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Mishima: A Biography

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At forty-five, Yukio Mishima was the outstanding Japanese writer of his generation, celebrated both at home and abroad for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. In 1970 he startled the world by stepping out onto a balcony in Tokyo before an assembly of troops and plunging a sword into his abdomen; a disciple then beheaded him, completing the ritual of hara-kiri. At forty-five, Yukio Mishima was the outstanding Japanese writer of his generation, celebrated both at home and abroad for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. In 1970 he startled the world by stepping out onto a balcony in Tokyo before an assembly of troops and plunging a sword into his abdomen; a disciple then beheaded him, completing the ritual of hara-kiri. John Nathan's riveting biography traces the life of this tortured, nearly superhuman personality. Mishima survived a grotesque childhood, and subsequently his sadomasochistic impulses became manifest—as did an increasing obsession with death as the supreme beauty. Nathan, who knew Mishima professionally and personally, interviewed family, colleagues, and friends to unmask the various—often seemingly contradictory—personae of the genius who felt called by "a glittering destiny no ordinary man would be permitted."


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At forty-five, Yukio Mishima was the outstanding Japanese writer of his generation, celebrated both at home and abroad for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. In 1970 he startled the world by stepping out onto a balcony in Tokyo before an assembly of troops and plunging a sword into his abdomen; a disciple then beheaded him, completing the ritual of hara-kiri. At forty-five, Yukio Mishima was the outstanding Japanese writer of his generation, celebrated both at home and abroad for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. In 1970 he startled the world by stepping out onto a balcony in Tokyo before an assembly of troops and plunging a sword into his abdomen; a disciple then beheaded him, completing the ritual of hara-kiri. John Nathan's riveting biography traces the life of this tortured, nearly superhuman personality. Mishima survived a grotesque childhood, and subsequently his sadomasochistic impulses became manifest—as did an increasing obsession with death as the supreme beauty. Nathan, who knew Mishima professionally and personally, interviewed family, colleagues, and friends to unmask the various—often seemingly contradictory—personae of the genius who felt called by "a glittering destiny no ordinary man would be permitted."

30 review for Mishima: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nicole~

    4.5 stars The Last Samurai Two months short of his 46th birthday, on November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima with a handful of followers and dressed in full uniform, entered the compound of the Japan Self-Defense Force, gagged and tied up the commander of the JSDF, demanding the assembly of the entire Eastern division ( a gathering of 800 soldiers) to listen to his planned speech: "an appeal to repudiate the post war democracy that robbed Japan of its identity; to restore Japan to her true form, and 4.5 stars The Last Samurai Two months short of his 46th birthday, on November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima with a handful of followers and dressed in full uniform, entered the compound of the Japan Self-Defense Force, gagged and tied up the commander of the JSDF, demanding the assembly of the entire Eastern division ( a gathering of 800 soldiers) to listen to his planned speech: "an appeal to repudiate the post war democracy that robbed Japan of its identity; to restore Japan to her true form, and in the restoration, die." When his speech went unheard, muffled by the noise of his audience's jeers, Mishima engaged his final bloody concept, seppuku. His "second" then completed the ritual by beheading him with a long sword. The sequence of events played out dramatically and undeniably like something out of a violent motion picture. Biographer John Nathan knew Mishima professionally and personally, having translated The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea. His analysis of Mishima's private life and novels led him to believe that his suicide was primarily about his erotic lifelong fascination with death. Mishima wanted passionately to die all his life, and consciously chose "patriotism" as a means to his fantasized, painful "heroic" end. Mishima was born on January 14, 1925, and birth-named Kimitake Hiraoka (Yukio Mishima would become his pen name). At only 50 days old, his paternal grandmother Natsu Nagai took him away from his mother, Shizue, and moved him into her dark room downstairs of the family home. Natsu was noble born, a highly unstable woman who suffered fits of hysteria as a child. She held Kimitake "prisoner" until he was 12 years old, jealously and fiercely guarding him. She kept rigid control over his upbringing until 1937, when she became too ill to take care of him, paving the way for him finally to live in his parents' household. Nathan insightfully suggests that she possibly hoped to ingrain in her first grandchild the values she believed were the birthright of the noble Nagai. Natsu exposed Kimitake to Kabuki theatre, and might have contributed in this way to his creative development: taking him to his first play, Chushingura--the Tale of the 47 Ronin --a celebration of feudal allegiance, said to be the most exciting of the great Kabuki classics. Nathan also alludes to her afflicting this impressionable young boy with constant mournful lamentations of a "lost distant past, an elegant past, a past beauty," fueling a romantic longing for "purity and beauty and a fierce impossible desire to be other than himself." A loner and rarely seen without a book, Kimitake spent time writing poetry and fantasy stories as young as 12 years old, reading works by Oscar Wilde, Rilke, and Tanizaki. His adolescent writing sensibilities were influenced by the Japan Romantics, evolved with an aesthetic formula in which "Beauty, Ecstasy and Death are equivalent." Later, his ideology became ultranationalistic, exalting traditional convictions "worthy of dying for." Nathan submits Kimitake's latent homosexuality was unintentionally the result of the hostile domestic environment he grew up in, however, this notion that a person's sexual preference is a product of living in a dysfunctional environment did not sit well with me - that's a whole 'nother debate! As young as 16, he showed anxiety and disgust at what he sensed was an "unwholesomeness," apologizing for his masquerade of normalcy. This is later reflected in the novel that catapulted him to stardom- Confessions of a Mask. In Februrary 1945, Mishima welcomed the draft into the army, but when Japan surrendered on August 15, and the Emperor called for his subjects to lay down their arms, Mishima, Nathan assumes, might have convulsed with the "existential horror" of being cheated and deprived of that morbid destiny, gleaning from his postwar essays and novels: "The war ended. All I was thinking about, as I listened to the Imperial Rescript announcing the surrender, was the Golden temple. The bond between the temple and myself had been severed. I thought now I shall return to a state in which I exist on one side and beauty on the other. A state which will never improve so long as the world endures." Mishima found it difficult adapting to postwar reality in the atmosphere of labeling, blacklisting and enforced isolation of "literary war criminals." It was the older, established writers who were being sought and many routes were closed to getting his manuscripts sponsored. His first novel, Thieves, was violently lyrical and in spite of a glowing preface by his new mentor, Yasunari Kawabata, the novel was ignored. Even with some guidance and editing, his stories went unnoticed and "no one who mattered was impressed." The autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask, was a book he felt he must write in order to survive. It was a therapeutic effort, a process of self-discovery for Mishima, who finally validated within himself a suppressed homosexuality, and who was incapable of feeling alive or of showing passion, except in sadomasochistic fantasies which stank of blood and death. "This book is the last testament I want to leave behind in the domain of death where I have resided until now." His decision to join the Army Self Defense Force (ASDF) in 1967 was partly for patriotic concern, and partly to feed his need for glory - of the hero, not the writer. In his mind, he had taken his first step in becoming a warrior, a samurai- a persona he obsessed over. "The samurai's profession is the business of death. No matter how peaceful the age in which he lives, death is the basis of all his action. The moment he fears and avoids death he is no longer a samurai." Rumors of a nomination for the Nobel prize ( for the third time) buzzed around Mishima in 1968. However, the prize went to his old mentor, Yasunari Kawabata. Many close to Mishima suspected this disappointment about the Nobel prize had a significant impact on his decision to end his life. Mishima was a man who felt less real in this world than in the realm of his poetry and novels; a deeply tortured man who yearned for his eroticized, violently lyrical literary work to be acknowledged; but his brutal, unheard last words were the veritable final blow. Clearly, he was more suited to the bygone feudal days of Japan-- an accomplished swordsman loyal to the empire, who grabbed at the romantic hero's painful death he had longed for all his life. Nathan thoroughly probed Mishima's psyche through his novels; his conclusions into this tragic life lead him to hope finally that "he found what he expected to find inside and beyond the pain." Shizue, his mother, summed it up best at his memorial, "Be happy for him.. This was the first time in his life Kimitake did something he always wanted to do."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sean O'Hara

    Imagine: In 1970 Norman Mailer, fed up with hippies and the wimpification of America, leads his personal militia into a National Guard outpost in Washington DC, takes the commandant hostage and then exhorts the troops to rise up with him, overthrow the government and restore the Confederacy. Crazy, right? And yet that's pretty much what happened in Japan when Yukio Mishima, a renowned author who was seen as a sure bet for the Nobel Prize in Literature, attempted to incite a revolution within the Imagine: In 1970 Norman Mailer, fed up with hippies and the wimpification of America, leads his personal militia into a National Guard outpost in Washington DC, takes the commandant hostage and then exhorts the troops to rise up with him, overthrow the government and restore the Confederacy. Crazy, right? And yet that's pretty much what happened in Japan when Yukio Mishima, a renowned author who was seen as a sure bet for the Nobel Prize in Literature, attempted to incite a revolution within the JSDF. When he failed, he and his close companion, Masakatsu Morita, committed seppuku together. As authors' lives go, you gotta give him 10/10 for style. Beats boring ol' Tennyson any day. Nathan's biography does a good job with the facts, but is unfortunately light with interpretation and analysis, both of Mishima's life and his work. He glosses over many of Mishima's works -- major works -- spending only a couple sentences on The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and barely touching on Mishima's final set of works, The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy. When he does examine Mishima's writing, it's always because he feels it gives some insight into Mishima's final act. But the analysis is always the same prosaic observation, that some character is an author-insert, and whatever that person says should be viewed as reflective of Mishima's philosophy, even when Mishima wrote the work in question a decade before arriving at that philosophy. Reading the book, one can't help but notice that Mishima evolved over time. When he received a draft notice in WWII, he escaped service due to illness -- almost certainly psychosomatic if he wasn't outright faking -- yet after the war he came to repudiate Japan's new pacifism and wanted a return to the nation of warriors. While this seems like a change of his character over the years, Nathan portrays it as though Mishima held the same views all along, and his reaction to the draft was a sign of hypocrisy. To exacerbate this problem, Nathan can't take Mishima's politics seriously. He's very much a creature of '60s left-radicalism, and he treats Mishima's increasingly right-wing views as inherently silly. While they certainly were that (view spoiler)[-- and contradictory too, what with his desire to reverse the deapotheosization of the Emperor (a requirement of Japan's surrender in WWII) while opposing the leftists who wished to end the US/Japan Defense Treaty -- (hide spoiler)] the biographer should strive to understand his subject's mind. How did Mishima get to this place? Nathan argues backward, taking Mishima's death as the starting point and taking for any minor utterance that prefigures it as evidence that he was on that path from the beginning. Only events in Mishima's earliest childhood are allowed to shape him -- once he hits ten, Nathan treats him as a fully-formed person with his end already predestined. Nathan also fails to deal adequately with Mishima's bisexuality. Although acknowledging that Japanese attitudes towards man-love differ from the West, Nathan's tone is very much of his time, and despite his obvious liberal views, he can't help but refer to Mishima's sexuality as "deviant." Oddly, he spends much of the first half of the book dealing with Mishima's discovery of his bisexuality while researching Confessions of a Mask, but he never documents a liaison between Mishima and another guy -- the closest he comes is speculating on the relationship with Morita. There is no doubt that Mishima was into the ol' shonen ai, but if this biography was all you had to go on, you'd think it was a scurrilous rumor. In fact, the only sexual relationship in the book is between Mishima and his wife, with whom he fathered two children; nevertheless Nathan continually refers to Mishima as a homosexual instead of bi. (Speaking of children, Nathan spends almost no time on Mishima as a father -- there are hardly any mentions of his daughter, mostly in terms of people Mishima met through her school, and fewer still of his son.) For the longest time, Nathan's book has been the definitive Mishima bio in English, (Scott-Stokes' The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima being the only other contender), but I'm relieved to see that Stonebridge is bringing out Naoki Inose's Persona, which I hope will offer better analysis of his life, work and place in Japanese society.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Smiley

    When I was an undergraduate in 1970, as far as I could vaguely recall, one day I read in some newspapers and watched on television concerning Yukio Mishima, a remarkable, celebrated Japanese writer for his plays and novels at home and abroad, whose unthinkable novel-like action with his troops ended with the ritual of hara-kiri became shocking news to the world when he was 45. I didn't follow it in detail because I had never read or heard of him till, a decade or two ago, I didn't know why I When I was an undergraduate in 1970, as far as I could vaguely recall, one day I read in some newspapers and watched on television concerning Yukio Mishima, a remarkable, celebrated Japanese writer for his plays and novels at home and abroad, whose unthinkable novel-like action with his troops ended with the ritual of hara-kiri became shocking news to the world when he was 45. I didn't follow it in detail because I had never read or heard of him till, a decade or two ago, I didn't know why I started reading his novels and novellas, probably, from reading his Omi in an old, brownish Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to Present Day (Tuttle 1972) compiled and edited by Donald Keene. I guessed I also read him as one of those notable Japanese writers whose translated works I could find and read, I don't know Japanese so I found his translated works in English arguably enjoyable and worth spending my time. For instance, I read his The Sound of Waves (Vintage 1994), The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Everyman's Library 1994), Five Modern No Plays (Vintage 2009), The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Tuttle 2001), The Sea of Fertility (Penguin 1986), etc. Along my reading exploration, I have since had my admiration and respects to him for his outstanding literary contribution. Reading this eight-chapter book with its fonts large enough to read enjoyably would help us better understand his life because Professor John Nathan's biography traces the life of this tortured, nearly superhuman personality. Mishima survived a grotesque childhood, and subsequently his sadomasochistic impulses became manifest - as did an increasing obsession with death as the supreme beauty. Nathan, who knew Mishima professionally and personally, interviewed family, colleagues, and friends to unmask the various - often seemingly contradictory - personae of the genius who felt called by "a glittering destiny no ordinary man would be permitted." (back cover) Therefore, Mishima's readers interested in this indispensable biography and his works should take the information above into account since, I think, we can find reading it more rewarding for its in-depth narrative, well-written dialogs, detailed footnotes, etc. in which we would probably find them hard to find in our everyday reading. Moreover, I've since been fascinated beyond delight for the twenty-eight, black-and-white illustrations on its frontispiece and between pages 140 and 141 due to their rarity and originality, for instance, Mishima with his mother, Shizue, in 1925, age (sic) seven months, In 1929, age (sic) four, Mishima with his grandmother, Natsu, 1930, etc. One of those illustrations that delights me most (I read somewhere on this honor bestowed on him but I've never seen it before) reads Mishima with diploma and silver watch received from the emperor on Graduation Day 1944. In brief, reading this biography is arguably informative for us; however, I couldn't help wondering why and reached something final at that. One of the reasons is that, from what I read somewhere on one's mind as an iceburg, literally/comparatively speaking, the known part is about one-eighth whereas the unknown one is about seven-eighths. In other words, what's in one's mind is so unimaginably mysterious and deep that it's impossible to know everything on one's mind; it's one of the demanding tasks professionally assigned to psychologists and psychiatrists. Therefore, we should be content with what we are informed and grateful to his works with awe and admiration.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Patrick McCoy

    I’ve been interested in reading John Nathan’s biography of Yukio Mishima, Mishima, for two reasons: 1) The man is interesting in his sum total of contradictions 2) It was the source material for Paul Schrader’s film. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which I have been writing an essay about. Although Schrader has borrowed and developed many of the themes from the novel as well as reproducing some of the photos that accompany it-it was some of the details in the book that really captured my I’ve been interested in reading John Nathan’s biography of Yukio Mishima, Mishima, for two reasons: 1) The man is interesting in his sum total of contradictions 2) It was the source material for Paul Schrader’s film. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which I have been writing an essay about. Although Schrader has borrowed and developed many of the themes from the novel as well as reproducing some of the photos that accompany it-it was some of the details in the book that really captured my attention. For example, I found it interesting that Nathan used “expansion into China” to describe Japanese imperialism early in the book. The book was first published in 1974, so I wonder if Nathan was shying away from controversy or was he sympathetic to writing about Japan in a positive light? Later, Nathan reports that Mishima’s mother’s parents had a packed a “bridal dagger” in her dowry chest-which symbolizes that she must kill herself rather than return home if he married fails-this strikes me as unsympathetic and barbaric especially since the daughter has no choice in the arranged marriage. I also found Mishima’s horrifically stunted childhood abhorrent as his grandmother smothered him and his father was completely against his desire to become a writer and actively sought to force him into a career path as a bureaucrat. This included limited play (only inside), play only with girls, he had to massage and give his grandmother her medicine, and he was basically in an in-house abduction from his parents until he was 12. Mishima’s life in general was analogous to Japanese postwar development-he gradually built his success as Japan, itself developed economically into a power. There are a couple of other interesting details. One where Mishima travels to Brazil and he finds wealthy Brazilian Nisei farmers arguing in 1951 about whether or not Japan won the war! Mishima sides with those who suggest victory! It was curious that Nathan describes Mishima as dressing “Roman drugstore cowboy” in 1974. All in all, it is an interesting biography that steers clear of literary analysis unless it reflects the many contradictions of Mishima, and focuses on the life that had been lived. It is a fascinating read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    Good analysis of the man and the work, with lots of information on how Mishima lived his life (what he liked for dinner, his clothes, etc). Sometimes biographers who knew their subjects can be a bit annoying about it (I remember Iris Murdoch's biographer identifying his own dog in one of the photographs ...), but Nathan is only ever interesting. The one thing I would have liked is more information on the subsequent trial (or otherwise) of the survivors. Otherwise, pretty perfect. Great Good analysis of the man and the work, with lots of information on how Mishima lived his life (what he liked for dinner, his clothes, etc). Sometimes biographers who knew their subjects can be a bit annoying about it (I remember Iris Murdoch's biographer identifying his own dog in one of the photographs ...), but Nathan is only ever interesting. The one thing I would have liked is more information on the subsequent trial (or otherwise) of the survivors. Otherwise, pretty perfect. Great photographs.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ross McPhail

    Yukio Mishima was certainly one of the most prolific Japanese writers of the twentieth century, if not one of the greatest. Between 1945 and his death in 1970, Mishima wrote forty novels and twenty collections of short stories, as well as a vast number of book reviews, literary articles, screenplays and traditional Japanese plays. But with Mishima, the drama of his life mirrors the drama of his works. His fascination with the samurai lifestyle, a fascination that lead to his ritualistic suicide Yukio Mishima was certainly one of the most prolific Japanese writers of the twentieth century, if not one of the greatest. Between 1945 and his death in 1970, Mishima wrote forty novels and twenty collections of short stories, as well as a vast number of book reviews, literary articles, screenplays and traditional Japanese plays. But with Mishima, the drama of his life mirrors the drama of his works. His fascination with the samurai lifestyle, a fascination that lead to his ritualistic suicide at the Japanese Self-Defense Headquarters in Tokyo in 1970, formed the basis of one of the most fascinating literary lives ever lived. Unlike many literary suicides, which result from a sense of despair or artistic depression, the death of Mishima can be viewed as the culmination of a life long dream, a dream in which the central obsession was death. John Nathan’s biography of Japan’s greatest author is unique in that it's based on the personal recollections of those that knew Mishima best. Nathan, himself a friend of Mishima’s, returned to Japan following the author’s suicide to conduct a series of personal interviews with Mishima's family, friends, and colleagues. Armed with a first hand accounts of the life of Mishima, Nathan then sets out to weave these stories into one cohesive biography. And for the most part, he succeeds. Even if you're not a fan of literature or Japanese culture, Nathan’s objective account of Mishima’s life is one of the better written literary biographies I’ve read. Nathan avoids the primary pitfall that traps many such biographers - a fascination with the subject that borders on hero-worship, and one that clouds and eventually taints any sense of objectivity. Instead, Nathan presents an engaging, thoughtful look at Mishima’s life, and his record is well worth the time spent reading it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    Clear and concise. Nathan tackles his complex subject without placing himself too much into the picture. Re-read this as part of my recent Mishima extravaganza. Mishima was both traditional and modern. One aspect of his interests, the intersection of homo-eroticism and fascism, is alarmingly contemporary.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I wished John Nathan would have wrote more about the creation of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion as much as he described Kyoko's House or Confessions of a Mask. There were a couple instances were the author drew opinions which seemed out-of-place for a biography about another person. However, his thesis, being that Mishima was acting out a life-long aesthetic death wish was convincing and fascinating. I've read Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and The Sailor Who Fell I wished John Nathan would have wrote more about the creation of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion as much as he described Kyoko's House or Confessions of a Mask. There were a couple instances were the author drew opinions which seemed out-of-place for a biography about another person. However, his thesis, being that Mishima was acting out a life-long aesthetic death wish was convincing and fascinating. I've read Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea and now I am further convinced I want to read more of Mishima's works. This biography definitely focused on his non-literary artistic work as well which was revealing of the extent of an artist in every since of the word Mishima was. Learning that Oscar Wilde and Joris-Karl Huysmans were early influences to Mishima was an exciting discovery. Mishima also read Rainer Maria Rilke and Villiers de L'Isle Adams too.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Haws

    If Japan’s renunciation of war was something forced on the Japanese people by an occupying army, then it was dishonorable (and the dishonor is ours). If it was an epiphany, recognized and promoted by the Japanese people, then it was probably the most important political act of the 20th Century. I tend toward the latter, and feel that Japan neo-nationalists (which would include Mishima) are the people who just didn’t get it. When you turn a man into a weapon, you turn him into a thing. It might If Japan’s renunciation of war was something forced on the Japanese people by an occupying army, then it was dishonorable (and the dishonor is ours). If it was an epiphany, recognized and promoted by the Japanese people, then it was probably the most important political act of the 20th Century. I tend toward the latter, and feel that Japan neo-nationalists (which would include Mishima) are the people who just didn’t get it. When you turn a man into a weapon, you turn him into a thing. It might be a beautiful (exquisite) thing, but it’s still a thing; and the man-as-moral-agent has been diminished. Spinoza tells us that when we “discover” useful things, we imagine that they were left for us by an invisible god. We then try to ingratiate ourselves to the invisible god so that he’ll leave more useful things lying around for us. How much more fervently would we want to ingratiate ourselves if the god who leaves us useful things were visible and could be more meaningfully supplicated? In keeping with the coherence theory of truth, Hirohito was a god because the Japanese people believed he was a god; he focused the will of the Japanese for useful things. At the Tule Lake segregation center, there were groups (e.g., the Hoshi-dan) trying to demonstrate that they were more “Japanese” than other groups (in and out of the camp). The samurai of the Shinpūren Rebellion (神風連の乱), the renegade officers of the February 1936 coup (帝都不祥事件), Mishima, the Shield Society (楯の会); with the actions of other Japanese nationalists are understandable in light of the Emperor’s divinity. Otherwise, they all seem a dysfunctional waste of good men’s lives and talents. Nathan’s biography, in some ways, is like the slow-motion picture of a train wreck. I’ve only read one of Mishima’s novels, but it might be that Mishima-the-character is his most interesting creative ideation.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Javonne

    An intimate look at at Yukio Mishima through the eyes of his first English language translator. Nathan delves into the early life, daily life and psyche of one of Japan's star authors. Nathan was fired from working on translations of Mishima after refusing to translate one of his works (after initially agreeing to do it) citing it's difficulty to translate for him. Mishima's letting go of Nathan was gentle, yet final and it's obvious it wounded Nathan deeply, his assessments of Mishima's An intimate look at at Yukio Mishima through the eyes of his first English language translator. Nathan delves into the early life, daily life and psyche of one of Japan's star authors. Nathan was fired from working on translations of Mishima after refusing to translate one of his works (after initially agreeing to do it) citing it's difficulty to translate for him. Mishima's letting go of Nathan was gentle, yet final and it's obvious it wounded Nathan deeply, his assessments of Mishima's eccentricities becoming down right vitriolic at times. Also, Nathan leans heavily on Mishima's sexuality as a "reason" for a lot of Mishima's proclivities as a writer and entire aspects of his existence. Despite Mishima's wife's subtle hint that Nathan not allude to Mishima's sexuality in a derisive, tabloid like way, he nonetheless sees Mishima's sexuality as the ultimate causality, alluding to it the way you would at a table full of gossiping teenagers - referring to Mishima's homosexuality rather conservatively as "deviant" at one point as well as 'perverse" Again, Mishima hurt Nathan with his customary chilliness and disregard after Nathan's refusal and Nathan all but lashes out at him in this biography in any way he can. That said, this book is well written and exposes details about Mishima's entire life, from his stoic life as a child living in his grandmother's rooms to his eventual creation of the Tatenokai and his suicide. It is not a conclusive, unbiased biography about Mishima - in particular towards the end it is condescending regarding Mishima's politics and views on the essential Japanese-ness that makes up so much of his aesthetic - but does offer some insight into the mind of one of the most brilliant and unapologetic Japanese authors.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Yukio Mishima, a dude who makes Lord Byron and Hubert Selby Jr look like puppies running through a field of daffodils, has been the subject of a lot of biographies, which is really something considering he was a writer wrote in Japanese and has only a fraction of his books translated into English. But this one was my favorite. John Nathan was the translator for The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, and knew Mishima personally (like Scott-Stokes), but also had a falling out with him over Yukio Mishima, a dude who makes Lord Byron and Hubert Selby Jr look like puppies running through a field of daffodils, has been the subject of a lot of biographies, which is really something considering he was a writer wrote in Japanese and has only a fraction of his books translated into English. But this one was my favorite. John Nathan was the translator for The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, and knew Mishima personally (like Scott-Stokes), but also had a falling out with him over something minor, like a ton of other people did, and had a lot of unflattering things to say about him, too. This was kind of a relief, as all the other biographies focus on his superhuman willpower, productivity, literary skill, and put a lot of his fallacies off on madness. All biographies of Mishima kind of have to follow the same trajectory almost by default, especially when the writer had a life like his that turned out exactly like a novel, and this was no different in that respect. But it focused on the writings less and the life more than other biographies. Anyway, I'm a huge fan, so it's hard for me to not really get into Mishima related stuff.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Ashton

    The best biography of a tortured mind and soul. I have my first edition, as well as all of Mishima's works. Mostly in English, but a few aren't. Nathan manages to balance the author's brilliance as a writer with his megalomania of wanting to bring back the samurai culture and spirit. Well worth reading to understand both sides of this talented writer.

  13. 5 out of 5

    J

    Even a straight-laced account of Mishima's life can't hide his crazy.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen Loder

    What an incredible crazy unbelievable superhuman tortured guy. This is the first biography I read about him, though I did see the movie biography. This book gave a much better picture of his life though it still left many questions open for me about Mishima's sexuality, erotic fascination with death, and obviously his suicide. I think he's an interesting figure to read about in America today because of his neo-nationalist radicalization in middle age which reminds me a lot of a lot of white What an incredible crazy unbelievable superhuman tortured guy. This is the first biography I read about him, though I did see the movie biography. This book gave a much better picture of his life though it still left many questions open for me about Mishima's sexuality, erotic fascination with death, and obviously his suicide. I think he's an interesting figure to read about in America today because of his neo-nationalist radicalization in middle age which reminds me a lot of a lot of white Americans today. I don't think any of the guys I'm thinking about have such deep values and impulses, but Mishma's writings and beliefs might be able to shed some light on this phenomena. I finished this book feeling so many feelings about Mishima, none of them particularly negative though to be honest. I feel sympathy for him and wonder that he was able to drive himself or be driven so much to such a fanatic end. I love his books though I know they are difficult to read and penetrate into the deeper meaning but this book has inspired me to work towards Japanese proficiency so that I may read his books in their original and translate what hasn't been into English.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Besanth

    Great read. Really looking forward to reading more of Mishima's work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Talbot Hook

    I don't know how to write about Mishima. (I can barely even comprehend him.) Therefore, this biography is monumentally successful in my mind. (It's also just very good.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    For a man who wrote novels that were practically autobiographies, Mishima is inscrutable. This was probably somewhat intentional, based on Mishima's own words and diary entries. He seemed to enjoy being different things to different people, then upending the assumptions they made. I suppose its a truism that artistic geniuses are "complicated" people, but there is something fascinating about Mishima's life and creativity that I can't quite put my finger on. Every time I think I've found it, it For a man who wrote novels that were practically autobiographies, Mishima is inscrutable. This was probably somewhat intentional, based on Mishima's own words and diary entries. He seemed to enjoy being different things to different people, then upending the assumptions they made. I suppose its a truism that artistic geniuses are "complicated" people, but there is something fascinating about Mishima's life and creativity that I can't quite put my finger on. Every time I think I've found it, it slips away again when reading him or about him. Kimitake Hiraoka (his real name) was obsessed with death, and I don't think even he knew why. Nathan provides some theories, ranging from his bizarre, sheltered childhood and abusive father, to his struggle accepting his homosexuality (or perhaps bisexuality). I suspect the answer is something more nuanced that involves these reasons and more. Something that draws me to Mishima is his indication that what he felt about death is really something all of us feel, but are too afraid to admit. Much of his life was spent coming to terms with this himself, and the tension this created made him who he was. Mishima was a strange mix of emotions and interests. He was drawn to what he knew were socially unacceptable sexual interests, but he disliked the typical "lifestyle" of the cultural rebel. He didn't drink much and his personal life was austere, yet he was known for wearing flamboyant outfits like aloha shirts (half open) and gold medallions. He didn't like to party most of the time, but on some occasions he would suddenly lose all inhibition. He was single-minded and focused on his writing, and devoted his life to that more than anything else. In many ways he rejected typically Japanese cultural and social mores, and yet he ended his life in a right-wing coup that wanted to restore Meiji-era powers to the Emperor. What to make of this? Nathan makes the interesting point that while most people seek a faith when they are about to die, Mishima wanted a faith in order to die. It may not have mattered what that faith was, as long as it served a purpose--that purpose being to validate his existence. Like all obsessions, one with death often stems from its opposite--how to feel truly alive. Mishima was not so much obsessed with death as he was with feeling alive, and paradoxically this led to his death. His other obsession, writing, may have been nothing more than a way to work these feelings out. In the end that may be why any writer writes in the first place. If there is anything he is to be praised or respected for, it is this.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    John Nathan's Mishima: A Biography was the first biography in English of the Japanese novelist, whose 1970 death by seppuku after a failed coup d'etat is just as much a part of his legacy as his works. In an introduction Nathan briefly summarizes the circumstances of Mishima's death and lists the numerous people interviewed, and then he begins with a history of Mishima's family. From the very start Nathan tries his hand at psychological analysis, feeling that the center of Mishima's being was John Nathan's Mishima: A Biography was the first biography in English of the Japanese novelist, whose 1970 death by seppuku after a failed coup d'etat is just as much a part of his legacy as his works. In an introduction Nathan briefly summarizes the circumstances of Mishima's death and lists the numerous people interviewed, and then he begins with a history of Mishima's family. From the very start Nathan tries his hand at psychological analysis, feeling that the center of Mishima's being was masochism, and his entire life right up to his suicide itself was a search for pain. Consistent with the early 70's date of Nathan biography is the perspective that Mishima's homosexuality was an expression of mental illness. Nathan knew Mishima well as a graduate student in Tokyo in the early-to-mid 1960's, and was entrusted by the writer with translating two of his works. There is a lot of rich information from this period. However, Mishima broke contact with Nathan after he refused to translate the second work given to him. From this point, when Mishima became increasingly political, essentially a different person, and Nathan could no longer rely on reminisces of the simple writer he knew, the details become sparser and sparser. Another biography in English, The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, by Henry Scott-Stokes offers a better, first-hand perspective on Mishima's final years. There is a wealth of information about Yukio's early books, and it can be depressing for the English reader to hear about so many novels and plays which will probably never be translated out of Japanese. A grievous omission, however, is that of The Sea of Fertility. Mishima's masterpiece, and to a certain extent a literary manifesto of the ideas that lead to his coup, this tetrology deserved greater attention and analysis. A curious matter about the life and death of Yukio Mishima is that the more one learns, the more questions one has. And nothing suffices to explain the way he chose to end his life. Nonetheless, John Nathan tries his best in Mishima: A Biography, and I would recommend it to fans of Mishima's work.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Psychopu

    John Nathan's biography is an interesting read for those who want to learn about Mishima from a scholarly and distinctly Western perspective. The book manages to balance the right amount of information both from private life and literary output, offering access to fragments of documents — letters, diary entries, untranslated books, etc. — and recollections from those who knew Mishima, without giving much space to sensationalistic speculations and idle gossip. The book contains also visual John Nathan's biography is an interesting read for those who want to learn about Mishima from a scholarly and distinctly Western perspective. The book manages to balance the right amount of information both from private life and literary output, offering access to fragments of documents — letters, diary entries, untranslated books, etc. — and recollections from those who knew Mishima, without giving much space to sensationalistic speculations and idle gossip. The book contains also visual material, photographs of Mishima through stages of his life that are referenced throughout the volume. However interesting the read, a series of trivial and yet glaring chronological blunders (for instance mistakes about the Nobel prize and its rumoured nominations, with Beckett winning one year before Kawabata — he actually won one year later — and Tanizaki supposedly being shortlisted with Mishima and Kawabata in the year Kawabata was awarded the prize — in 1968, when Tanizaki had been dead already for three years), and inaccuracies about the film productions in which Mishima was involved, made me doubt about the veracity of the rest of the data provided by Nathan. In addition to this, there are meaningful omissions. Nathan seemed to concentrate more on Mishima’s life before 1965, almost ignoring essential work produced by Mishima after that year (the whole "Sea of Fertility" tetralogy is barely examined) and rushing through connections and impact these works may have had on the writer’s life. This may be an understandable editorial choice, but frankly it’s also quite suspicious, especially considering Nathan had personal reasons to minimize Mishima’s output from the second half of the 60s until his death: after Nathan’s refusal to translate his 1964 work “Silk and Insight", Mishima allegedly terminated his friendship with him and never spoke to him again; consciously or unconsciously, this may have influenced the biographer's decision.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    While Mishima's suicide took those who knew him by surprise (or so it is said), who could not read "Confessions of a Mask" "Thieves" or "Patriotism" without noting the author's fascination with suicide? In this book John Nathan reviews his life and work and in doing so shows how clearly Mishima's writings show his intent. Nathan takes the reader through Mishima's oppressed childhood, his life during and following the war, his marriage and eventually the workouts, the gravitation to the right wing While Mishima's suicide took those who knew him by surprise (or so it is said), who could not read "Confessions of a Mask" "Thieves" or "Patriotism" without noting the author's fascination with suicide? In this book John Nathan reviews his life and work and in doing so shows how clearly Mishima's writings show his intent. Nathan takes the reader through Mishima's oppressed childhood, his life during and following the war, his marriage and eventually the workouts, the gravitation to the right wing and his personal army of young men. As you read this book, you draw the conclusion that Mishima's life was his own work of art, building to his ultimate suicide. His political ideas are so disjointed they appear to be his attempt to find a rationale for his final act, which he had decided upon long ago. Nathan had been on the cold end of Mishima's practice of freezing out those who crossed his lines, deserved or not. In Nathan's case this was translating a novel (which eventually won a Nobel Prize) for another Japanese author at the time he had a verbal commitment to translate a novel of Mishima's. Nathan left Japan for the US without an attempt to reconcile. After Mishima's death, Nathan returned to Japan for a contract to write this biography. Mishima's friends and family did not freeze him out, quite the contrary, they cooperated. I held back a star because I don't think Nathan put all his resources into this. While having known his subject, he doesn't use this insight much, relying instead on Mishima's writings and interviews with others. Also, while he explained some of the changing dynamics of Japanese society I don't think he fully used his nearly unique capacity to interpret in Japan for western audiences.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nam Pham

    A very detail account of Mishima's obsession with death and how he strived to confirm his own existence - by means of non-existence. The writing is rich and fascinated though the mood and clarity are not so consistent. Towards the end, it seemed the author hastened to finish the book and so the tone lost the coolness of the first half. The later chapters also lacked details regarding the influences of his wife and his mother, of which in the beginning seemed to play important roles in shaping A very detail account of Mishima's obsession with death and how he strived to confirm his own existence - by means of non-existence. The writing is rich and fascinated though the mood and clarity are not so consistent. Towards the end, it seemed the author hastened to finish the book and so the tone lost the coolness of the first half. The later chapters also lacked details regarding the influences of his wife and his mother, of which in the beginning seemed to play important roles in shaping his outward 'acting'. However, the book is an insightful investigation of Mishima's life with tight connection to his works. Understanding of his personal life is certainly essential for interpretation of such extreme-narcissistic works, despite the fact that Mishima claimed to separate his 'literary self' and other 'self'.

  22. 5 out of 5

    K

    This book is well worth a read from anyone, as it's amazingly engrossing. Mishima essentially is a fictional character himself, it seems, and any reader will come away from this story confused and disturbed by all that took place, wondering if this man was ever a human being in the first place. The book is also given a personal touch as the author actually knew Mishima and translated some of his works into English. It's fascinating to see that even someone who knew Mishima can't seem to figure This book is well worth a read from anyone, as it's amazingly engrossing. Mishima essentially is a fictional character himself, it seems, and any reader will come away from this story confused and disturbed by all that took place, wondering if this man was ever a human being in the first place. The book is also given a personal touch as the author actually knew Mishima and translated some of his works into English. It's fascinating to see that even someone who knew Mishima can't seem to figure out what was happening in his mind. Mishima's suicide is made even more depressing through the eyes of the author who can't understand why such talent would get so caught up in certain ideals that would eventually destroy him. However, it seems that Mishima always was doomed to his fate, especially after the childhood he endured.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    This biography is rather good, mainly because the author knew Yukio Mishima. The whole description of Mishima's childhood and early life is very interesting, but the other part of the book seems a bit rushed. John Nathan analyzed quicky some of Mishima's books, but not the main ones, and mention barely the plays that Mishima wrote. J.Nathan seems more interested in Mishima long prepared suicide than his books, as he doesn't even talk about his last tetralogy, considered by many as his masterpiece. This biography is rather good, mainly because the author knew Yukio Mishima. The whole description of Mishima's childhood and early life is very interesting, but the other part of the book seems a bit rushed. John Nathan analyzed quicky some of Mishima's books, but not the main ones, and mention barely the plays that Mishima wrote. J.Nathan seems more interested in Mishima long prepared suicide than his books, as he doesn't even talk about his last tetralogy, considered by many as his masterpiece. It is, however, a good biography to know the life and works of Yukio Mishima. I'll read another biography soon

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alison Elizabeth

    It's my understanding that the author, John Nathan, was one of Mishima's translators. This book is a fairly interesting overview of Mishima's life from birth to his spectacular, nearly public, suicide in 1970. The author attempts to delve into the reasons and motivations behind Mishima's turn to radicalism and suicide, but Nathan's ideas are merely hypotheses and musings. "Mishima" seems like a well-researched biography, yet I get the feeling that a foreigner, even though a translator of It's my understanding that the author, John Nathan, was one of Mishima's translators. This book is a fairly interesting overview of Mishima's life from birth to his spectacular, nearly public, suicide in 1970. The author attempts to delve into the reasons and motivations behind Mishima's turn to radicalism and suicide, but Nathan's ideas are merely hypotheses and musings. "Mishima" seems like a well-researched biography, yet I get the feeling that a foreigner, even though a translator of Mishima's books, might not have the best insight into the life of this famous and eccentric Japanese author.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Steve Scott

    Nathan's biography gets only four starts because it ends far too abruptly. Taking Mishima's life up until his death, he goes no further than his funeral, and doesn't discuss later views of Mishima's suicide and his impact on literature and Japanese culture. That said, this was an excellent biography of a brilliant, but deeply disturbed man. Mishima was controlling, narcissistic. affected. masochistic and nihilistic. He was also a disciplined genius, had an incredible work ethic and was extremely Nathan's biography gets only four starts because it ends far too abruptly. Taking Mishima's life up until his death, he goes no further than his funeral, and doesn't discuss later views of Mishima's suicide and his impact on literature and Japanese culture. That said, this was an excellent biography of a brilliant, but deeply disturbed man. Mishima was controlling, narcissistic. affected. masochistic and nihilistic. He was also a disciplined genius, had an incredible work ethic and was extremely prolific…cranking out a large body of literature in his short life.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Louis

    The most interesting parts were the parts about Kyoko's House - of course. I also liked that Nathan doesn't really try to justify Mishima's self-destruction. He analyses it, but in the end it's just presented as an unavoidable tragedy. I also liked the way Nathan avoided any of the assumptions ("Confessions is an autobiography," "Mishima had a boner when he topped himself." etc. etc.) favoured by other biographers. I'm kind of getting over the whole seppuku shtick.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    I think that the author’s friendship with Mishima (he translated several of his books) benefited this book immensely. It gave him a level of access to family and friends that some stranger would never of had. Even though it is clear the author has deep affection for Mishima, it is not an overtly biased depiction of his life. The author sheds light equally on Mishima’s talents as a writer, but also does not shy away from exposing his hypocritical, and fascist tendencies.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Corrina

    A rather straightforward biography of an incredibly complex subject. Not much insight, but also does not venerate or aggrandize him. Easy to read, follows a simple chronological path, with not much to say beyond the facts about the end; it basically ends around 1:00 11/25/70. A good basic introduction to the author if one is interested beyond several paragraphs of a Wikipedia entry.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    A fascinating biography of a complicated and intense man. Nathan builds a convincing argument that Mishima's suicide in 1970 was more to do with his lifelong obsession with a beautiful, glorious death than a deep belief in his chosen poison of ultranationalistism.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    When I found out how Mishima died, I became less interested in his work and more interested in his life. This biography is written by one of his translators. His description of the "Mishima incident" itself is quite good.

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