Yukio Mishima is one of those writers who, like Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, is likely more known for his outrageous political beliefs than for his work itself. This is not to say that Mishima’s work is not well known among certain literary circles, but as he came recommended, I was told not only of his cult-like following, but also of his suicide, where he committed the ritual act of seppuku at the age of forty-five.
Confessions of a Mask is a decent, solid book, one with a character that reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, that is, if Holden were Japanese and perhaps gay. It reads somewhat quickly, yet comes across as a minor work, even though the subject matter might seem “risque” for its day. (It is Mishima’s first published novel). The protagonist (a young man named Kochan) is unsure with regards to his sexuality, and for at least half of the book, he spends it marveling over the muscular body of a boy his age named Omi. Readers are given glimpses into his mind as Kochan narrates how as a boy he once tried on his mother’s kimono, only to be caught by her in the act. As result, he suffers feelings of shame, and feels the need to hide behind this “mask,” and it is through this narration that readers are sharing in his personal and sexual “confession.” The novel is not so much about blatant homosexuality as one might think a novel today would be (this was, after all, the 1940s) but more the psycho-emotional impacts such feelings can cause amid wartime Japan.
Yet later, as the narrative focus switches, the character becomes fascinated with a girl named Sonoko, and although he has feelings for her, he is not so much attracted to her physically, as in the way he felt towards Omi. There are also moments where Kochan seems a bit pathological, or perhaps he is merely expressing normal anger for his age — but there are moments in the text where he is “craving bloodshed,” and dreaming of it. Very much like in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Kochan has bizarre fantasies of violence, which causes him to feel a “lust for blood.” In one scene, he describes Roman Gladiators “offering up their lives for his amusement,” and how he “delighted in all forms of capital punishment and all implements of execution.” Immediately I was put in mind of Kubrick’s film of A Clockwork Orange, where we see Alex fantasizing similar bloodshed, followed by the feeding of grapes by topless women.