Monday, February 4, 2013

Persona - A Biography of Yukio Mishima



 
Recently reading an article in the Daily Mainichi it pointed out that within the space of a year in Japan there had been published 10 non-fiction titles on Mishima, as it's just over forty years since his committing seppuku Mishima still generates a great deal of interest, it probably could quite easily be thought that Mishima remains Japan's most controversial author. Persona, by Naoki Inose, along with Hiroaki Sato is an expansive book,  where as the two previous biographies of Mishima have given more of a straightforward account of his life Persona gives his life and works a much broader contextualisation, although the authors of the previous biographies can relate their personal relationships to Mishima, Persona is afforded with a more detached view, and as we move further away from the events of not only his life but that of the Japan of his day we are treated to a panorama of historical and political events. In the first segment of the book there are detailed portraits and explorations of Mishima's lineage and of his ancestry, this makes for an informing historical study  within itself, as it incorporates the sociological and political upheavals and their implications of the emerging Meiji era, an indelible question that arises and seems to stand out from the various episodes and rebellions of the time being- 'is modernization the same as westernization?', which seems to encapsulate the dilemma of the period, one that would perhaps continue to an extent into the subsequent one. This genealogical portrait leads  us to Hiraoka Kimitake growing up under the watchful eye of his domineering grandmother who installed an appreciation of culture in the young Kimitake, later as he began to write his father was initially very opposed to his writing destroying manuscripts when he found them, although he would receive encouragement from his mother.

As well as describing Mishima's formative years as a writer, initally poetry and then short stories, Persona  offers a glimpse into his influences, like many Japanese writers of the time we learn of his indebtedness to the translator and poet Horiguchi Daigaku, who translated Radiguet, Cocteau and Morand into Japanese. As the narrative of the biography follows Mishima's progress it often sidesteps into explanatory descriptions of political changes and shifting social attitudes that would inform his writing, which often take two or three steps away from the subject before working their way back, these prove to be highly informing and an aid to con-textualize Mishima and his writing. Probably the lengthiest of these is given over in describing the writing of Confessions of a Mask/Kamen no Kokuhaku, events of the novel are contrasted with those that occurred in his real life, the famous scenes of the novel are carefully examined, the medical examination which he failed to pass, the discovery of the painting of The Martydom of St Sebastian by Guido Reni, (later whilst recounting his travels in Europe we learn of when Mishima saw the  painting in the original). Another episode which we get the impression that left a deep and marked impression on Mishima was his meeting and relationship with Mitani Kuniko, the sister of a friend, whom he missed the opportunity of marrying which would be the source of a deep inner regret, subsequently he learned of her engagement on a date that would later become significant, 25th November. The biography illustrates Mishima's prolificness in great detail, if not writing for multiple monthly magazine articles whilst also his novels and plays then we see him travelling to research his writing,  passages from a notebook for one such excursion for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea is given, in it we read abstract descriptions of the setting, it's fauna, the departure times of the ships, designs of  naval uniforms. After the war Mishima appears to have been on a one man mission to create a literary revival akin to the one that W.B Yeats initiated, Mishima being the antithesis to many writers of the day most notably Dazai, who was at the height of his popularity when Mishima was at the start of the ascension of his, Dazai's suicide acted as a catalyst in Mishima between the concepts of a writer's death with that of the death of a man of action, the distinction between the intellect and the physical is something that seems to have grown wider as his life progressed.

Persona delivers to us a Mishima we are familiar with and also one we are not so, reading the book we recognise the key events and moments in his life but there are also many incidences and details here perhaps not given as much attention to in the previous biographies, the times he spent in New York and also in Persona there is larger emphasis given over in exploring Mishima the playwright. The book originally written for the domestic audience references many titles that have yet to be translated and it provokes speculations  on which of Mishima's books may appear in translation next?, Kyoko's House, Beautiful Star, or the first collection The Forest in Bloom?, it would have to be said that any new translations are long overdue.

Persona at Stone Bridge Press


4 comments:

Tony said...

I'm a bit dubious about whether there are any great works waiting to be translated. There's a lot in English already - surely the best has already been found...

me. said...

Maybe, but perhaps maybe you can never have enough translations!, by the sounds of it Kyoko's House sounds like a significant novel, and Beautiful Star sounds so unlike anything else Mishima wrote and would make a great addition to his oeuvre in English.

Parrish Lantern said...

This sounds fascinating especially with it's historical perspective & the fall out of caused by Japan's opening up to outside influences, as you state that quote 'is modernization the same as westernization?', has haunted a lot of J-lit since.

me. said...

There is a lot here, as well as being a life of Mishima it reads in many places as being very much like a history of modern Japan.

Although at nearly 800 pages, or there abouts it's an incredibly well paced read.