Monday, 20 October 2014

Yukio Mishima - Damian Flanagan - Critical Lives

The momentum of books on Mishima Yukio continues after the recently mammoth addition to the canon with Persona comes a more concise book from Damian Flanagan, an award winning translator of Soseki Natsume, published as part of the admirable Critical Lives Series by Reaktion Books. Flanagan's Mishima starts with Mishima's final hours, describing the sequence of events of Mishima's attempted coup before reversing back to examine how his early years were influenced by being torn between the overbearance of his grandmother with that of his mother and also of his father, who disapproved of his tendencies towards writing, this is described as instilling a trauma in the young Kimitake and there are similes made between the state of post-war Japan with that of Mishima's psyche, a pulling between adopting and attraction to Westernization with that of preserving Japan's traditional identity and characteristics.
Centre to this book Flanagan points to an event that he feels is perhaps overlooked in other books that have appeared about him, that after graduating Mishima received a watch from the Emperor, time would remain a central facet to Mishima, Flanagan points that the taking off of his watch was one of the last actions he undertook, and throughout the book highlights other incidences where time played a crucial part in his life, his strict adherence to publisher's deadlines, most affectively Flanagan points to Mishima's sense of the forces of time culminating in his writing of The Sea of Fertility, wanting to write a 'world explaining book' that would also transcend time itself, whilst writing the instalments of the book, Flanagan deftly demonstrates that for Mishima, time was running out, and aptly describing the events of November 25th as Japan's JFK day, the documentary The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima points out that a reportedly 10,000 people turned out for his funeral, Flanagan's conceptual or thematical approach in describing the events surrounding the writing of The Sea of Fertility and November 25th is a refreshing approach, in addition to it he also explores the significance of the sea in Mishima's writing as being a place void of time, these contrasts run parallel to the polarities found in Mishima himself, transforming himself from the aloof pale young man to the body builder of his later years, time seems to be at the heart of the writer who felt himself an anachronism at the age of twenty.    
As with the other biographies of Mishima what comes across succinctly is his prolificness as a writer, perhaps something that was encouraged by his mother who would provide ink and paper for him, it seems his writing schedule would begin at 11 at night, warming up with lighter stories and then moving onto his more literary works, Mishima's writing career and influences are chronicled, a striking image is that of the launch of A Forest In Full Bloom held in a blacked out restaurant during the bombing raids, and of his father resignedly accepting Mishima's writing career with the observation that due to the war he'd be dead soon anyway, reading of his initial ventures into his career as a writer there's a feeling that with his connections with the owners of a paper factory in a time of strict paper rationing this might have been a factor that perhaps may have tilted the balance slightly to his favour. Among his influences it always comes as a slight surprise that although Cocteau and Radiguet are often name checked, Genet's seems to be absent, Flanagan explores the Mishima - Dazai relationship/influence, and among other writers mentions the folklorist Shinobu Orikuchi, (Shisha no Sho), who Mishima gave a fictional portrait in the short story Mikumano Mōde translated by John Bester as Acts of Worship. Throughout the book there is mention of film adaptions of Mishima's works and those that he acted in, perhaps a filmography would have made an interesting addition to the bibliographies at the end of the book, the link between Japanese literature and cinema is a fascinating one.  
Toward the end of the book Flanagan summarises Mishima in relation to contemporary writers, noting in a way that in terms of writers being recognised in the West that the baton has been passed to Murakami Haruki, with the observation that Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase begins on the significant date of November 25th, throughout the book it's mentioned that Mishima was also consciously aware of trends in the zeitgeist, at times this was more successful than others, as with the success of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion over the subsequent court case surrounding After the Banquet's publication. Mishima left many enigmas behind, and to fully gauge the extent of his legacy would be interesting to estimate, maybe it would take a manga adaption of Kamen no kokuhaku to find Mishima at the centre of things again within a contemporary setting, but Mishima's abhorrence of the materialistic way of life still has relevance and leverage for the twenty first century. Essentially the book is inspiring and erudite wanting you to turn to the novels and the writing again, discussing Thirst For Love from 1950 we learn that Mishima had toyed with the idea of Etsuko's perspective being that from a male one, which spurns a reappraisal of this writer who pursued things to their fullest degree.
Yukio Mishima is part of the Critical Lives Series at Reaktion Books

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