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[494] Forbidden Colors – Yukio Mishima

” 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/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

Yukio Mishima, Japanese Literature

If Haruki Murakami epitomizes modern Japanese literature, then the genre is too weird and eccentric for me. Dreamscape, wells, missing cats (and wives)… I feel so disjointed. So I have shifted my attention to Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor, and film director who was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. But, his legendary death precedes his life. After a failed military rally Mishima committed ritualized suicide and cemented his position as staunchly conservative right-winger.

In 1955, Mishima (age 30) took up weight training and his workout regimen of three sessions per week was not disrupted for the final 15 years of his life. In his 1968 essay Sun and Steel, Mishima deplored the emphasis given by intellectuals to the mind over the body. Mishima later also became very skillful at kendo. Although it is known that he visited gay bars in Japan, Mishima’s sexual orientation annoyed his widow: she wanted that part of his life downplayed after his death. Forbidden Colours, which I’m reading at the moment, deals with this downplaying of homosexuality—except Mishima goes farther. An old novelist who has been scarred by three disastrous marriages finds his revenge machine a very handsome homosexual who will mete out punishment of the womankind. Mishima style is more embellished but not as disjointed as Murakami. He often weaves his philosophical view in his writing, the tucks and pleats of the prose. The story now really sneaks up on me as the protagonist carries on with both a wife and her husband. What is it about the Japanese that they are so obsessed with masochism? Misogyny is also a encroaching theme in this book. That it describes a marriage of a gay man to a young woman renders the novel somewhat autobiographical.

Cherry Blossoms, Yukio Mishima

The ebullience and conviviality of cherry blossom festival in Japantown takes a darkening tinge this year on the heels of the recent tragedy. In Japan, the flowers have long symbolized the fleeting nature of beauty and life. Japanese poets from early on took this as analogous to the ephemerality of life. The focus, besides cherry blossom viewing, is on relief effort, which is what have brought me to the community this weekend. Short window of the blossoms, made worse by gusty wind in the city that blows off the petals, is perceived with a new layer of meaning.

On top of the benefit booths, Tokyo-based Kinokuniya Bookstore also donates a percentage of the sales to relief effort. San Francisco store has a good selection of Japanese literature in English translation. Yukio Mishima (三島由紀夫 1925-1970) is the purpose of the visit. He is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century, whose avant-garde work displayed a blending of modern and traditional aesthetics that broke cultural boundaries, with a focus on sexuality, death, and political change.

Although it is known that he visited gay bars in Japan, Mishima’s sexual orientation remains a matter of debate, as his widow wanted that part of his life downplayed after his death. However, several people have claimed to have had homosexual relationships with Mishima, including writer Jiro Fukushima, who published a revealing correspondence between himself and the famed novelist.

I’m interested in reading two of his most controversial novels, which are meant to be autobiographical. Forbidden Colors (禁色 Kinjiki) describes a marriage of a gay man to a young woman. The name kinjiki is a euphemism for homosexuality. The kanji 禁 means “forbidden” and 色 in this case means “erotic love”, although it can also mean “color” or “lust.” The word “kinjiki” also means colors which were forbidden to be worn by people of various ranks in the Japanese court. The title is pun-intended and has multiple meanings. Confessions of a Mask (仮面の告白 Kamen no Kokuhaku) is about a young man who, born with a less-than-ideal body in terms of physical fitness and robustness, struggles to keep his homosexuality to himself. It’s been recognized that Mishima had placed himself in the novel, cast himself as the protagonist.

[131] The Temple of the Golden Pavilion – Yukio Mishima

“Never once has the temple disregarded me when I have tried to embody myself in the happiness and pleasures of life. One every such occasion it has been the fashion of the temple to block my effort instantly and to force me to return to myself.” (147)

Based on an actual incident, the burning of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, the novel portrays a neurotic personality to its fullness. Mizoguchi lives up to the saying that the quiet one is always the one needed to be beware of for possible deadly actions. Because of the boyhood trauma of seeing his mother make love to another man in the presence of his dying father, Mizoguchi becomes a hopeless stutterer. Taunted by his schoolmates, he feels utterly alone and withdraws to a taciturnity of which he takes pride, arising from the fact of not being understood by other people and that he feels no need to express things and to make others understand something he knows.

The rift between his inner world and the outer world (outer world refers mainly to the ugliness), makes him seek the refuge in the Golden Temple. He becomes an acolyte who aspires to become the master of the temple one day. Gradually the temple comes to exist more deeply and more solidly within him, until by chance he discovers the hypocrisy of the Superior, to whom his university education has been indebted. From here comes Mizoguchi’s determination to free himself from the fixation to the temple. He despises any desire for beauty, pleasure, and happiness and tries to prove impossibility of love.

A morbidly distorted mentality takes hold of him and foreshadows a deadly vision that would crush all human beings and all objects irrespective of their ugliness and beauty. So much that Mizoguchi despises any desire for carnal desire and physical happiness, his own pursuit of desire that eventually leads to the the temple’s destruction transform baseness to courage. He reminds me of Rasolinkov in Crime and Punishment, who believes he’s above the law to punish those who are louts. Mizoguchi’s taciturnity alone, as he claims, is sufficient to justify every manner of cruelty. On the one hand he enjoys how one by one he would wreak punishment on those who have wronged him and tormented him; on the other hand, he fancies himself as a great artist, endowed with the clearest vision–a veritable sovereign of his inner world. In other words, that his stuttering prevents him from communicating with the outer world enriches him to be a chosen being that is more superior.