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Remembering Yukio Mishima
(January 14, 1925–November 25, 1970)

[1]948 words

Spanish translation here [2]

Yukio Mishima was one of the giants of 20th-century Japanese literature. He has exercised an enduring influence on the post-World War II European and North American New Right. In commemoration of his birth, I wish to draw your attention to the following works on this website:

By Mishima:

About Mishima:

Making substantial reference to Mishima:

Recently, an English-subtitled film called Mishima: The Last Debate [34]was screened at the Busan International Film Festival. It is a documentary composed of archival footage, previously thought lost, of the famous debate between Mishima and members of the Left-wing student group Zenkyoto. It appears that the film is still unavailable for streaming in English, nor are any theatrical releases planned. If you know of any way to watch this film, please comment below.

I also recommend watching Paul Schrader’s beautiful and moving dramatic portrait Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, now available in a stunning new edition from the Criterion Collection.

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Many English translations of Mishima’s writings are available.

His novels can generally be divided into serious literary works and more popular ones. I recommend beginning with The Sound of Waves, a novel that transcends that distinction. It is one of his most naive, charming, and popular novels, yet it is also acclaimed as a literary masterpiece. Those drawn to his studies of nihilism should read The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (the latter is partly dramatized in Schrader’s Mishima). In recent years, two of Mishima’s popular works have been translated: Life for Sale and Star. They are highly entertaining and also beautifully written.

The best collection of Mishima’s stage works is My Friend Hitler and Other Plays. (My Friend Hitler is about the Röhm purge.)

[36]Mishima’s most important quasi-autobiographical work is Confessions of a Mask. I say “quasi” because Confessions is a novel, thus it would be a mistake to treat it as a straightforward autobiography. Sun and Steel is an essay on Mishima’s relationship to his own body, as well as a meditation on the relationship of art to reality and thought to action. Mishima’s philosophy of life and death is found in his Way of the Samurai, a commentary on the Hagakure.

Starting in the late 1950s, Mishima also dabbled in acting and directing. In 1966, he directed and starred in a 30-minute film adaptation of his short story “Patriotism,” about the ritual suicide of a military officer after a failed coup. (Also a theme of Mishima’s 1969 novel Runaway Horses.) After Mishima’s death, the film of Patriotism was withdrawn by his widow, but after she died, it was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection.

Mishima’s charismatic performance as a swaggering tough guy in Masumura Yasuzo’s entertaining 1960 gangster movie Afraid to Die is available on DVD. He also appears as a human statue in Black Lizard, a movie so weird and wonderful that it is worth seeking out on VHS. (It highly deserves a DVD release.) Black Lizard is based on a play by Mishima, but I was unable to determine how faithfully it follows the original.

There is very little good secondary literature on Mishima in English. The best I have read are Andrew Rankin’s Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist and Naoki Inose’s massive Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima.

Rankin’s Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist is a superbly researched and written account of Mishima’s largely untranslated writings on aesthetics, literature, and politics. These are interesting in their own right and also cast light on his novels and his political actions, culminating with his suicide.

Inose’s Persona is an exhaustively researched volume that will probably stand for a long time as the definitive biographical work on Mishima. It contains too much information for the casual reader, but for Mishima fans like me, it is essential reading, filled with detailed and tantalizing accounts of Mishima’s many untranslated writings — fiction and non-fiction — including his many political statements. For the first time, it is possible for people who do not speak Japanese to gain a clear and detailed picture of Mishima’s politics.

I can also recommend Henry Scott Stokes’ biography The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Yourcenar’s Mishima: A Vision of the Void, and Roy Starrs’ Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence, and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima. Yourcenar and Starrs deal with Mishima in relation to philosophy and religion, and although the theses and arguments of both authors strike me as confused, they still manage to ferret out a lot of interesting information.

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