Kochan, a student. Born in 1925, Kochan is a sickly child who is subject to periodic bouts of illness. As a result, he is excluded from close personal relationships with boys of his age and grows up with little understanding of what normal boys are like. He is latently homosexual and aware of his attraction for other males at a very early age. He makes attempts, nevertheless, to be like those around him, even going as far as convincing himself that he is in love with Sonoko. It is only when her brother asks if he intends to marry her and after he fails to have any physical response to a prostitute that he finally accepts that he can never be like other men, even though he must put on a public act that he is the same as everyone else.
Omi, a student. A young man in his early teens, he is several years older than the students in his class and as a result is more physically developed than they are. The combination of his physical attractiveness and the fact that he is considered wicked and therefore a loner attracts Kochan, who falls in love with Omi. Omi is arrogantly superior to the students around him but not unkind to Kochan, although he is aware of the passion Kochan feels for him. Omi is expelled from school during the summer break, and Kochan never sees him again.
Sonoko, a student. Younger than Kochan, she is the sister of one of his few friends, Kusano. She is a proper Japanese girl, unschooled in love and secluded from life, who slowly develops a deep feeling for Kochan. He quickly convinces himself that he feels the same way about her. After she and her family leave Tokyo to avoid the air raids, he goes to visit, and in his attempt to appear normal, he kisses her. It is obviously the first time she has been kissed. When Kochan politely rejects the idea of marrying her, she marries another man. She and Kochan meet after her marriage, and they spend a year secretly meeting each other, though they do nothing more than talk. She is aware of the danger in their meeting, and her thoughts remain fixed on her husband.
Confessions of a Mask is tantalizingly autobiographical. The narrator-protagonist is born the some year as Yukio Mishima, into similar social and familial circumstances. Furthermore, the narrator is nicknamed Kochan, a common diminutive form of Kimitake, Mishima’s real given name. Mishima’s homosexuality and fascination with death are well documented, and one of the better-known photographs of Mishima depicts him as a loincloth-clad Saint Sebastian, complete with arrows protruding from his sides—and his left armpit. Mishima’s fascination with death eventually led to his seppuku (ritual suicide), which was a media event in 1970. Yet however closely Confessions of a Mask may conform with the circumstances of Mishima’s youth, it should still be read as a novel.
The narrator-protagonist is a psychological portrait of a sexually anomalous male growing up in modern Japan. He is a sexual invert, a homosexual, and one with an attraction to thanatos. When he becomes aware of his anomaly, he hopes either for death in war or else the ability to carry on a heterosexual masquerade. The dashing of his hopes fills him with anguish and emptiness, and he may be viewed as a societal and sexual misfit who is the victim of a genetic quirk.
The other characters of the novel, major and minor alike, are neither independent nor rounded out but exist strictly for their relationship...
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to the narrator-protagonist. Omi, the narrator’s school acquaintance, is a physically attractive male whose only role in the novel is as an obsessive object of the narrator’s desire. Similarly, although presented throughout half of the book, the young woman Sonoko is portrayed mainly as a necessary catalyst for the narrator-protagonist’s test of his heterosexuality in the laboratory of life.
McCarthy, Paul. “Mishima Yukio’s Confessions of a Mask,” in Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel, 1976. Edited by K. Tsuruta and T. E. Swann.
Miyoshi, Masao. Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel, 1974.
Nathan, John. Mishima: A Biography, 1974.
Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.
Scott-Stokes, Henry. The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, 1974.