Yukio Mishima: An Obsession in Seppuku

Imagine being so obsessed with a fiction you wrote, you find a way to make it a reality

In France, we’ve got this manga Mishima Boys, it’s been written by Eiji Otsuka, yup, the writer behind MPD Psycho or Leviathan, and it exists solely in our country. Mostly speaks of three young men wanting to change Japan and their hidden link to Yukio Mishima. Series was never finished, first tome got released four years ago. Another mangaka who wrote about Mishima was Bonten Taro. Taro wasn’t just an illustrator/writer throughout his life, he was a rock singer, a soldier, a tattoo artist. In 1971, Taro released Between Cold Blood and Insanity, a 15 pages long gekiga recounting the death of Yukio Mishima, asking the question: Can modern Japanese really judge Mishima? It might be useful to remember that both men were friends and actually trained in the same gym together. Yet the question remains.

Yukio Mishima was born Hiaraoka Kimitake on January 14th 1925 in a family of somewhat noble ascent. On his mother’s side was a line of vassals while his father’s roots allegedly led to a shogun through his grandmother. This is this woman who would soon take a hold of the young Kimitake for she was scared of him living in a house which possessed a second story. During his stay with her, the young boy learned to speak a feminine dialect and was introduced to No and Kabuki theatre.

In 1936 February 26, happened the Niniroku Jiken Incident. A strange coup orchestrated by soldiers who took hostage a bunch of ministers and killed four of them while asking to meet the emperor. Their request was simple, they believed Japanese Armed Forces should gain more power in front of the menace communism represented. The Emperor of Japan shocked by the murder of his ministers asked for the army to squash the rebellion. Two of the leaders committed seppuku while other were shot by official forces. Kimitake was 11. One can assume that this left a mark on the young boy’s mind, if not only because he was raised in a traditional household.

One year later, Kimitake’s grandmother would almost die and the boy would get back to his rightful house. It appears his father thought of the writing habit his son had gained as a feminine task and destroyed some of his early works. Alas, Kimitake’s writings were spreading thanks to the journal of his school and growing up it eventually got out. It’s when the young man decided to live off of his craft that he gained his pseudonym of Yukio Mishima which was given to him by his editor in fear of Kimitake’s father retaliation. With his career as a writer burgeoning, Mishima who dreamt of being greater tried to enrol in the army to join the WWII effort. It appears the doctor examining him made a mistake, thought he had pneumonia and, in fear of contamination, rejected his application. Mishima was denied the warrior’s death he always wished upon, what with the regiment he tried to enrol in being wiped over the Philippines, but this medical malpractice gave the world a great writer.

It’s through Mishima’s writing that both his fascination for seppuku and Ni ni Rokku really shine through. First thing first, I pointed at Hara-Kiri in my title because this is how the death ritual of disenboweling oneself is known in France. Mainly because of a magazine which took upon this name. But it appears that this is a familiar term and seppuku would be of better use when talking about samurai suicide ritual. Now that the air has been cleared, reading Mishima’s work you’ll notice that a common topic is the idea of sacrificing oneself in order not to loose honor. This idea appears as one of the leitmotiv of the samurai mentality. In 1913, Ogai Mori wrote The Abe Clan, a novella in which members of a shoguna decide to rebel against authority for they are unable to commit junshi. In other terms, junshi is a tradition in which members of the same kingdom have to follow their master through death. In this story allegedly based on historical facts, the Emperor passed a law preventing such suicide before everyone of the followers of a shogun had killed themselves; confronted with the slight possibility of dishonor the men kill their women and lead a revolt in order to get killed during combat, thus ensuring they didn’t dishonor themselves nor violate a rule established by the Emperor. It shall be noted that Mori’s book was adapted two times into a movie. Its last iteration was in 1995 but its first adaptation got released in 1938, Mishima was 13 then. Another thing worth keeping in mind is of the Hagakure, while it’s certainly made famous for millenials through Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai it may be useful to point out that the orignal treaty was written from a samurai who’s master had asked him not to commit junshi upon his death. Faced with dishonor, the man exiled himself and wrote what basically became a samurai guideline, or the supposed guideline as it was presented upon its rediscovery during the Pacific War, as well as Yukio Mishima’s bed-side book.

In such a context, it’s really no wonder Yukio Mishima wrote extensively about the rite of Seppuku and of the Ninirokku Jikken. It first appeared in his short story Patriotism which he released in 1960, before appearing again in his theater play Toka No Kiku in 1961, which led to his fame as a theater author, and Eirei no Koe, a 80 pages essay he wrote which basically translate into the Voice of Heroic Death. Mishima even compiled those three volumes into a sole book he then named the Ninirokku Sanbusaku in 1966. Even in Yukio Mishima’s tetralogy The Sea Of Fertility’s third book Runaway Horses does the incident and the ritual make an apparition.

But let’s concentrate on Patriotism (Yukoku) for an instant. In this short story, Yukio Mishima presents his readers with an officer who refuse to fight the rebels, for he agrees with them but he can’t disobey the Emperor. Stuck between a rock and a hard place much like the Abe clan, the young officer decides to commit suicide and asks his wife toassist him. The young woman happily agrees, stating that she’ll follow him in death. Patriotism is a bizarre tale of honor, sensuality and death, totaly worth the read, but what makes it even more interesting is that Mishima shot an adaptation of it.

Mishima had to try out a lot of production company, even with its fame, before the Daiei accepted to grant him some funds. Despite all of this, the movie had to be shot in secrecy in only two nights in the Okura studio. Few people where present, even though one acknowledge that Mishima’s lover, Morita, was there. It appears Mishima handpainted himself the credits in seven language and also made small changes to the decorum described in his short story. When the officer decides to commit suicide, one of his worry is that the blood may stain a calligraphy his a higher-ranking officer once gave him. The painting is supposed to spell Sincerity. In the movie adaptation, it appears Mishima painted himself the piece so that it would spell: Absolute Sincerity. This may have been a foreshadowing on the part of the author, and even today few are the people who likes to speak of making it. What will happen next explains partly why his widow tried to destroy all copies of the movie, and appeared successful for a long time, before the negatives were finally found by sheer luck, granting us access to the sole movie directed by Mishima, for he starred in a bunch of others.

Mishima and five boys he’d trained to be part of his personnal militia took hostage one Inspector General Mashita. It’s important to note that just like Mishima had handmade a lot of props on his movie, he also designed the clothes he and his followers were wearing for their death. In a somewhat copy of the Nini roken Jikou Incident, Mishima tried to appeal to the Japanese armied forces, hoping they would rally his movement. When face with their laugh, he committed seppuku, being helped in this by his lover Morita who ended his suffering before killing himself.

A lot has been written about Mishima, about his contradictions, as a gay icon, as a far-right extremist. But still, can you image being so obsessed by an event of your childhoor, that you’d built all your life around it?

Next Firday will be Fiction Friday! Stay tuned for a short story written by me!

Releasing a paper every Friday.

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