Concepts of the Disparity in Power Between the Natural and the Mechanical World

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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...

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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 that her own tears (and presumably all the emotions behind them) are useless. ‘‘A human being was scarcely a match for a reflex fountain.’’

It is at this point in the story that another flaw appears in Akio’s overall plan. The reader is given a glimpse of a slight deterioration in Akio’s effort to remain aloof, to maintain his original contention that his calculated drama will unfold mechanically. ‘‘What with the rain and the tears, Akio felt as if his whole body was getting wet.’’ This is the first mention of Akio’s feelings. Not only is he feeling drenched by the rain but Masako’s tears are also starting to get to him. And coincidentally, it is at this moment in the story that Akio sees the color red, again. This time it is the ‘‘red chairs of a hotel dining room, dimly visible. . . .’’ It is also at this point in the story that things begin to look different from the way Akio had once imagined they would. For instance, the rain looks like ‘‘fine white dew’’ in Masako’s hair. The water spouts of the fountain look like ‘‘curved glass tubes.’’ Something is changing inside of Akio, but he’s not sure what it is.

A flurry of colors follow. There is a brilliant green in the shrubs and the multiple colors of the cars and trucks in the distant traffic; and it is at this point that Akio senses an anger building up inside of him. He is filled with an ‘‘obscure sense of dissatisfaction,’’ which he cannot totally blame on Masako’s crying. There is something bigger here. Something is tearing away at his scheme. That slick vending machine metaphor that the narrator used to mark the beginning of Masako’s tears at the start of this story is suddenly out of order. The dysfunction of Akio’s mechanical metaphor is causing him frustration. He senses a barrier that reduces ‘‘his freedom to a kind of damp rag.’’ In other words, he is losing control. His calculated scheme is going awry.

To regain his power as the director and creator of his plan, Akio has a craving to cause new pain. And how does he propose to do this? His concentration seems to be slipping. The only idea that he comes up with falls short of the sharpness of his original plan that caused Masako to cry. But it’s better than nothing. If he can’t inflict pain, he can at least try to make Masako more miserable. He will get her to run out into the rain, again, and get even wetter. This will also force her to take an even closer and fuller view of the water fountain. So he runs, knowing that Masako will follow. This renews his confidence, renews his sense of being in control. Akio is still trying to engineer his plot. He is still trying to prove that his relationship with Masako is mechanically based. When he runs, Masako does follow.

However, there is another turn in the story at this point. Although Masako runs to Akio, when she gets there, she takes a ‘‘firm grip’’ of the umbrella. This is the first time that Masako has played an active role in this little calculated play of Akio’s. It is also the first time she speaks. Akio is caught off guard with Masako’s question: ‘‘Where are you going?’’ she asks. Akio had not planned other lines past his initial statement that had set this story in motion. And yet in spite of himself, he finds himself speaking ‘‘effortlessly.’’ He responds to her with nothing really new, only pointing out once again that Masako’s tears are ‘‘no match’’ for the waters of the fountains. But what is new is that the narrator describes the couple at this point as displaying a change in body language: ‘‘And the two of them tilted the umbrella and, freed from the need to keep their eyes on each other, stared for awhile at the three fountains. . . .’’ This is the first time in the story that Akio and Masako act in unison. They have come together and for the moment have stopped reacting to Akio’s scheme that has been attempting to pull them apart. It is also at this point that the narrator points out that the water of the fountains and the water of the rain are ‘‘almost indistinguishable.’’ They, too, have come together.

Once again, the narrator points out that things are not what they seem. The mechanical drone of the traffic and the mechanical noise of the fountain weave ‘‘so closely into the surrounding air’’ that the couple appears to be ‘‘enclosed in perfect silence.’’ The water at the top of the fountain is ‘‘almost too powdery-looking for real water,’’ and the water around the lip of the basin becomes ‘‘white manes.’’ These visions, these things that are not what they seem, disturb Akio. His thoughts are being ‘‘taken over by the water. . . .’’ To his surprise, the fountains that he had wanted to teach Masako a lesson, were now teaching him.

As Akio stands near the fountain, staring up at the highest point of the water flow, he realizes that the fountain will never reach its goal of ‘‘heaven’s height.’’ It is at this point that his gaze is ‘‘lifted higher.’’ When he tilts his face fully to the rain, he becomes fascinated with the natural world, and the image of the fountain fades from his thoughts. ‘‘Quite suddenly, fountains in the rain seemed to represent no more than the endless repetition of a stupid and pointless process.’’ With this realization, Akio not only forgets the fountain, he forgets his anger, his frustration, and all his silly, calculated schemes.

With Akio walking ‘‘aimlessly’’ and Masako ‘‘keeping a firm hold on the handle of the umbrella,’’ the story moves closer to an end. But not before Masako denies that she ever heard Akio’s dramatically rehearsed words: ‘‘It’s time to break it off!’’ All that planning and scheming; all the false emotions; the setting of the traps: Akio is horrified that his carefully engineered calculations have been totally obliterated by Masako’s denial, just as all traces of Masako’s tears have been washed away from her face by the rain. He stammers a bit and then restates his famous line, but he says them with weakened sentiments. He even adds a questioning tone to them: ‘‘I told you a while back, didn’t I— that we’d better split up.’’

Things are changing fast, and they are changing in ways that Akio had not calculated. Masako is not playing out her role as he had planned. But it is not only Masako who has surprised him; it appears that Akio’s own calculating mind has turned on him. Just as Akio finishes his last words to Masako, he sees azalea bushes blooming ‘‘grudgingly, here and there on the lawn.’’ The color of the blossoms is crimson, a very deep red. The color red has moved to the natural world, and with this movement, the steam and fury is removed from Akio’s plan. He thinks he is angry about his plan falling apart, but when he tries to shout, all that comes out is a sneeze. And it is this sneeze that reminds Akio of his vulnerability: ‘‘If I am not careful, I’m going to get a cold, he thought.’’ His perspective of himself has changed, much like his perspective of the fountains, which he once thought were grander than Masako’s tears and the rain. It is with these sentiments that Mishima ends his story. There are no clues that the young couple will stay together or break up, but there is hope that Akio has learned that there is more power in the natural world than he had initially conceived. Perhhaps by allowing his natural self to come out, as opposed to playing out a calculated, mechanical role, he will break out of ‘‘the endless repetition of a stupid and pointless process.’’

Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on ‘‘Fountains in the Rain,’’ in Short Stories for Students, Gale Group, 2001. Hart has degrees in English literature and creative writing and is a copyeditor and published writer.

Akio's Efforts to Prove His Self-Control

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Yukio Mishima became a rising star in the Japanese literary field when he was only in his mid-twenties, and he remains today one of that country’s most internationally renowned contemporary writers. Susan J. Napier writes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that Mishima is a ‘‘writer who has helped mold the Western imagination of Japan at the same time as one who continues to haunt the contemporary Japanese mind.’’ Aside from his numerous writings, Mishima achieved notoriety for his ritual suicide, performed while still at the pinnacle of his career.

Stories like ‘‘Patriotrism’’ glorify traditional aspects of Japanese society, such as imperialism and the nobility of the samurai. In contrast to such works dealing with abstract social ideals, a story like ‘‘Fountains in the Rain,’’ which was not made accessible to the English-speaking public until 1989, has often been called a story about the end of a love affair. Indeed, its most in-depth commentary comes from John Bester, Mishima’s translator. In his preface to the 1989 collection, Acts of Worship, Bester writes,

The ability to organize a small form is very evident in ‘Fountains in the Rain.’ A slight, humorous account of a tiff between a very ordinary young man and his girl, it skillfully portrays the instability, lack of confi- dence, and above all the self-centeredness that often characterize youth. With great skill, the imagery set forth in the title is worked into the fabric of the story; in a central set piece of description, the fountains reveal themselves as a symbol of the shifting impulses— ambition, aggression, sexuality—to which the hero is prey, and which are liable at any moment to be negated by the monotony of everyday life—the rain—and its obligations. The girl is barely sketched in, but the suggestion of a firmer grasp of immediate realities provides a good foil to the boy’s instability.

Though readers may disagree with such simplistic reductions of ‘‘Fountains in the Rain,’’ many of Bester’s points hold up. The story is rich in imagery, the boy does rebel against the obligations of everyday life, the boy is extremely self centered— but the boy is hardly a ‘‘very ordinary young man.’’ The character Akio actually obliquely references Mishima’s aesthetic beliefs in the celebration of rigidity and self-control, as well as the necessity for it, which are far from aspects of the average person.

Akio, the main character of the story, has previously set himself the task of making a young woman fall in love with him simply so he can end the relationship. He apparently has accomplished this goal, for as the story begins he has recently told Masako that they must break up, which was ‘‘something he had long dreamed of’’ doing. The impetus for this action, though not explicated by the young man, is Akio’s desire to demonstrate control over another human. As indicated by the grandiosity of his description of what he imagined would happen, Akio believes himself to hold Masako in his thrall: ‘‘‘It’s time to break it off!’ Those words, the mere enunciation of which would be enough to rend the sky asunder. . . . That phrase, more heroic, more glorious than any other in the world.’’ Akio further ascribes the ability to manipulate a woman as something belonging to only ‘‘the most manly of men.’’ His need to prove that he can achieve this ‘‘height of masculinity’’ stems from Akio’s insecurity. As hinted at early in the story and again indicated closer to its end, Akio fears losing control of himself. His subconscious recognizes this truth, and he takes great pains to shore up his self-image. He seeks to strengthen himself by gaining control of others. He assigns personality traits to himself that he would like to possess; for instance, he maintains that his nature is ‘‘cut-and-dried,’’ a blatant misrepresentation. ble—simply note the myriad emotions that he undergoes throughout the course of the afternoon— and beyond his ability to control. Even the moment of his greatest triumph—breaking off with Masako— is undercut by his weakness. Instead of speaking firmly and forcefully, he had spoken ‘‘with such a deplorable lack of clarity, with a rattling noise in the throat.’’ His fear is evident, yet he continues and thus accomplishes this ‘‘splendid achievement.’’ Evincing such power over another human draws Akio to what he calls a ‘‘newfound sense of maturity.’’

Akio feels oppressed by Masako’s tears, for they represent his inability to shake her free. Despite his claims at being able to simply end the relationship, he feels an obligation to her. Even after he tells her his news, he still spends the afternoon with her, for it is raining and Masako has no umbrella of her own. The sense of freedom he had hoped to achieve through his actions cannot come as long as she is crying. He feels ‘‘absolute frustration . . . at the rain, the tears, the leaden sky that hung like a barrier before him.’’ Angry at the usurpation of his superiority, ‘‘the boy gave in to a simple desire to hurt.’’

Bringing Masako into confrontation with the fountains only ends in Akio’s fascination with the fountains. He even finds greater truths there, though he hides them from himself, unwilling to face what they reveal about him. His wonderment as he gazes at the fountains reveals a sublimated sexual desire for both men and women. Akio had earlier denied any true sexuality, claiming ‘‘that he had made love to Masako’’ even though he ‘‘had always been free from the dominance of desire,’’ but his perception of the fountains utterly disproves that claim. The columns with water that ‘‘shot upward’’ and ‘‘spouted vertically and undisturbed’’ represent the male sexual organ, while the ‘‘jets from the big central fountain’’ with the ‘‘untiring rushing’’ arcs of water represent the female sexual organ.

Although Akio begins his contemplation by focusing on the columns, he still is ‘‘less taken with three main columns of water than with the water that shot out in radiating curves all around.’’ At this point, he forces himself to be drawn to the representation of a woman’s sexuality. As he watches the arcs of water surrounding the columns, his mind is ‘‘taken over by the water, carried away on its rushing, cast far away. . . .’’ Akio’s rapture can be likened to one that would emerge from a sexual encounter. He feels the same way, however, while watching the central column. He is fascinated by the ‘‘furious speed’’ of the water climbing within it, ‘‘steadily filling a slender cycle of space from base to summit, replacing each moment what had been lost the moment before, in a kind of perpetual replenishment.’’ Here Akio describes his fantasy of the ultimate, ongoing orgasm. Although he seems to take pleasure in this idea, as he has done previously, he counters what he has said by adding, ‘‘It was plain that at heaven’s height it would be finally frustrated; yet the unwaning power that supported unceasing failure was magnificent.’’ Here Akio unconsciously expresses his own image of himself as a sexually frustrated creature, yet one who longs to achieve true fulfillment.

As abruptly as Akio falls into this sexual reverie, he is brought out of it: ‘‘suddenly, fountains in the rain seemed to represent no more than the endless repetition of a stupid and pointless process.’’ With this perception, Akio again denies his sexuality, casting himself back into that person he claimed to be at the beginning of the story—one who has complete control over himself. The reader, however, knows this to be untrue. Not only does Akio have true sexual desires, he has them for men as well as women. His subconscious understanding of this is demonstrated when he starts to walk away from the fountains, having completely forgotten Masako; she is no longer important to his maintenance of the belief that he can control others, for he knows that he cannot even control himself.

The story further exposes Akio as he discovers that Masako never even heard his words breaking up with her. She was crying for no special reason; the ‘‘tears just came.’’ The shock of learning the truth is so great that Akio is ‘‘[A]lmost bowled over.’’ When he speaks to her again, he has reverted back to the unsure self who first met Masako at the tea house. He stammers out a reply that is desperate in its attempt to regain the upper hand: ‘‘he wanted to shout something at her,’’ but he is foiled again in this effort as ‘‘at the crucial moment’’ he let forth an ‘‘enormous sneeze.’’ Akio thinks, ‘‘If I’m not careful I’m going to get a cold.’’ As the story’s final sentence, it sums up Akio’s release of his whole fantasy of controlling himself and others, at least for the moment. His acceptance of himself as a fallible human, even a mundane one at that instant, shows the utter failure of his plan toward Masako and his plan to shore up his own ego.

Source: Rena Korb, Critical Essay on ‘‘Fountains in the Rain,’’ in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.

Achieving Manhood

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Written in 1963, the short story ‘‘Fountains in the Rain’’ by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima reveals the calculated intentions of a young man who breaks up with the woman he is dating because ‘‘it was something he had long dreamed of.’’ His motivation for the breakup is not that he no longer loves or desires her, but that he thinks his action will bring him a maturity that he has not yet experienced. Although the young man Akio claims that breaking up with Masako will usher in an elevated stage of emotional and mental development, in fact, it does not. Ironically, the situation engenders not confi- dence but doubt when the breakup does not go as planned. Despite his initial feelings of intense relief and pleasure, eventually Akio finds himself bereft, confronting feelings of inadequacy, aggression, frustrated passion, and doubt at the core of his being as he realizes the emptiness and futility of his gesture. The heroic, manly act that Akio imagines will initiate him into manhood is actually a desperately shallow and irresponsible one that has no meaning or relevance either to Masako, the young woman whom Akio intends to hurt, or himself. Throughout the story, Mishima uses point of view, imagery, irony, and setting to evoke Akio’s imaginative yet futile attempt at achieving manhood.

Told from a third person point of view, ‘‘Fountains in the Rain’’ focuses primarily on the internal reactions of Akio to his breakup with Masako in a teahouse in Tokyo. From this point of view, the reader gains an understanding of Akio as a selfabsorbed and naïve young man who thinks that becoming a man depends on carrying out certain kinds of acts that establish one’s authority and credibility. In this case, it is breaking up with a girl. From the very beginning of the story, Akio’s selfcenteredness is apparent as he drags Masako along the streets of Tokyo, recounting in his mind what he has just done. Mishima’s use of an extended flashF back as an organizing structure reveals the depth of Akio’s self-absorption as well as his self-congratulatory amazement that he has gotten the reaction he wanted from Masako: she is crying uncontrollably.

. . . he marveled at the peppermint freshness of mind with which he contemplated the phenomenon. This was precisely what he had planned, worked to encompass and brought to reality: a splendid achievement, though admittedly somewhat mechanical.

By intentionally breaking up with Masako—a woman whom, it can be argued, he still loves—and seeing her cry, Akio imagines that his action will change his very being from that of a boy to a man: ‘‘Under his own steam, Akio had crossed the pass over the mountains that he’d gazed at for so long in the distance.’’ Yet Akio’s initial confidence quickly wears thin as Masako’s profuse weeping thwarts Akio’s plan. It is because of Masako’s crying that Akio goes to the fountains in the park where he eventually confronts the myth of masculinity that he has dreamed up.

Although Masako is presented to the reader only through Akio’s eyes, she has a central role in the story in terms of how she affects and undermines Akio’s vision of achieving manhood. As the translator of Acts of Worship, John Bester remarks, ‘‘The girl is barely sketched in, but the suggestion of a firmer grasp of immediate realities provides a good foil to the boy’s instability.’’ It seems that the more Akio attempts to emotionally detach himself from Masako, the more he is overwhelmed by what he thinks is her reaction to the break up. ‘‘The abundance of Masako’s tears was a genuine cause for astonishment. Not for a moment did their volume diminish.’’ Her capacity for crying and its effect on the people in the teahouse who looked at them ‘‘with stares of a kind calculated to disturb Akio’s newfound sense of maturity’’ lead him to take drastic and cruel measures. But what starts out to be a cruel joke, bringing Masako to the fountains in the park to confront a mightier force than her own tears, only ends up backfiring.

. . . the only trouble was the absolute frustration he felt at the rain, the tears, the leaden sky that hung like a barrier before him. They pressed down on him on all sides, reducing his freedom to a kind of damp rag.

Because of the oppressive setting, Akio finds he can no longer maintain the elation he felt moments before when telling Masako that he wanted to break it off. Everything he tries to do to regain that preliminary feeling falls to the wayside. Masako seems impervious to anything he does, which leads the reader to believe that Akio is creating an image of himself that exists only in his imagination. For example, Akio prides himself on particular behaviors that reveal his newfound restraint and maturity such as ‘‘being cut-and-dried about things. Yes: to be cut-and-dried . . . suited Akio’s nature. . . .’’; however, in actuality he is quick to anger and acts childishly toward Masako. His unpredictable manner contrasts sharply to Masako’s, whose crying is as constant as the pouring rain and the fountains. Thus Masako, though a dimly outlined figure in the story, serves as a steady emotional gauge compared to the flighty, self-absorbed, and emotionally unstable Akio.

Despite the story being told from Akio’s point of view, readers are not provided with many direct statements about what motivates the roiling emotions he experiences. Akio is obviously dissatisfied, disaffected, and peevish, yet the reader is not told why. Instead, Mishima subtly evokes Akio’s dissatisfaction with himself and his life through the use of specific images such as the fountain, Masako’s tears, and the evocative rainy, monochromatic Tokyo setting. In an interview in the Paris Review with Donald Keene, translator and professor of Japanese literature, Mishima notes that ‘‘the methods of description followed by some Western novelists seems unnecessarily detailed to Japanese readers, who are accustomed to make the intuitive leap necessary to understand a haiku.’’ Therefore, the concise images Mishima uses are often a key to the underlying meaning of his stories. Moreover, the spare yet monumental details he provides allow readers to fill in the blanks so as to fully comprehend the story’s emotional complexity. As a testiF mony to the compact beauty of Mishima’s images and his powerful evocation of atmosphere, translator John Bestler, in his introduction to Acts of Worship: Seven Stories, writes that in ‘‘Fountains in the Rain’’ ‘‘the imagery set forth in the title is worked into the fabric of the story.’’

In particular, water, as found in the girl’s tears, the pouring rain, and the fountains, becomes an overriding trope that connects the boy’s emotional world to the external world around him. For example, the fountains that Akio becomes transfixed by in the park are contrasted with the steady downpour of a Tokyo summer day as well as Masako’s tears that at times seem to be just as powerful a force on Akio’s psyche. Although Akio appears dismissive of Masako’s tears, in fact he is deeply affected by her emotional outpouring. At first, he seems pleased by her reaction, yet this quickly turns to dismay and anger as he contemplates the situation. ‘‘What with the rain and the tears, Akio felt as if his whole body was getting wet.’’ The wetness begins to drag him down, diminishing his feelings of power and success at dumping Masako. Moreover, Masako’s tears are so powerful that Akio at first gleefully and then later angrily equates them with the fountains that which never cease, even in the rain. ‘‘A human being was scarcely a match for a reflex fountain; almost certainly, she’d give up and stop crying.’’ Ironically, Masako’s tears continue to flow while Akio’s attention is drawn to the fountains.

Mesmerized by the fountains, Akio’s dreams of achieving manhood are at first elevated by observing the fountains’ power and then dashed to the ground. In his confrontation with the fountains, Akio realizes that he cannot take action except through his imagination. At first his fixation with the fountains seems to temporarily soothe his dismay and frustration over the situation with Masako, as he attempts to restore his masculinity by perceiving the fountains as what John Bester claims in his introduction to Acts of Worship, ‘‘a symbol of the shifting impulses—ambition, aggression, sexuality— to which the hero is prey. . . .’’ The water spouting forth from the fountains reveals an omnipotent force, both sexual and emotional, that the young man identifies with as he contemplates its ability to rejuvenate itself; ‘‘. . . the unwaning power that supported unceasing failure was magnificent.’’ Yet unlike the fountain, Akio cannot continually replenish his feelings of confidence. He is too fickle and unreliable, too young and self-absorbed. Rather than living life, Akio seems doomed to dream about it. This becomes most clear when he realizes that the fountains he previously found so powerful and fascinating are suddenly ‘‘no more than the endless repetition of a stupid and pointless process.’’ Akio suffers from a lack of self that is too easily influenced by his environment, such as the dull rain that not only permeates his clothes and shoes but also his consciousness.

Finally, the rain, another powerful image Mishima uses to evoke certain feelings in Akio, seems to bring Akio to his senses, making him realize how futile his plan was to break up with Masako. His act is diminished by the rain’s utter pervasiveness, its banality and everydayness. As he contemplates the intensity of the rain as it hits various surfaces such as city roofs and hotels, Akio realizes that he has not done anything spectacular in breaking up with Masako; his life, in fact, is quite ordinary. ‘‘From the rain’s point of view, his cheeks and the dirty concrete roof were quite identical.’’ This insight causes him to lose interest in the fountains as well as Masako. Mishima’s use of irony at the end of the story reveals how delusional Akio is when he discovers to his dismay that Masako is not crying because of Akio’s words; she is crying for no special reason. At this point, Akio is so undone by the overwhelming banality of his life as reflected in the rainy, dull atmosphere of contemporary Tokyo that the anger he feels at Masako’s statement comes out as a sneeze. Akio’s vision of manhood, what he has imagined achieving throughout the story, is no longer a pressing issue as he contemplates the possibility of getting a cold from standing in the rain. Although this last line reveals Akio’s limitations, both emotionally and physically, to become the man he desires, the sneeze also makes him aware that he is part of his surroundings and not outside of it.

There is much to criticize about the character of Akio, who appears desperately self-centered and irresponsible, yet, despite Akio’s representation as a callow, self-absorbed youth, his imaginative flights of fancy touch on a feature of Mishima’s work that is common in some of his novels: the role of the artist in contemporary Japanese society. In her book Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo, Susan Napier suggests that Mishima’s fiction often depicts characters who are unlikable and egocentric, yet their willful denial of reality ‘‘is also allied to a more positive figure, the artist, for the visions of these violent youthful protagonists have a creative function equivalent to the artist.’’ Viewed in this way, Akio can be seen as an artist who attempts to effect change in the monotonous urban environment through acts of imagination. Unfortunately, these flights of fancy may serve momentarily to alleviate the artist’s frustration at the world, but they do not change his or her environment. As an artist figure, Akio is completely divorced from the world of things; thus his imaginative capabilities isolate rather than connect him to the external world. This is seen most acutely in the discussion between Masako and Akio where he realizes that Masako’s crying has nothing to do with his actions. Similar to Akio, Masako also is engrossed in her own imaginative world, one that has little to do with external reality, or even with Akio. However, having said that, the ending of the story holds out a shred of hope in terms of transcending such a monotonous existence in its image of the blooming crimson azalea bushes that Akio notices. These bushes may hint at possibilities for creating a world more colorful and vibrant than the one in which both Akio and Masako currently live.

Source: Doreen Piano, Critical Essay on ‘‘Fountains in the Rain,’’ in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2001. seducing and abandoning a young woman in ‘‘Fountains in the Rain.’’

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Critical Overview