” Yuichi did not believe in what is called tasting happiness; in his heart, it seemed, he secretly feared it. When he saw something supposed to be lasting, terror gripped him. ” (Ch.11, p.143)
Mishima’s allegedly autobiographical novel happens to be somewhat verbose, despite his skilled wording and numerous passages that are both lyrical and philosophical. Finishing at over 400 pages, Forbidden Colors feels unnecessarily long, consider it embraces many familiar themes attempted by other contemporary writers: sexual identity, homophobia, and moral confusion. This novel is very complicated, its prose full of tucks and pleats like the texture in sculptures. It has all the classic Mishima elements: beauty and the power it holds, and the misery one feels from such beauty. Only the beautiful emerge relatively unscathed—and they are usually men because men are what matter compared to the helpless women. The men’s shortcomings in other areas are obviously unimportant placed next to their aesthetic value.
Yuichi did not love a woman, and the woman bore Yuichi a child. At that time he saw the ugliness, not of Yasuko’s will, but of objectless desire in life. (Ch.26, p.330)
As much as the novel concerns with a character whose dazzling beauty turns many a head in both men and women, Mishima focuses on the notion of ugliness, and he associates old age with ugliness. Forbidden Colors initially focuses on an aging novelist, Shunsuke Hinoki. Embittered by a string of failed marriages, he has come to hate women, seeing them as creatures devoid of a soul. While pursuing his latest mistress to a hot-spring resort, he encounters Yuichi Minami, a handsome young man tortured by his desire for other men. The old novelist is so entangled in intellectualism as to be capable of despicable acts and self-deception. He sees in the attractive Yuichi a perfect instrument to exact his revenge on womankind and to mete out his punishment. He instructs the young man in misogyny, and binds him to his will by offering much financial succor.
Someone once said that homosexuals have on their faces a certain loneliness that will not come off. Besides, in their glances flirtatiousness and the cold stare of appraisal are combined. Although the coquettish looks that women direct at the opposite sex and the appraising glances they direct at their own sex have quite separate functions, with the homosexual both are directed at one and the same person. (Ch.7, p.96)
Out of filial duty, Yuichi is locked in a loveless marriage. Although he doesn’t love his wife, but later pondering her face at the pinnacle of suffering during childbirth, he develops a tenderness for her. He feels responsible for her suffering but she resolves to live in an impenetrable indifference. Throughout the novel, Yuichi struggles to maintain his dual life. While being a husband to a pregnant woman and an ailing mother, he carries on with a string of lovers—a former count who is a master seducer, a motor industrialist who later fears his ruin, and a skein of bar flames—who grow increasingly infatuated with him. They gay characters are miserable not because they are immoral; they are miserable because of their internalized homophobia. They impress me as being narcissistic and self-destructive. Yuichi’s callousness strains the barriers between the two worlds until his exposure seems inevitable. The repugnance that Shunsuke has built up inside him further complicates his pain. It’s almost too difficult for him to distinguish between his passion for determining the source of the repugnance and a desire, motivated by appetite and lust for the flesh to seek out the fountainhead of pleasure. This tension fuels the entire novel, stitching together different characters’ outlook and philosophy and offering a universal theme in LGBT literature: the struggle between expressing one’s true self and presenting a counterfeit self to the world to survive. To live within the society’s moral constraint, that is, a construct based upon heterosexual norm, is to be stripped of one’s dignity. This is what the novelist meant by “subtle evil is more beautiful than coarse goodness, and is therefore moral.” (336) Forbidden Colors is bleak and challenging, offering only the hope of freedom in conformity.
429 pp. Penguin. Paper. [Read/
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