Review Of Patriotism,
by Yukio Mishima
Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 5/1/10
This is one of those books that would have been better if expressed within a larger tale, because although the writing is technically good, the story is not particularly complex and it is, well…dour. Here’s the summary: a young couple marries. He is 31 and she is 23. Both are physically in their prime: attractive, sexual and full of vigor. Then the husband is sent away on tour of duty for the Imperial Army. Meanwhile, the wife prepares to kill herself if he does not return, as all dutiful wives should do. But then, surprise! He returns, albeit despondent because he knows he will be forced out the next day, instructed to perform an attack on his colleagues who have been labeled “Insurgents.” He is unable to perform this task so he has no choice but to perform seppuku. His wife agrees to die with him, though he trusts her enough to be a “witness” to his death, knowing that following his, she will suicide herself.
They make preparations. They have sex one last time. There are some moments of observation, such as: “The agonies they could not yet feel, the distant pains of death, had refined their awareness of pleasure.” Then, upon looking at his wife’s beautiful body, in his mind he rejoices the fact that he will never need witness this beauty’s decay. Then, we know what happens. Following sex, they prepare the suicide. He wraps a white cloth around the handle and plunges the knife into his gut, on the left side. He bleeds. He moans. His wife watches. Then an insightful comment is made: “It struck him as incredible that, amidst this terrible agony, things which could be seen could still be seen, and existing things existed still.”
So he is shocked that the world does not cease around him. Then, more agony as he cuts his stomach further, and his guts fall out. Following that, he plunges the knife into his neck (his wife helps to loosen his collar thankfully) and there is a large spurt of blood and then he is dead. Following this, the wife’s last dilemma is her wonder as to if she should unbolt the door so neighbors will be able to find them. She does. Then, she plunges the knife into her own neck, her mouth fills with blood, and then she sees red and the end.
I told you it was dour. Does this sound like something you’d want to read? This whole act is meant to be an honorable one, and many of these themes were better expressed in Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, where the idea of beauty being destroyed (be it a human body or physical building) gives one a sense of power. To take charge of one’s mortality is the honorable thing to do when no other options are available, or hell, to many back then, this was the only option.
Mishima was obsessed with dying an “honorable death” and spoke about
his plans for his own seppuku, which he eventually committed in 1970. He made
preparations by bodybuilding and perfecting his physical form, all so he could
destroy it. While Patriotism is technically well-written, in that, it is
brief, lacks condescension, and is bereft of sentimentality, it’s not
particularly complex, for these ideas have not only been expressed better in
other Mishima works, but for anyone interested in this subject, as well as a
complex meditation about duty, honor, life and death, I recommend Masaki
Kobayashi’s Harakiri, which is an
Also, Patriotism is not a work
that really needed its own book. This is really just a short story, and not one
of Mishima’s best. His novels, despite their melodrama, are far more poetic
and complex than this, and handle most of these themes better. Yet for those who
are really interested, there is a thirty-minute silent film by Mishima that
tells this whole story, though I found it boring.
Patriotism (translated by Geoffrey W. Sargent) is published by New Directions, the same publisher of Five By Endo. (The Endo book was much better). I say, read that instead.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Examiner website.]
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