Sunday, 9 December 2012

J-Lit Giants: 2 - Yukio Mishima

I'm back again with another in my J-Lit Giants series, in which I (and, hopefully, a few guests) introduce a famous Japanese writer and recommend a few books to get you started.  Today, we'll be looking at a writer who made the headlines for more than just his literary legacy...

Yukio Mishima (real name Kimitake Hiraoka) was a prolific writer who came to a rather untimely end.  He began writing during his high-school days (even though his father was against his literary pursuits), and he had one of his stories published in a famous literary magazine.  His career began in earnest after World War Two, and he went on to write a host of famous novels, including the four-part Sea of Fertility quadrilogy.

Mishima was very different to your average writer.  He was an actor and a model, appearing in films and photo campaigns, and he also had a keen interest in weight-training and body-building (something your average writer is not exactly known for!).  He also had a keen sense of tradition and responsibility - something which was to have an impact later on in his life...

In November 1970, Mishima and a group of his followers attempted to start a coup against the Emperor.  After his half-hearted attempt was laughed down, he calmly went inside and committed seppuku - ritual suicide.  One of the most famous writers in the world attempted to disembowel himself with a sword before being beheaded by a helper.  Imagine the headlines today...

One reason for his decision may have been the fact that Yasunari Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, meaning that Mishima was unlikely to ever win the award, despite having been a favourite to win it several times.  Whether this was the reason or not, it was a sad end for a great writer.

Mishima is probably not the most accessible of Japanese writers.  Some of his best works are dense and can be hard going for newcomers to his work.  However, they're not all quite so difficult to get into.  My three to try would be:

1) Spring Snow - This is a late-career novel, the first in his famous Sea of Fertility series, but it's a wonderful love story and a novel which is easy to get lost in.

2) After the Banquet - The story of a high-class restaurant owner's marriage to a dour politician is a novel about opposites attracting, but failing to go the distance.  Again, it displays a much lighter touch than some of Mishima's works.

3) The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea - This is a short work, more of a novella than a novel, but it is a powerful one.  A sailor's relationship with a single mother is threatened by the woman's son - a boy with some very disturbing tendencies.  This may not be one for those with faint hearts and weak stomachs...

So there you have it - another great writer with lots of books to explore :)  As always, let us know about your experiences with today's giant, be they happy or depressing ones.  Our comments box is always open ;)