Yukio Mishima based The Temple of the Golden Pavilion on an actual event, the destruction of the famous temple (completed in about 1398), a Japanese national treasure, by a disturbed monk in 1950. The temple was quickly rebuilt, and awareness of that fact, at least among Japanese readers, could have a significant impact on how one interprets the novel. That is, one could argue that Mizoguchi fails in the end to destroy beauty and that in fact the temple is simply transformed. In the first three years after the novel appeared, it sold some 300,000 copies in Japan and was adapted into a successful play as well.
If it were not for the fact that it is narrated in the first person by the main character, who revels in his psychopathology, the novel might qualify as symbolic allegory. The temple is apparently a symbol of eternal and changeless beauty in an unstable and ugly world. Mizoguchi himself is the embodiment of the ugliness of the world. The constant threat of death and destruction is pervasive in the novel, which begins in the middle of World War II and ends at the start of the Korean War.
Every beautiful person or thing in the novel appears vulnerable. Every beauty is on the verge of transformation into ugliness or death or annihilation. Mizoguchi’s mother seems an ugly peasant to him, and his father seems to be wasting away before he dies of a hemorrhage. The beautiful Uiko is killed by her desperate lover; the handsome and upbeat Tsurukawa, whom Mizoguchi believes to be a positive image of his own dark self, commits suicide; any beautiful act (flower arranging or playing the flute) associated with Kashiwagi is compromised by the character’s cruelty. Father Dosen’s involvement with geisha girls demonstrates, as Mizoguchi sees...
(The entire section is 724 words.)