of books and ideas and principles—all of which are alien to her rustic and intuitive nature. She develops an ideal image of the man, seeing him as one who has no self but the dignified, if somewhat stilted, aura that he presents to her. After their wedding ceremony Kazu believes that she has realized the goal of a lifetime: She has become the wife of a distinguished man.

Married life, however, is not without its difficulties—primarily resulting from the clash of Kazu’s independence and masculine thinking with her husband’s old-fashioned views on the propriety of woman’s submissive role. Kazu, however, endures Noguchi’s overbearing and misplaced sense of superiority and his formal aloofness, because she takes pride in now belonging to a noble family with a long lineage and dreams of being buried in the family temple; in this way, she believes that she has tricked eternity.

Noguchi’s belief that the marriage is a refuge and a final home and Kazu’s sense that she has found her rightful and secure tomb do not last. The pace of the novel shifts abruptly when Noguchi is asked to run for the governorship of Tokyo as a candidate for the radical party in Japan. Kazu’s restaurant has been a favorite haunt for members of the conservative party; thus she has some ideas about the behind-the-scenes nature of politics. She feels quite confident in her political abilities, especially with the common people, and she is immediately obsessed with becoming directly involved in her husband’s campaign.

Making Soichi Yamazaki, a master of campaign strategy, her coconspirator, Kazu begins her schemes to get her husband elected. She is possessed by a dream fantasy of using her knowledge of the ordinary Japanese people to sway their votes to the reserved and intellectual Noguchi. She meets secretly with Yamazaki to plan the campaign, throwing all of her resources and her time into the effort. At one point she has printed five million calendars with Noguchi’s photograph on them. She even mortgages her restaurant to raise funds to pay for such campaign extravagances. Kazu believes that the election is her Heaven-appointed task. When Noguchi discovers what she has done and, out of pride and a sense of political decorum, beats her, his denunciations delight Kazu, because they embody the old moral virtues.

The election campaign, marred by Kazu’s emotionalism and Noguchi’s coldness, culminates with last-minute political tricks by the conservative party, including a scurrilous pamphlet about Kazu’s past, promiscuous life, which guarantee Noguchi’s defeat. Although Noguchi is reconciled to grow old peacefully after the frenzy of the campaign, Kazu discovers that she can never again tolerate emptiness and inactivity. She knows now that even if circumstances were to be tragic, she prefers a life of action to a void.

Torn between her comfortable image of being buried in the Noguchi family temple and the possibility of an animated life without resignation and abandoned hopes, Kazu is finally pulled toward the latter. When Noguchi, who cannot tolerate such aggressive behavior on the part of his wife, starts divorce proceedings against her, she returns to the Setsugoan and, with great joy, decides to reopen it.

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