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Asian Book Bucket: “Forbidden Colors”

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    The Severed Head of Mishima

    If you do a search for images of the Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima, one of the images you are bound to cross is that of the writer’s severed head. I am talking about the head islolated, frontal, upright, seemingly asleep on a table. You might click on that thumbnail and be taken to a random site-one that appears to have little or nothing to do with the author. You search for more images….can that have been true? Is that really his head? What…?

    Mishima’s Writing

    So, then you learn about the strange career of the author. You read the list of books and something of their content. You learn that he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature three times (losing to his “mentor” Yasunari Kawabata-the first Japanese writer to receive the award). You read about his revival of the bushido code and samurai ethic, his obsessive bodybuilding, his private army the “Shield Society” and his final address, in uniform, to military headquarters, his holding hostage of the general, his failure, his hara kiri, and yes, his beheading. You can see images of Mishima on the web, watch an interview (in English or Japanese! Mishima spoke excellent English) on Youtube, and see a clip from his talk on bodybuilding. You can find images of him as a nearly-naked St. Sebastien, against a tree, bound, beautiful. You can read that he had a picture book of himself-not unlike Madonna’s-a book of narcissus-like images of the author in various stages of undress and poses. You can watch the harrowing seppuku section of a short film made by Mishima (the themes of the beautiful body, homosexuality and seppuku return again and again in his work), and learn that Mishima himself was in a film. You can even red blogs on Mishima, although the man died in 1970. Some of the blogs are quite mad.

    So, you read something by the man. The severed head of Mishima could not be shaken from my mind when I began “Runaway Horses“. It was tough going. I later learned that I had begun his last linked series on book two. Silly me.

    I began again, with “Forbidden Colors“. The book is dense, difficult to read, and it may be my translation, but sometimes tenses change erratically, confusingly. There are log-like, heavy, ponderous sentences disconnected from the flow of the text, but, then, suddenly some brilliant glimmer-some observed bit of detail that propel you into the story, and suddenlyk, the twists and turns of the plot engage.

    And, man, are there some twists and turns! The book has as many plot twists as any soap opera-but reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” and, alternately, Jean Genet’s “Our Lady of the Flowers“. There is the same sado-masochistic adoration of beauty, adoration of the beauty of self, the destruction caused by the lovely facade. Wow. It is an amazing book!

    Homoeroticism, the “gei” life of postwar Japan (I laughed reading about the “gei pa-ti” or gay party thrown at Jackie’s house, and the explanation that “gay” is how westerners refer to homosexuals) and the various meeting places haunted by these men forms a substantial setting. Oh, and there’s a twisted old bug of an author pulling evil plot strings. I suppose the evil old UGLY author was Mishima’s nightmare of a failed future…clearly, he preferred to die rather than age.

    His story has overshadowed his writing, largely. I’ve read posts on youtube where people admire his “willingness to die” for something. One post even said, wistfully, “I wish I felt like that”. So much more powerful is the myth than the work, in reputation.

    I am happy to be able to say that, in reality, I disagree: Forbidden Colors is remarkable fiction-in many ways as shocking as if it were written yesterday.



    Vili, can you just organize these book reviews into one topic or something? I’m sorry…organization is my weak point.



    What do you mean, Coco? I don’t see anything wrong with this review at all, or the others you have written. If you meant uniting the reviews you have written, then I won’t, as I think it’s better to keep them separate. One topic, one subject, and so on.

    And thanks for the reviews! I’m making notes. 🙂



    Oh, ok, Vili. I was worried I was messing up the organization.

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