On its publication in 1949, "Confessions of a Mask" established Yukio Mishima as the rising star on the Japanese literary scene. The book had shocked members of the literary establishment with its candor and explicitness, but it remained the topic of conversation in the Japanese newspapers throughout the summer and fall of 1949. Despite the book's disturbing subject matter, the literary establishment in Japan had to admit that it was an very important piece of writing. Yasunari Kawabata was echoing a common sentiment when in December of 1949 he published a short article entitled "Mishima : The hope of 1950".
"Confessions of a Mask" is divided into four chapters.
Chapter one deals with the life of the narrator, whose name is Kochan, from his birth up till pre-adolesence.This chapter largely deals with Kochan's family history as well as his awareness that he must hide his true self in order to survive.
Chapter two begins with Kochan at about the age of 12 and follows him through middle school while his sexuality is developing. This part of the book is where he first becomes aware of his homosexuality as well as the sadomasochistic fantasies that he has been having since childhood. Kochan begins having regular fantasies that involve violence,death and torture. In one particular graphic section of a chapter he daydreams about cannibalism. The daydream begins with him sitting waiting for dinner to be served.The dinner is being held in a secret basement.Kochan goes into the kitchen to see when the meal will be ready when he sees one of his fellow classmates being led into the kitchen from an upstairs staircase.When the unsuspecting student arrives at the bottom of the stairs, the cooks grab him by the throat and strangles him.The student is stripped naked and laid on a silver platter.The section culminates with the murdered student being brought before Kochan and set in front of him in the middle of the table where he then carves the murdered student's body into small slices with sharp knives.
It is just before the above scene in the novel (page 92-93 of the New Direction edition) that Kochan first discusses his idea about a "murder theater".In the "murder theater" young men would battle like roman gladiators for the Kochan's amusement.In this "theater",the participants could only use knives or spears (exploding weapons such as guns were not allowed) and these weapons had to be aimed at the stomach to prolong the agony and suffering of those involved.Torture devices were not allowed either since they would not produce a sufficient outpuring of blood.
Chapter three picks up with Kochan in his middle to late teens. He is now in high school during the time period of the Second World War. Kochan is trying very hard to prove his "normality" by trying to force himself to have a romantic interest in women although he often admits to himself that he has never had these feelings towards any woman. Towards the end of the chapter he meets the sister of a school friend. Her name is Sonoko. He pretends to have a romantic interest in her, even though he is constantly telling himself that he is not attracted to her sexually. The young girl falls in love with him, only to have him eventually reject her interest.
The theme of someone pursuing the love of another, only to run away from them once that love is returned is a recurring theme in Mishima's writing. It is one of the fundamental elements of the novel "Spring Snow" ,book one of the Sea of Fertility series. The reason for this has been suggested by people who have written about Yukio Mishima. The Mishima biographer John Nathan stated in his book "Mishima: a biography" that one of the things that Yukio Mishima discovered in writing "Confessions of a Mask" was that he was a man "incapable of feeling passion or even alive except in sadomasochistic fantasies which reeked of blood and death"(page 95). Yukio Mishima was known not to be very close to any other person, with the exception of his mother. He seems to have had an extremely close relationship with her.That is not surprising considering everything that his mother did for him. It was his mother who encouraged his writing, accepted him for who he was, and protected him from the tyranny of his father. His father was known to be openly hostile to both his son's writing and his bookishness. After Mishima stopped living with his grandmother in 1937, he returned to live with his family.His parents had moved to another house away from his grandparents. After he had moved into the new family home he and his mother became very close. His mother had been denied what would have been considered reasonable access for a mother to her son for almost 12 years. She was very excited to have her whole family together once again under one roof.
In the last chapter of "Confessions of a Mask" Kochan is finishing up college. The Second World War is starting to come to an end. As the chapter begins, Kochan tells the reader that his sister who he was very close to died from disease during the war and he was very surprised to find how deeply her death affected him. Sonoko becomes engaged and marries shortly after the death of Kochan's sister. Kochan meets Sonoko again in passing several years later. Kochan has now graduated from college and is working for government ministry.Sonoko's husband also works for a government ministry, so their paths cross often. Sonoko and Kochan starting meeting for drinks in the afternoon. At one meeting Sonoko asks Kochan why he didn't want to marry her.Kochan gives the same excuse that he had given her years ago, that he was too young and not finished with his education.Sonoko confesses to feelings of guilt about their afternoon meetings.She feels as if something might develop between the two of them.Kochan keeps wanting to see Sonoko even though he is not sexually attracted to her.
The story ends with the two of them walking down the street and passing a dance hall.They go inside.The hall is filled with a rough looking crowd.As Kochan and Sonko are sitting at a table, Kochan realizes that he should not have brought Sonoko to this place.As he is looking around he sees a group of tough looking men talking to some young women.One of the men is a gangster type who is stripped naked to the waist. He is wrapping a waist band tightly around his body.Kochan can't take his eyes off the young man.He starts having fantasies that the young man will go out into the street and get into a knife fight with another gang member where he will then be brought back inside the dance hall with his belly cut open and his half naked body covered in sweat and blood.Sonoko is aware of the intense attention that Kochan is giving the young man.She then knows why Kochan didn't want to marry her.The two of them leave dance hall.
"Confessions of a Mask" is a highly autobiographical piece of writing.When you read the books of nonfiction which have been written about Yukio Mishima's life, both as a writer and as an individual, many of the events in "Confessions of a Mask" can be discerned very easily. For example the conversation between Kochan and his mother where he decides not to marry Sonoko is one that actually took place between Yukio Mishima and his own mother. Mishima's mother confirmed later to the Mishima biographer John Nathan that the meeting between her and her son took place exactly the way her son described it in the book. Another scene that was taken literally from Mishima's own life is where Kochan receives his draft notice and later deceives the army doctor into believing he is not fit for military service. This is an important episode in Mishima's life considering how ardently he expressed his unhappiness about not being killed in the war.
"Confessions of a Mask" is more than just another autobiographical novel. Many of the ingredients of Mishima's later novels have their origins in this book. Violence,sexuality,a romantic longing for death at an early age are all present in this novel.This book is also an unusual variation on the autobiographical novel. Autobiographies are both historical documents as well as being a form of literary expression. One common narrative that can be found in many of these types of writings is the telling of a person's life where that individual starts from some place outside the cultural mainstream and eventually progresses to some place within it. Examples of these kinds of novels would be Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior", Richard Wright's "Black Boy" and Zora Neale Hurston's "Dust Tracks on the Road". The autobiographical novel is a unique literary form in that it hovers somewhere between fact and fiction. Yukio Mishima took a different interpretation of this literary form in "Confessions of a Mask". The novel starts with a character who is outside the cultural mainstream in a rather minor way at the novel's beginning, but grows even more so as an outsider by the story's conclusion.The character Kochan progresses from an introverted young boy at the book's beginning to being someone who can't feel any passion at all unless he is having sadomasochistic fantasies. I can't think of another autobiography where the narrator confesses to the same feelings of self-hatred which are so prevalent in "Confessions of a Mask".
One example of the mask that Kochan wears is his pursuit of "normality". Throughout the novel, Kochan tries to appear as if he is a typical young man, much like many of his classmates at school.He tries to force himself to be attracted to women and develop the kind of romantic relationships that he sees around him everyday, but his efforts are never successful. Towards the end of the novel Kochan goes to a brothel with a classmate and proves to himself that he is not attracted to women when he is impotent with one of the prostitutes.He eventually meets a woman he wants to marry him and he is jealous of her because she is capable of romantic love and he is not.Kochan eventually comes to the conclusion that he is incapable of love with anyone. Kochan reveals to the reader in conversations that he has with himself that he feels that he is not human. That he is a strange sub-human creatue who is incapable of any kind of social intercourse.
John Nathan,who was a translator for one of Mishima's novels made a very interesting point about Yukio Mishima's true intention in writing "Confessions of a Mask" in his biography about the writer. He said that Mishima's intention in writing the book was not to confess to his sexuality, but to verify it so that he(Mishima) could eventually live with himself as an adult. The conclusion that Kochan comes to about himself by the novel's finish seems to support this interpretation. In many ways the character of Kochan at the novel's conclusion is not much farther removed from the same character at the age of twelve.Fantasies of violence and death are the only passions that seem to excite his imagination.
"Confessions of a Mask" is generally regarded by critics as being one of Mishima's finest novels. It established his reputation that he maintained until his death as being one of Japan's premier writers. "Confessions of Mask" along with the short piece of nonfiction "Sun and Steel" form a powerful personal document about the writer."Confessions of a Mask" creates a very graphic portrait of Mishima from his birth up till he was in his late twenties, while "Sun and Steel" follows the person that Yukio Mishima would later become during the last ten years of his life. The personality that emerges from the pages of "Confessions of a Mask" is very unsettling.The book gives an enormous amount of insight into the forces that would ultimately shape not just Mishima's later writings, but also the direction that his personal life would eventually take.
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