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Remembering Yukio Mishima:
January 14, 1925–November 25, 1970

700 words

Spanish translation here

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:

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.

Many English translations of Mishima’s writings are available, but not all of his books are worth reading. I recommend beginning with The Sound of Waves, his most naive, charming, and popular novel. 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). The best collection of Mishima’s stage works is My Friend Hitler and Other Plays. (My Friend Hitler is about the Röhm purge.) Mishima’s most important autobiographical work is Confessions of a Mask. (Sun and Steel also falls in this category, but should be read after Confessions.) 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 After Mishima’s death, the film of Patriotism was withdrawn by his widow, but after she died, it was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection.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. I can 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.

In 2013, Naoki Inose’s massive Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima appeared in English. This exhaustively researched volume will probably stand for a long time as the definitive 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, inlcuding 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.

Finally, I want to recommend a little-known website by an important Counter-Currents writer: Jack Donovan’s Headless God: A Tribute to Yukio Mishima.

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4 Comments

  1. Orcish Scribe
    Posted January 14, 2020 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Is dr Johnson going to do a rebuttal of Andrew Joyce’s infamous smack down of Mishima? Are you two trying to revive the William Buckley/gore Vidal dichotomy?

    I think the issue is that the right as I understand it, or the issues which concern me, does not exist in the Japanese context. I would probably be some sort of far left pinko in Japan, said with no knowledge of Japanese politics.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted January 14, 2020 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      I posted a couple of comments at TOO. That’s about all I can spare his article.

    • Arthur Konrad
      Posted January 14, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      I just read that piece and it does recall some aspects of the Alt-Right’s golden age of autism, and I’m hardly expressing sensitivity to opposing views here. The thing is, there is always something fishy about a would-be cold headed critique that instantly opens with a note of (affected) indignation. (his”profound dissapointment”) It somehow suggests irritability and impatience.

      There are also some parts of it that worringly suggest author did not familiarize himself with Mishima’s literature as much as he claims, for example:

      “Mishima knew nothing of nature, being a decadent urbanite, and was unlike many Japanese in being ignorant of the most basic botany” – This left me perplexed, since I picked up several volumes on trees and flowers stoked precisely by his exhaustive descriptions of Japanese flora that made me feel like an ignoramus. Also, I cannot help but be puzzled as to why would anyone be so annoyed with a Japanese who is quite understandably, disposed to his culture in a way that simply must come across as somewhat arcane to outsiders. There’s nothing that I personally found more irritating than the ireedemably clumsy Western interpretations of culture belonging to my own people, as they could never muster enough strength to stop applying idiotic and autistic categories belonging to the “current year culture” of whichever decade of the 20th century, as if it were some kind of divine revelation of political science.

      If that were Spencer’s comments there, they were on spot and not unoriginal. (albeit tainted with some self-congratultion here and there)

  2. Comtaose
    Posted January 14, 2020 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    Quite a few of Mishima’s works mentioned in this post have been made into films in Japan and some even in the West. For example, “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” (午後の曳航) was made into a Western film with the same plot as the original novel, only to move the story to England. The movie can be found both at amazon.com and amzon.jp, with the one for sale at amazon.jp being added Japanese captions, and it seems the Japanese reviewers have given it a gerenally quite positive feedback as shown by the reviews under the movie.

    Moreover, “Black Lizard” (黒蜥蜴) has already been released in DVD and is currently for sale on amazon.jp. There are two versions and unfortunately they are both in Japanese language only. One is sold at JPY1,910, the other which is a more advanced blue-ray version, is sold at JPY4,231, both within affordable price ranges. Black Lizard was originally a novel written by the famous Japanese master detective novelist Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965), and was composed into a drama by Mishima. Lyrics of the film’s theme song and interlude music were written by Mishima too.

    Prompted by Greg’s recommendations, I am thinking about buying DVDs of “Afraid to Die” and “Black Lizard” from amazon.jp 🙂

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