Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Confessions of a Mask

by Yukio Mishima

I'm not sure how to begin to tell you how gee-dee amazing this book is...but it's going in my Top 10. It's got that literary feeling. You can tell it's capital-letter Great and Classic even as you read it, but it doesn't seem old-fashioned or stuffy, and it isn't boring. It's very emotional, in fact, and it made me cry. It's also quite different from the Western canon of important novels.

Mishima was a renaissance man: poet, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, actor. In post-WWII Japan he was a well-known celebrity and cultural hero. He embraced some aspects of modernity and Western culture, but he also called for a return to traditional samurai-esque values of courage, honor, and independence — the latter being particularly important in the years after Japan's humbling defeat and disarmament. He committed ritual suicide in 1970 during a failed attempt to take over a Japanese military base, an act he had hoped would inspire a coup d'etat and return power to the imperial throne.

Mishima's second novel, published in 1948 when he was 24, Confessions of a Mask is a semi-autobiographical account of a young latent homosexual who conceals his true nature from society. The author's own sexual orientation remains subject to debate, although in some ways it was also an "open secret", as if he were the Jodi Foster of 1940s Japan. Reading the parts of the novel in which the protagonist wrestles with his desires, tries to intellectualize them away, ignores and denies them, gives in to them, it's difficult to imagine all that was written by someone who hadn't felt those feelings himself. (Then again, a lot of people were fooled by J.T. Leroy and other fakesters.) If he were a gay man determined to stay closeted, that could also explain at least part of his attraction to the rigid discipline of military life and bushido.

I also highly recommend the amazing film called Mishima: a life in four chapters.

1 comment:

amnion said...

My name is Aaron Embry
I thought you might be interested in seeing Yukio Mishima's film
"Yukoku-the Rite of Love and Death"
with the original score I wrote.
Watch the film here:


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Aaron Embry