The current paper is a book review written by one of the greatest authors of the 20th century coming from Japan. Yukio Mishima is known not only for his works but for his beliefs. Unfortunately, he became famous because of the suicide he has committed at the age of forty-five, which was the ritual act of seppuku. It was the first novel by the author.
The plot reveals the story of a young man named Kochan, who was also a protagonist and felt unsure and perplexed about his sexuality; the huge part of the book describes his dreams about a boy with a marvelous body named Omi. He was a Japanese boy, who grew up during one of the worthiest periods in history, during World War II. During his young years of life, he struggled with fantasies about sadism and death. In order to look normal in the society of that time, he tried to show that he was interested in the relationship of one young girl, who was a sister of a boy to whom Kochan was attracted initially.
The story begins with the description of where the boy was born and where he has spent his childhood. He could not boast about having strong health, which is why his grandmother took care of him. Kochan enjoyed himself by fantasizing about knights of dragons and spending much time alone. He felt extreme fascination while watching people who had an unhappy life and have been experiencing dramatic tragic events. He already started to sense that he was somehow different from others in terms of attraction to the opposite gender. Once he becomes older and reaches puberty, Kochan feels a strong urge to get into a sexual relationship. He started visualizing the images of death and the process of death appeared in his head more often. Moreover, Kochan was looking for that kind of experience and when he first saw the painting “Saint Sebastian” by Reni, where a half-naked and dying character is portrayed, he could not resist the temptation and showed weakness to his urge. Omi, who was also staying with Kochan at a quasi-military school, was an object of desire to the main character of the book. The protagonist fell in love with the boy because of his strengths. Kochan now becomes fully aware of his sexual preferences.
The author does a good job describing how the mind of Kochan worked and what thoughts he had when trying on a kimono owned by his mother with only one purpose - to be caught by her seeing him do it. The result of that was a strong feeling of shame and an inevitable desire to hide his true feelings behind the “mask”. Through all the narration of the story, the readers are entitled to share the same feeling of the sexual and personal “confession”. The novel was written in the 1940s and cannot be seen now as a simple outburst of homosexuality, as it has a much deeper meaning. It is about how this might cause such a big level of socio-emotional impact on people during wartime in Japan.
Actually, Kochan just wants to be accepted by society, so he started to pretend that he was truly interested in girls. Unfortunately, at this time, World War II has busted out and the protagonist has started to view the world cynically as other people did. The life goes on and he graduated from school and continued his path by entering the college. The life was not easy for everyone at that time, especially with the constant threat of Allied bombs to destroy the country, but Kochan has managed to befriend another boy named Kusano. Here comes into the view the sister of Kusano, whose name was Sonoko. The story continues with the change of Kochan’s desired object from a boy to a girl. Kochan was sent to work at a factory that was constructing flight lanes, where he had to lie and was finally proclaimed unfit for service. The young man kindled the relationship with Sonoko. He has certain emotional feelings towards her, but not very strong physical attraction, as he has felt towards the boy. On some occasions, Kochan is described as a pathological individual, who did not express much of his anger to his age but in some moments, he is “craving bloodshed” and feels strong anger to be burst out. He was first pleased that the relationships escalated in a few days, but he started to experience a strong sense of guilt. However, Sonoko saw the situation with Kochan from a different point of view, as she started to think that she would get married to him. Still, the protagonist comes into understanding that he could not experience the same strong romantic feeling to a girl, as he had to a boy and breaks up with her. He started to dive into the world of studies, but his thoughts came back to Sonoko. Time went by, but in two years, he attempted to befriend Sonoko and to meet him again. This could bring some peace and calm down the turmoil in his soul, but with time, they both understand that they are not right for each other in order to satisfy the needs they both had.
The book reveals a story with much deeper meaning, as it might seem from the first sight. The main character needs to put a ‘mask’ on his face in order to hide his true feelings, as what he felt was right and good for him went against the social norms and needs to fight over his feelings. It is not only about homosexuality, but also about violence, death, and the way beauty was abused by torture and pain, which were all not considered normal.
The book is full of thoughts that might have probably shown how the author felt himself at that time. Thereafter, some passages, such as “…. I chose primitive and savage weapons — arrows, daggers, spears. And in order to prolong the agony, it was the belly that must be aimed at.”, are a clear indication of what Yukio Mishima felt at that time and that thought about suicide were already in his head. The character of the book is definitely disturbed, but his thoughts and feelings are not very different from one's other boys of the same age experience. This is usually typical for those individuals who are social ‘outcasts’ or just feel angry for some reason.
Kochan is somehow obsessed with his militarism, homosexuality and a belief that he might die young. All these assumptions show the alter ego of Mishima. Moreover, the protagonist showed his passion for the sea and swimming in it, by mentioning the book written by the author known as “The Sailor who falls from grace from the sea”. Those who have read some other background information about Mishima might make an assumption that the books in the early biography of the author. The book is fascinating; while reading it, a person experiences a sense of deep tragedy and turmoil that was present in Mishima’s soul.
The book is definitely erotic and Mishima managed to describe the feelings of Kochan with a real sense of affection and passion towards the man’s body. Armpits were a particular fetish to the protagonist, but as the book seemed to be an autobiography, then to the author as well. Actually, the book is not only about the strong sexual attraction to the same gender, but about the sense of fascination a person experiences, as Kochan dreamt a lot about how the knight fought and eventually died in the battle for the sake of love. The main character liked men not because they died for women but were ready to put their lives for a noble idea. Unfortunately, the author made the same bloody and violent sacrifice by committing suicide.
Kochan hated himself not only because he felt attraction to the same gender, but also because he did not look anything like his classmates in terms of physical appearance. The novel is full of self-hatred and shows the low self-esteem of the author, as he did not love himself. The send part of the book is about another internal struggle, as Kochan tried to persuade himself that if he had made an attempt, he could have had a true romantic relationship with Sonoko, but this eventually failed.
To conclude, I would like to mention that reading the “Confessions of a Mask” helped me not to look deeper into the Japanese literature but definitely helped me to understand the thoughts of Mishima. He had to be very strong and always ‘fight’ with either the society or himself. To do it, he put a ‘mask on his soul’ and tried to hide his true feelings that were not normal according to society. The author wanted to send a message to the reader, how hard it was to him to be what he really was and portrayed a fictional character who actually resembled the true feelings of Mishima.