I was a teenage anarchist.
Book Five: Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Out of all of the Mishima books, biographies, etc I’ve read while working on this project, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is strangely the most optimistic.
Mishima is not a happy man, on the whole, but I think he’s probably capable of finding enjoyment in somethings. He becomes easily distracted, entranced, obsessed with bizarre, brazen and violent crimes. In 1948, a stranger entered a suburban Tokyo bank, claiming to be working for the occupying American forces. It was near closing time, and this person told all the employees he needed to inoculate them all against dysentery. He gives them a pill and a few drops of liquid. Ten people die on the scene, and two people died later in hospital. A strange, small amount of money was stolen. An artist was charged with the crime, and Japanese high society recoiled in disgust. How could a man of such high culture, esteem, do such a vulgar, cruel thing? So many people assumed that the artist was being framed for the job that no judge would sign the death warrant.
Of course, our friend does not react that way. Mishima’s response to the incident is thus;
It is obvious to me that this extraordinary crime was part of a secret pact with the problem of beauty. This crime went so beyond comprehensible norms that any talk of motive is surely redundant. The perpetrators profound insensitivity toward human suffering was matched by his exquisite sensitivity towards his own actions, a sensitivity that suffused his unique power of imagination.
In 1950, a young Buddhist acolyte set fire to a temple which had stood outside Kyoto for centuries. Mishima was obsessed with this crime, and even went to see the arsonist in prison. Perhaps this arsonist was schizophrenic, or perhaps worse, just bored, but he was released and eventually died in 1956. Mishima was fascinated with the violent of the act, and the brazenness of it. He takes this experience and writes Temple.
The awkward, stuttering Mizoguchi traces his stutter to the trauma of hearing his mother having sex with another man while his father lay dying. Who am I to argue. He stutters, and is isolated at the temple. He becomes friends with a bright and happy acolyte, who commits suicide. He commits disgusting violence to please an American solider, which poisons him in the temple. His only other friend is the cripple Kashiwagi, who is mean and dark in a way that reminds me of a friend, cynical and sneering and quiet pervy. He tells Mizoguchi that he seduces many women, by making them feel badly about his clubbed feet. He performs this act in front of Mizoguchi, and finds his virginity endearing, if not a little silly.
Mizoguchi effectively drops out of school. He hates his Superior, he feels, in the greatest meaning of the word, ambivalent. He is excited by darkness, and the twinkling of the lights of the unmolested Kyoto.
Now, after all of these books and writings I have read and written about this homofascist, I have finally started to feel confident that I have learned this man’s style, his signature move. Everyone has one. Every good writer, anyway. James Baldwin has “The Jimmy”. Toni Morrison goes from large to small — so at the end you are left holding genocide in your pocket. Yukio Mishima, his move is a sort of triumph of life over the hypnotic will to death. All of his men (always men) desire death, desire death and bloody violence more than they desire air, and once they get it, their body convulses with the desire, and leaves them on the road, alone, smoking a cigarette, feelings shockingly, gloriously, alive.
At the end of Temple, Mizoguchi is nearly burned alive, covered in blood and boils, trembling in ash. But he stands at the side of the road, watching the Golden Temple become engulfed in flame, and he says, I want to live.