Yukio Mishima is considered one of the finest Japanese writers in the 20th century. He was about to obtain the literature Nobel Prize several times, and it was assumed it was a matter of time he received it, but commited suicide before. He was a very controversial person with very strong nationalistic ideas.
Last year I read his most famous work, a tetralogy called "The Sea of Fertility". In these 4 books, it is possible to see the evolution of Japan from the beginning of the 20th century until around 1970: from a feudal state based on respect to the divine figure of the Emperor, to a country opened to foreign influences and integrated in the modern world. Besides, Mishima expresses his ideas by means of several of his characters.
The names of the books are:
- Spring Snow (春の雪, Nieve de Primavera)
- Runaway Horses (奔馬, Caballos Desbocados)
- The Temple of Dawn (暁の寺, El templo del Alba)
- The Decay of the Angel (天人五衰, La Corrupcion de un Angel)
*Maybe a SPOILER*
The four books share two main characters and a main story behind the individual plot of each work. The character who is present in all the 4 books is Shigekuni Honda. The first book tells an impossible love story to which he is a mere witness, it is the story of Kiyoaki Matsugae, who dies trying to make his love come true. In the second book, Honda finds the reincarnation of his friend in the figure of a teenager with strong nationalist and traditionalist ideas. This book shows Mishima's ideas about ritual suicide (seppuku) and how to die with dignity. Many ideas about reincarnation, samurais and Japanese recent history can be learnt through this book. The third one deals with the urge of sexual desire. This desire is inspired by the means of a Thailandese princess which is supposed to be Kiyoaki's second reincarnation. The books topics are more decadent as time passes by and Japan turns its back on its history. The fourth book is highly decadent and shows the life of Kiyoaki's third reincarnation. Honda is already very old and tries to help his old friend in the best way he can, but everything ends badly.
*End of SPOILER*
After writing the last pages of the fourth book, he gathered some of the men of his personal army (yes, he had a personal army!) and tried to unleash a coup by means of a speech at a militaty base. He wanted the emperor to recover all the power he had in ancient times. After that, he committed suicide following the seppuku ritual (harakiri).
After this tetralogy, I also read "The sound of Waves"(潮騷 Shiosai, El Rumor del Oleaje), a beautiful love story in a small and isolated Japanese island. I found this book in a second-hand shop in Ochanomizu (Tokyo), in Spanish and for only 300 yens (less than 2 euros)!
What I liked the most of Mishima's style was the extremely vivid and detailed descriptions. They are very colourful and evoke bucolic feelings when read. I felt like reading poetry at some point. Mishima is thus highly recommendable in spite of his personal radical ideas. Well, maybe that makes his story and life more interesting! and backs up their novels with a genuine coherence!