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“La Beauté c'est la Mort” - Yukio Mishima. ("Beauty is Death")

Yukio Mishima (or Kimitake Hiroaki), an author, poet, playwright, actor, film director, and a three times nominee of the Nobel Prize in literature, is recognized as the genius of the Japanese literature. Eccentric during his life and a person, who revived samurai values at the end of the XX century shocked everybody with his death, by committing HARAKIRI at his 45.

Mishima was born in 1925 in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Success followed him everywhere. Among his sixty classmates, he was the first to graduate the Gakushuin school, where children from the noble and imperial families studied. 

He was born in the family of a prominent official in Tokyo. He was a weak, sickly child and was frequently absent from school. He didn’t play with children, and mostly spent time at home, reading books. The writer’s grandmother Natsuko, a woman with a complex and even hysterical character, encouraged his isolation. She took seven months Kimitake from his parents, and they lived together in the same room. He wasn’t allowed to make any noise, to play or to go for a walk. He had only his fantasies. He later recalled that there were always death, blood, and pain in his imaginations. Handsome princes died in the clutches of ferocious dragons. Princes, not princesses. He was never interested in princesses. After reading stories, he always crossed out their happy endings. He used to leave heroes die in terrible agony.  A theme of death, beautiful and bloody, remained attractive to him all his life. 

Natsuko created a closed world for the boy at home, where she instilled in him love of a theater and literature. Mishima later said: “She had a poetic soul – with some touch of madness.” Kimitake could see his parents only with permission of his grandmother. It was until he became 12 years old. 

When Kamitake finished his home education in 1931, he entered the school, under his grandfather’s protection, former governor of the South Sakhalin. At school he first fell in love. But he fell in love with a boy – a classmate, with whom he used to talk about some knitted gloves. However, the boy never knew about it. Later, he entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Tokyo. After graduating, he got a job at the Ministry of Finance, the most prestigious of the government departments. 

At sixteen, Mishima wrote a novel “Forest in Full Bloom” – about a beauty, death and their identity. This is how the writer Yukio Mishima was born. But the war started and his first literary experience stayed unnoticed. 

Writers of the time were constantly thinking about death, possible destruction of the world. Naturally, this topic couldn’t pass by a young impressionable man, who dreamed of death from his childhood. Though Mishima preferred to read about it, think and dream – when a call to the war reached him, the writer avoided it, under the pretext of a bad health. 

In 1945, August 15, Japan surrendered. Series of suicides shacked the country. Mishima’s idol and his spiritual mentor –a literary critic Dzemmey Hasuda, also committed a suicide.

After the war, Mishima became an officer and the same time, he was writing, which didn’t bring money. Everything changed, when a major publishing house ordered him a novel.  To the dismay of his father, he left his prestigious job of a lawyer and began writing “Confessions of a Mask”. After the release of the “Confessions”, the 24-year-old author immediately became famous; the novel raised many controversies because of frankly proclaimed homosexuality.

Closed, lonely, with a weak body, Mishima exposed feelings of a young man, who was accustomed not to be like others: homosexual inclinations, sadomasochistic complex, and an obsession with death – all the things, that made him suffer and at the same time delighted him. 

 

YUKIOCHILD

 

 

Thoughts about death continued to overcome the writer’s mind. He later wrote that he desperately wanted to kill someone to see a scarlet blood, and he created novels, in order not to commit murders in the real world, but only in his books. 

“Why naked human entrails are considered as something so terrible? Why are we closing our eyes in horror, when we see a wrong side of our body? Imagine, if people could twist their body and soul inside out gracefully, as if turning around a rose petal, and substitute them to sunshine and to breathing of the May breeze…” The only real beauty for Mishima was the beauty of death. When the war began, Mishima began to imagine with a relish his own death in battle, and the thought filled him with a “thrill of unearthly joy”. However, he was terrified of air raids, it was an ugly death for him: “There is nothing more disgusting as to connect a death with a commonplace.” He wanted to die “clearly and brightly”, among strangers, not with his family. Such a death would look vulgar and tasteless for him. 

Mishima got married, when his family asked him to. His parents chose the bride for him from a noble family. Mishima himself didn’t care at all. Family life was another decoration for him. His wife saw him very rarely. He had other interests. The Japanese people call a person like him a “bearer of two swords”. He felt free both with women and men, but he gave preference still to the latter. 

Classmates often teased Mishima for his frail and sickly condition. Each medical examination turned into sheer humiliation, and he was painfully jealous of his physically fit peers. One of his friends later recalled: “He was pale as death, so much that his skin glowed purple. It seemed that his frail body was hanging in excessively loose clothing. Yet it was clear from the first sight: He was a selfish type. He was able to see beauty.”

At 27 Mishima realized: He couldn’t go to rendezvous with a death with such a pitiful form of body. Beautiful death is the death of a beautiful body. He started swimming lessons, then moved to bodybuilding, karate and sword fencing – Kendo. The frail writer created his body again and again every day in the gym. And he didn’t do it to please someone, his gay friends or himself, but only to die beautifully. When in 1963 transformed Mishima’s photograph accompanied as an illustration the article about bodybuilding in the encyclopedia, he said that it was the happiest moment of his life. 

Mishima’s physical transformation was also inspired by his trip to Greece in 1952, when the marble statues of ancient athletes fascinated him with their beauty, health and perfection.

 

MISHIMA

 

 

When he came back to Japan he wrote one of his most famous works – the novel “The Golden Temple”, based on the story of a young monk, who burns the temple of Kinkaku-ji. Over 45 years of his life Mishima wrote forty novels, fifteen of which were filmed during the life of the writer, eighteen plays, dozens of novels and collections of essays. He was a director of a theater and cinema, an actor, and a conductor of a symphony orchestra. He flew on a combat aircraft, traveled seven times around the globe, and three times he was among the Nobel Prize nominees in Literature. 

But all this was not enough for him. He was obsessed with the thought of death, but he couldn’t decide how he should die. 

In 1960, Mishima wrote the novel “Patriotism” about how young officers attempted a coup and when the attempt failed, committed ritual suicide –hara-kiri. A person rips his stomach himself, and if possible, he should make several cuts, by turning around a blade. 

In the short story “Patriotism” Mishima said that the novel “is not a comedy or a tragedy, but a story about happiness.”

In Japan of 60s there were no samurai. And hara-kiri was also not accepted.

In 1966, Mishima publicly declared his solidarity to the right-wing radicals and joined the Japanese Self-Defense Force. The postwar constitution forbade Japan to have an army. Mishima somehow suddenly became a zealous of the national traditions, and the ultra-right monarchist politician. He wrote articles and essays, praising the value of samurai ethics and he wrote comments on the samurai code of honor –“Hagakure”. He spoke publicly for young people. And finally, in 1968, he created a student military organization “Tate-no Kai “Shield Society”, which the newspapers called the “toy army of the captain Mishima”. Now samurai behavior would be quite justified. But still one problem remained: Samurai doesn't simply do hara-kiri, but, as they say, when he “loses face”. 

In the morning of 25th of November, Mishima, got dressed in the uniform of the “Society Shield”, surrounded by ancient sword. Some of his friends and students from the “Society Shield” waited for him in the car. The main action took place at the base of the SDF of Ichigaya. 

Adjutant followed Mishima and his friends to the cabinet of the commander. Suddenly Mishima’s students attacked the General, tied him to chair and barricaded the door with chairs. Mishima announced that he took the General as a hostage and demanded the immediate withdrawal from the parade ground of the SDF units.

Police and journalists arrived immediately. All were absolutely stunned, and no one could understand what happened with the living classic, the idol of Japan. Mishima appeared on the balcony of the building with extremely courageous expression and addressed the soldiers: “I’m sorry that I have to speak to you in such circumstances. I thought you were the last hope of Japan, the last stronghold of the Japanese soul. But today, the Japanese think only about money… Are you samurai, or not? Are you men? After all, you are warriors! Why do you defend the Constitution, which prohibits the existence of the army?”

The soldiers didn’t understand. They were puzzled. They were looking how the famous writer was waving his hands and shouted something. It was time for the final scene.

Mishima set on the floor, crossed his legs, unbuttoned his uniform, and took his short sword with his right hand. He shouted: “Tenno Heika Banzai!” “Long live the Emperor!” He raised his sword with both hands, and plunged the blade into the left lower abdomen. After finishing a long horizontal cut, Mishima fell down with his face on the carpet. 

According to the tradition, tortures of samurai must end by cutting off his head. One of his students, Furu-Koga, took away his sword and helped the teacher to die. Mishima’s head rolled right under the feet of the police, who broke into the cabinet. 

Mishima wrote all his plays usually this way: first, he wrote a final remark, then the entire text, without any corrections. When going to the meeting with death, Mishima left a short note on his desk: “Human life is limited but I would like to live forever”.  

 

mishima death

 

 

“For clearly it is impossible to touch eternity with one hand, and life with the other.” Yukio Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. 

“What I wanted was to die among strangers, untroubled, beneath a cloudless sky. And yet my desire differed from the sentiments of that ancient Greek who wanted to die under the brilliant sun. What I wanted was some natural, spontaneous suicide. I wanted a death like that of a fox, not yet well versed in cunning, that walks carelessly along a mountain path and is shot by a hunter because of its own stupidity…”. Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask.

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