Essays and Criticism
Concepts of the Disparity in Power Between the Natural and the Mechanical World
Akio, the protagonist in Mishima’s short story ‘‘Fountains in the Rain,’’ is a very calculating young man. He has contrived a plan much like an engineer might plot the dimensions of a proposed building. But there is a major flaw in Akio’s calculations, a blind spot brought on by his own obsessions. Akio has failed to see the difference between the mathematical precision of the mechanical world and the emotional ambiguity of nature.
Most of Mishima’s protagonists are ‘‘anti-heroes, physically or psychologically wounded,’’ states Philip Shabecoff for the New York Times. They are ‘‘tormented by obsessions with beauty or sex or mutilation and martyrdom.’’ Shabecoff describes Mishima as being ‘‘fascinated by blood and pain and terror.’’ Somewhere in these elements, the reader will be able to find Akio, a not too likeable character who has been somehow psychologically wounded and has become obsessed with wanting to inflict pain. The target of his obsession is his girl friend, Masako. What emotions trigger his obsession are not clear. However, what is clear is that he has plotted his way through this relationship with a very clear purpose. And that purpose is met when Akio sees the pain in Masako’s tears. But these characteristics or quirks in Akio’s personality only color the story. They pull the reader in, make the reader want to stay long enough to find out where Akio’s obsessions will take him. The real story lies somewhere underneath Akio’s obsessions—in that place where there is at least a hint of recognition that life is not quite as mechanical as Akio had originally thought.
Akio starts out very confidently. He has been scheming for what appears to be an extended period of time. He has ‘‘pretended to love’’ Masako, and with his false love he has ‘‘undermined her defenses.’’ He believes himself to be the actor, the director, and the producer of his own show. He has even written what he anticipates to be the entire script for his little drama, which will include only six words: ‘‘It’s time to break it off!’’ Having spoken his solitary line, he waits for a pre-calculated response: an affirmation from Masako that she has heard him. So far, so good. Masako delivers her reaction ‘‘in a flash, like chewing gum ejected from a vending machine.’’ Everything appears to be running smoothly, just like a well-oiled and meticulously maintained machine.
Out of Masako’s eyes, which were ‘‘no longer eyes,’’ rush streams of tears that are ‘‘expressing nothing.’’ Of course this is Akio’s slanted take on the events. He sees the tears as a plumber sees a leak in a pipe. Masako’s tears are merely ‘‘waters.’’ His play is still on course. ‘‘This was precisely what he had planned.’’ It was a ‘‘splendid achievement, though admittedly somewhat mechanical.’’ Akio rejoices in this event. He has divorced himself from feeling, from the ‘‘dominance of desire.’’ What power he has created, like a mechanic who has built an automobile and for the first time has placed the key into the ignition and turned it. Akio hears the equivalent of the sound of that car’s engine as he watches his own creation, Masako, cry. After months of faking a relationship with this woman, faking an emotional connection with her, Akio exclaims that ‘‘this was reality!’’
Unfortunately, immediately following this statement, Akio sees the first sign of trouble. Masako is crying far longer than he had anticipated. It is also at this moment that Akio notices the color red, the color of passion and emotions. It is a color noticed in passing—‘‘the collar of a red blouse showed at the neck of the [Masako’s] coat.’’ It is only a brief encounter with the color, barely noticed, but it is coupled with the words ‘‘a tremendous force’’ in her hands, making the encounter a bit more signifi- cant. On first reading, the mention of this color appears unimportant, just as it might have appeared inconsequential to Akio when he first notices it. Only later does this color blossom, and it does so at the further expense of Akio’s carefully planned calculations. Maybe emotions are not as mechanical as Akio had anticipated. The color red at this point is located on Masako’s body. Are these Masako’s emotions, or are they Akio’s emotions for her?
Akio tries to shake this small glimpse, this tiny reminder that he might be acting less than mechanically in reference to his relationship with Masako. He needs to get back to his preconceived scheme, his script, his unemotional stance. He watches Masako, listening to her breath, then compares her cries to the ‘‘wheeze of new shoes.’’ Later he refers to her as a ‘‘tearbag,’’ and ‘‘unwanted baggage.’’ When he accidentally bumps against her under the umbrella, Masako’s raincoat has the feel of ‘‘a reptile.’’ These are the ways that Akio keeps his distance from Masako, turning her into some inanimate object or, at best, turning her into a coldblooded snake.
Akio reminds himself that he must remain remote and unfeeling, and he focuses on his sudden urge to take Masako to the water fountain. He believes that it is for Masako’s sake that the fountain must be seen, dismissing his own initial curiosity that made him think of the fountains in the first place. He will show Masako that those emotional tears that are streaming down her face are no match for the clever, mechanical fountain. After all, the mechanical fountain reuses its waters, whereas Masako’s ‘‘tears all ran to waste.’’ The mechanical fountain is utilitarian and efficient. In comparison, Masako would see...
(The entire section is 2331 words.)