The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

by Yukio Mishima

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Critical Context

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Yukio Mishima—an essayist, poet, dramatist, and novelist—was a prolific writer. Although at times he purposely geared his writing for popular rather than critical success, his serious novels reflect such a range and expertise that he is generally considered the best Japanese novelist of his generation. Throughout his career, strong and original works indicate his importance: Kamen no kokuhaku (1949; Confessions of a Mask, 1958) brought critical attention to the young writer; The Temple of the Golden Pavilion secured his reputation abroad as well as in Japan; Hojo no umi (1969-1971; The Sea of Fertility: A Cycle of Four Novels, 1972-1974) demonstrated that Mishima died with his artistic abilities strong.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion was both a popular and a critical success: Enormously popular, it was later adapted to film; critics often cite this work as Mishima’s best single novel. Although his novels vary greatly in style, a number of themes found in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion surface repeatedly in Mishima’s fiction. Several of his works are based on historic incidents. For example, both this novel and Mishima’s “Yukoku” (“Patriotism”) present an imaginative re-creation of an event prominent in the minds of his Japanese contemporaries. Whether dealing with the burning of a temple or an attempted coup in the military, both the novel and the short story reflect the impact Japan’s military situation had on Mishima and his preoccupation with, and association of, beauty and death. A romantic, spiritual, or fiercely loyal attachment to the old order is found in both the young lieutenant in “Patriotism” and Mizoguchi in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Mizoguchi’s feeling of alienation, his sexual difficulties, his preoccupation with beauty, and his struggle with the idea of suicide are all ideas prominent in other works by Mishima. The divided individual and the vision of the world as ultimately meaningless are recurrent themes in Mishima’s fiction.

Although Mishima was adamant about keeping separate his art and his life, it is inevitable that after his public disemboweling hints will be sought about the artist in his art. Personal, artistic, and political reasons have all been alleged for Mishima’s seppuku, and all these concerns are embodied in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Yet the importance of this novel goes far beyond any possible autobiographical elements. One of Mishima’s most successful novels, both popularly and critically, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion embodies the modern spirit. Although a Buddhist temple is the backdrop for the action, the concerns of the novel are not limited to the East but are familiar in the Western novel and the Western psyche as well.

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Critical Evaluation