277th Meeting - Tuesday, August 8th 2006


"Mishima: Letters, Eros, Death"

A film presentation and talk by Paul McCarthy

Present: David Freidberg, Randall Jones, Dr. Masanao Umebayashi, Richard Nelson-Jones, John Butt, David Engel, Celeste Tolibas-Holland, David Bryar, Sherry Brenner, Victoria Vorreiter, Alan Hall, Andy Williams, John Cadet, Thomas Ohlson, Abel Van Olst, Catherine Nesbit, Steve Epstein, Alan Lopez, Carl Samuels, Louis Gabaude, Renata Perini, Rafehanok Kafbernroung, Gantafue Jourdain, Jay Rabin, Guy Cardinal, Hans Bänziger, Andrew W. Dicks, Richard Howard, Hans Baumann, Raimondo Bultrini, Horst Schneider, Reinhard Hohler, Bodil Blokker. An audience of 34.

The film, by the American director Paul Schrader, deals with the life, career, and principal works of the Japanese novelist, playwright, and essayist Yukio Mishima (1925-1970).  It focuses especially on the last days of Mishima's life, his relationship with his "private army" known as "the Society of the Shield", their failed coup d'état, and Mishima's dramatic death by "seppuku" (vulg.: "hara- kiri"). It is a serious look at the life and death of one of the greatest Japanese writers of modern times, but has never been released in Japan due to pressure from the right-wing, and from Mishima's family.

Paul McCarthy, who will introduce the film and answer questions about it afterwards, has a Ph.D. in Japanese literature (Harvard, 1975) and has taught Japanese and English language and literature at universities in America and Japan for the past thirty years. He is currently Professor of Comparative Culture at Surugadai University, Hanno, Saitama, Japan. His specialty is the literature of Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (1886-1965), but he has a strong interest also in Mishima, whom he met, and about whom he has written in English and Japanese.

Paul’s introduction to the film:

On November 25, 1970, the news of Mishima Yukio's dramatic public address to the Japanese Self-Defence Force, which constituted an appeal for a right-wing coup d'état, and his subsequent act of seppuku (ritual suicide) was broadcast around the world. His acts were shocking and controversial by nature: Mishima's motives were complex and hard to elucidate. But Henry Miller wrote in a perceptive essay that "...to open any one of his books, one senses immediately the pattern of his life and his inevitable doom. He repeats his motifs...over and over again, like a musician. He gives us the feeling of being an exile here below. Obsessed by love of things of the spirit, everlasting things, how could he help but be an exile among us?"
The film we are seeing, by the American director Paul Schrader, gives an overview, blending the biographical and the literary, the political and the aesthetic. The work is divided into four chapters: Beauty, Art, Action, and Harmony of Pen and Sword.  Principal works "quoted" in either the biographical or literary segments include:  <Confessions of a Mask>,  <The Temple of the Golden Pavilion>, <Kyoko's House> [untranslated into English], <Runaway Horses>, and <Sun and Steel>.
Among the principal influences on Mishima, one can detect Western elements (a fascination with Greek antiquity; an admiration for European, especially French, writers like Gide, Cocteau, and Radiguet); traditional East Asian elements (classical Heian culture in his earliest work; the Edo Period culture of the samurai, combining literary and martial arts (bunbu ryodo); the heterodox Chinese Neo-Confucianism of the Wang Yangming School, emphasizing intuition and action rather than ratiocination; the tradition of imperial loyalism and restorationism embodied in Yoshida Shoin, whose date of execution by the Edo government Mishima chose as the date of his own death.)
Though rather neglected today, Mishima remains one of the most brilliant writers of twentieth century Japan. His ideas, whatever we may finally think of them, represent a strong rebuke to the idea of Japan as a mere "economic animal."