The life and death of Yukio Mishima

I just finished reading Mishima: A Biography, by John Nathan. I’ve been reading a lot of Mishima lately, and this biography provides a lot of insight into a fascinating person.

A brief bio, for those who aren’t familiar with him: Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970) was a Japanese writer who produced an enormous number of novels, essays, poems, and plays. As well as writing, he also acted and directed. In the late 1960s, while he was in his 40s, he became involved in right-wing nationalism, which culminated in his committing seppuku after failing to persuade the Japanese Self-Defence Force to rise up, overthrow the current government, and restore the Emperor to power.

I took a break to read this biography three-quarters of the way through Mishima’s last work, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy. The final book was finished shortly before his suicide so I thought that to get the most out of it I should learn more about the author before reading it. I’ll be starting that last book soon and now I’d also like to go back and re-read the semi-autobiographical Confessions of a Mask, which I read last year.

Mishima is often called an ultranationalist or a fascist, but what I’ve learned from his biography, the author of which knew him personally, is that his politics were more a means toward an end rather than an end in itself. He was obsessed with the samurai ideal and wanted to die a death befitting a warrior. After World War II ended, the right-wing movement provided him the best, and only, opportunity to.