Yukio Mishima Long Fiction Analysis - Essay

Yukio Mishima Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Yukio Mishima’s work covers a wide spectrum of subject matter and themes. On one hand, he drew on the first-person confessional style familiar in Japanese literature since the time of the court diaries of the late Heian period (794-1185) right up to the works of such earlier twentieth century modern Japanese masters as Shimazaki Tson (1872-1943). To that existing style, however, Mishima added a confessional eroticism seldom if ever before employed within thecanon of serious literature in Japan. Mishima also admired Western literature, particularly such French novelists as Raymond Radiguet and François Mauriac and the classical playwright Jean Racine, finding in them models of a style that involved an elegant surface control of language that could permit glimpses of powerful passions underneath. Mishima’s often baroque style and florid vocabulary tend to flatten out in translation, but the surfaces of his works in the original are usually highly polished and, in the context of the kind of naturalism so much a part of the postwar literary scene around the world, perhaps a bit artificial. Still, in novels dealing indirectly with social issues, notably in After the Banquet, Mishima the stylist was able to find an idiom both contemporary and altogether appropriate to his relatively public subject matter.

Confessions of a Mask

The confessional aspects of Mishima’s writing can best be seen in his early Confessions of a Mask, the book that made him famous and is often regarded as his masterpiece. The device of the mask and the face, a frozen image shown to society that stands in opposition to the truth of the inner psyche, is an image so often employed that it may seem merely banal. In this novel, however, the title represents a powerful and entirely appropriate symbol for the narrator as he slowly comes to grasp his profound attraction to other men, and perhaps to violence as well. The unwinding of this theme is so skillfully carried out by means of his first-person narrative technique that the structures Mishima has conceived present a cumulative effect altogether authentic, both in emotional and literary terms. Then too, while Mishima creates a narrator who is principally concerned with chronicling, understanding, and analyzing his emotional development, he was careful to include in the novel enough suggestions concerning the narrator’s surroundings that the reader can gain a real sense of what it was like to have grown up as a sensitive child during the difficult years when Japan was at war.

Still, the major themes of the book are indisputably eros and (at least by occasional implication) death. The powerful vision contained in the final pages of the book, when the narrator takes full cognizance of his erotic responses to a bare-chested hoodlum, certainly represents for the author a moment of truth that cannot be emotionally denied, and any sympathetic reader will surely be drawn in to the power of that sudden and revelatory instant of self-understanding.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, published seven years later, in 1956, Mishima again draws on the possibilities of psychological confession in the first person, but on this occasion, he uses his skill to employ newspaper accounts and trial documents as a means to penetrate the mind of another; in this sense, the book maintains a powerful objectivity. In the novel, Mishima sets out to reconstruct the psychology of a young Buddhist acolyte who, in 1950, burned down the famous Zen temple Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion of the title, one of the great masterpieces of traditional Japanese architecture and an important site in the ancient capital of Kyoto. In his own way, Mishima took over the techniques of such traditional writers as the great Tokugawa playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), who, particularly in his famous love-suicide plays, took an actual event for his theme and attempted to reconstruct the psychological states that might have plausibly led up to the event portrayed.

In the case of a gifted writer such as Mishima, reportage was quickly subsumed in a masterful evocation of psychological imbalance. As in Confessions of a Mask, Mishima limits...

(The entire section is 1743 words.)