Book two of the Sea of Fertility series begins nineteen years after the death of Kiyoaki Matsugae. Honda is now a judge. He is married with no children and his life is one of routine and conformity to the culture of the Japanese legal system. One day as a favor to a colleague, he agrees to attend a kendo match that is being held outside of Tokyo. While there he notices a young student named Isao competing in the tournament. Isao easily defeats all of his challengers during the course of the day's competition and after the match, as Honda and his host are out going for a walk, Honda sees Isao bathing beneath a waterfall. Honda's eyes are drawn to three moles under Isao's arms which are very similar to the ones that Kiyoaki Matsugae had under the very same arm. As he is noticing this simalirity Honda recalls Kiyoaki's saying to him just days before he died "I'll see you again. I know it. Beneath the falls."
Honda returns to his life back in Tokyo where he now struggles with the feeling that Kiyoaki has been reincarnated in the form of Isao.The encounter following the kendo match leaves Honda in a state of turmoil. On the one hand Honda is very committed to the way of of his life that he has planned for himself and that has served him well in his profession as a lawyer. Up to his meeting with Isao, he had given himself over to a way of life governed entirely by logic and reason. The belief that Kiyoaki Matsugae could have been reincarnated in the form of Isao is something that runs counter to Honda's very nature. But this idea pursues Honda and puts his entire understanding of everything that he has assumed to be true about the world in a state of upheaval. There are too many coincidences between Isao and Kiyoaki. Besides the three moles under Isao's arm, Isao is also the son of Kiyoaki's instuctor who tried very diligently to groom Kiyoaki into the kind of man that Isao ultimately turned out to be. Isao has the same single mindedness that would ultimately cost Kiyoaki his life, but in Isao's case his passions are driven by a desire to rid his country of what he considers to be corrupt business interests who are eating away at the soul of Japan's traditional values.
Even though on the surface Isao is driven by a desire to destroy the business interests that he feels are betraying his country's destiny and as a result return Japan to a way of life that is rooted in the distant past, Isao's real goal is to die the death of a warrior by committting seppuku after fighting in the service of his country. This idea has its origins in Mishima's notion of the act of becoming a man of action, an personal objective that he would work very hard at trying to attain. This would preooccupy Mishima throughout the last years of his life. To Mishima, being a man of action was the idea that everyman should strive towards. Violent death was one means of attaing this objective. Isao shares this same preoccupation. He is infatuated with the notion of honorable death to the point where ultimately the cause that he dies for is unimportant. Isao, like Mishima, is at odds with the modern world. To Isao, the modern world is populated by unscrupulous business leaders and spineless politicians and the only institutions in the Japan that can be fully trusted are the emperor and the military. This fanatcal devotion is the driving force behind all of Isao's actions throughout the entire novel and it is also the cause of his tragic end.
Runaway Horses was begun by the author in early 1967 and finished during the summer of 1968. The year 1967 - 1968 was a busy year for Mishima. In addition to finishing "Runaway Horses" , he had begun work on the third novel in the Sea of Fertility series "Temple of the Dawn" which he experienced a great deal of troubling in writing. "Temple of the Dawn" deals very directly with the question of reincarnation and Mishima was not by nature a very religious person. Throughout much of 1967, Mishima would also be preoccupied with his military training. On April 9, 1967 Mishima secretly joined the Army Self Defense Forces (ASDF). He had been trying to join the ASDF since the previous year, but his requests had always been refused. In December of 1966 his request had been turned down indefinitely. No one is really sure exactly how Mishima managed to get the ASDF to reverse it's previous decision, but in 1967 he enlisted under the name Hiroaka and shortly afterwards started basic training. He was then 42 and most of the other recruits were in their late teens.
By the time Mishima finished "Runaway Horses" in 1968 he had been identifying for quite some time with the idea that he was a "man of action" and not just another indecisive middle-class intellectual. The importance of him seeing himself in this manner is integral to understanding the author during the last 10 years of his life. By the late 1960's the form of death that Yukio Mishima was originally planning for himself was not "seppuku", but "kirijini" which means "to die with sword in hand". He saw this as happening as a result of the conflict between the university students who politically leaned to the left and the Japanese political establishment who were more conservative, although nowhere near as as much as Mishima and his supporters. Mishima belived that the Japanese police would be unable to contain the students and that they would turn to organizations like his "private army" for assistance. The logic behind this premise is hard to understand and one wonders how Mishima came to believe in such an odd possibility. The Japanese police force is one of the most efficient and effective law enforcement organizations in the world. The idea that they would not be able to handle a national crisis and would have to rely on Yukio Mishima's "army" is silly to say the least. But irregardless of how strange the logic sounded, Mishima believed very sincerely that just such an event was bound to happen at any time and he trained very seriously for that day. By the latter half of the 1960's it became apparent to Mishima that he wasn't going to get the chance to die "with sword in hand" as he had originally intended and that he had to make other plans. In 1967 he tried to recruit students from Waseda University into his private "army" with no success. The following year he publicly announced the formation of his personal army. He called it "the Shield Society".
"Runaway Horses" is probably the strongest of the four novels that make up the "Sea of Fetility" series, even though on its publication it sold less well than the previous novel in the collection "Spring Snow ". The reason for this is probably the book's brutal subject matter. But even though "Spring Snow" is generally a more accessible story, "Runaway Horses" has a far stronger, more focused narrative. The book's central argument is introduced early in th story, and the majority of the novel is devoted to deloping this idea. The only criticism that has been made of the novel has been the amount of time that Mishima choose to devote to a pamphlet that Isao gave to Honda after their first meeting entitled "The League of the Divine Wind". Mishima recounts the content of the entire pamphlet word for word as Honda is reading it in his spare time one night in his hiome. Some literay critics have questioned Mishima's decision to describe the subject matter of this pamphlet so literally. The pamphlet deals with a failed military uprising that was suppressed by the Japanese government in 1873. I'm not sure if the incident actually happened, the pamphlet reads like folklore that has been passed down from generation to generation, but Mishima devoted 53 pages of "Runaway Horses" to this publication. The novels finished length (Simom and Schuster edition 1975) only numbered 422 pages. Probably this portion of Mishima's novel could have stood a little bit of editing, but overall "Runaway Horses" is exciting reading.
"Runaway Horses" raises some of the most disturbing questions about the personal ideology of Yukio Mishima.The novel is among Mishima's writings that deal very openly with political terrorism, a topic that would fascinate the author throughout much of the last ten years of his life, both in his writings as well as in his personal life. The three most well known examples of his writing from this period are the short story "Patriotism", "Runaway Horses" and "Voices of the Heroic Dead". All of these books are influenced on some level by Mishima's interest in the Ni Ni Roku incident, a failed military coup attemted during February of 1936 that resulted in 19 officers in the Japanese army being executed for treason by order of Emperor Hirohito himself. Mishima often wrote about this incident as if it were a great pivotal event in the political and cultural development of Japan in the context of the twentieth century. It is very hard to say exactly why he felt this way. Mishima's logic on this point is very hard to follow. The incident appears to have been just another failed right-wing coup, very much like other incidents that occurred with regular frequency throughtout the 1930's. What seems to have been extraordinary about the incident was the severity with which Emperor Hirohito dealt with the soldiers that participated in the coup. Hirohito had all of them arrested, tried for treason, and then executed. Historically, this would be the first time that a Japanese monarch would ever carry out such a harsh disciplinary measure against the military and it would also be the last. For some reason Mishima choose to ignore this part of the Ni Ni Roku Incident , concentrating instead on the perspective of those who would be involved in trying to overthrow the government. Apparently the same sense of honor and loyalty to the emperor that Mishima romanticized so ardently in his writings extended to everyone in Japan but the Japanese military itself.
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