Culture Magazine

Mishima Wanted to Sing

By Aristippos

I thank Philip Glass for a couple of things in my life. The music he composed for the biographical movie Mishima was one of the poorest compositional ideas I have heard from him, but I am thankful that the movie introduced me to a figure that would become one of my very favorites – as individual, human, artist, writer and thinker.

Mishima wanted to Sing

Yukio Mishima in 1931

Just as an attraction for German things had entered my soul before attending University, something had been pulling me towards the Japanese spheres. One crystallization of this had been the aestheticism in the films of Akira Kurosawa. But that was the only name I could build upon to satisfy my hunger for Japan, until Yukio Mishima came along – though already dead. It was in 1985, fifteen years postmortem. This brought my interest for the Japanese culture into full development.

Through his novel “Confessions of a Mask” I obtained access into his world. His poetic form in word and action expresses much about his attitude towards life, liveliness, sufferings and joys. This is what instigated many questions and thoughts in my mind about the psych and existence of humans in the process of being. About twenty-five years later I saw the film Mishima once more and new thoughts, views and questions arouse, which apparently had not been clear for me back then, especially through two scenes.

Many people seem to carry their faces for identification purposes and as feelings thermometer. Mishima is lying in bed after an act of sexual intercourse – observing his “beautiful legs” after he has decided to train his body through body building – and ponders upon transforming his legs, allowing them to become his face.

Another scene:
It is possible that the quality of this short scene be attributed to the expressive acting of the fine actor Ken Ogata (1937-2008), portraying Yukio Mishima, or to the direction of Schrader, instead of seeing it as the genuine expression of the person Mishima himself in his desire for this long-awaited moment, as it happened on that November 25th in the year 1970. As in his very last minutes Ogata/Mishima looks up to his men, in his face one reads thankfulness, sadness, frustration, love and completeness. Or I see these expressions because his life seems to connect to some of my views on life, especially in reference to the idea of the need of singing, at its best very often, at its very least at life’s end.

Hardly another thought took him and guided him more than dying. As a man of letters, as an intellectual, as a grandson, son, lover, patriot, artist and teacher, all his handling was directed towards dying, be it out a sense of responsibility or out of sheer longing.

Mishima wanted to Sing
An individual is able to grow with his responsibilities and perform these brilliantly. For this purpose people become usually anywhere between 50 and 80 years of life. In the same way an individual might come into this world under particular circumstances, arriving as a victim and in the end, departing as a victim just the same. It seems to me that Mishima lived both possibilities. His intellect, his upbringing – in its better, as in its worse possible execution – his world of emotions, his love, all these aspects united into a creative person that aimed at following through with his responsibilities and visions with passion and dexterity. He wrote no less than 35 novels, about 200 short stories and over 20 essays. In addition there were 18 theater plays written and he contributed to the revival of the Noh-Theater tradition, besides several scripts for films. Beyond all these creative endeavors, he formed and trained the “Tatenokai”, a private army solely responsible for protecting the Emperor. He was dedicated to protect the rich and strict tradition of the Japanese culture of honor. As a result, after just 45 years of life as doer and victim, he departed, instead of living further, daring further and creating from his talent for the rest of the world. His talent and works for the Japanese society – for the elite and for the pop culture – were closely followed and respected.

General Mashita was the Commandant at the Ichigava Camp, where part of the Japanese military trained and lived. This is the compound where Mishima and his men – his closest, most effective from the Tatenokai Members – took Mishita as a hostage in his office, to assure his plan would work. They occupied the main building and the General was instructed as to what was to happen. After he spoke to the men that had been gathered outside and the General had recuperated from his worst assumptions, Mishima went on his knees. General Mashita, nervous, begged with him that there was no need for him to do this. He repeated himself a few times:

“Sensei Mishima, you do not need to do this”

But Mishima had to. He had lived with religious, artistic, elite and political intensity the honor culture of his country. Although the General begged him to change his mind, he could not resign of his role of that very moment. Yukio Mishima, in reality Hiraoka Kimitake, wanted to sing. His whole life he wanted to sing, or better said, he wanted to be singing itself. He had spoken to the Garrison from the balcony and as he finished, he turned to one of his man with the sad conclusion:

“They did not even listen to me”

Mishima wanted to Sing

Married in 1958, but “Confessions of a Mask” confesses also his homosexuality

His look, just seconds before his Seppuku Act, show me an amount of frustration, because had not been able to sing. He wanted to move the soldiers at the Ichigava Camp to fight against the powers of capitalism. He wanted to overthrow the government, in order to give the power back to his Emperor. He wanted to sing for his Japan and his Emperor. In his novels, full of uncommon, elegant rhetoric and soft poetry, he wanted to sing. Even having had such a dominant grandmother, he wanted to sing. He did not understand, why when he told his family about his memories of his birth, all would laugh, admiring his phantasy, but as soon as there were visitors and he started his telling, he would be sent to his room, to avoid shameful moments. He was forced to play with dolls with his cousins, but was not allowed to play with boys of his age outside. His father used to put his face as close as possible to oncoming trains, just to scare him.

Many things must have disgusted him, so that he yearned – among others – for a departure from life. But not before contributing greatness. And perhaps was precisely this, in various forms of expressions, his way of singing.

Singing is a daily and common expression of the soul and of the frame of mind of an individual. Often it is spontaneous, often subconscious, not looking for reaction or even perception from its surroundings, but just an expression that needs to be exhaled. A singer that lives with the title of being a singer and strongly depends professionally from the reaction and perception of its listener, is the only one making music that does not need a constructed instrument to support or enable the intended expression. Singing is the most pure music, its source. For humans, in terms of sound itself, singing is the most archaic thing, the highest what man is able to give from its most inner being, inner self, individually, globally,  working for all. It is language, but unspellable, even lacking the need for a system. It is a poem without the need of poetry. It is therapy without the necessity or intention of curing. It is a symbol for joy and for sadness. It is metaphysical communication. Nothing more than the vibration of bands, but with the destructive power of acoustic.

Singing is redemption.

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