The Ones You Want to Have as Ancestors

“Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.”

Ralph Ellison
The Invisible Man

 
 

Homage to Yukio Mishima, Abe Frajndlich

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The Terror of Lust

“Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love.”
Gabriel García Márquez
Memories of My Melancholy Whores

 
 

Wasserschlangen I or Freundinnen I (Water Serpents I), 1904 Gustav Klimt’s painting on the book cover of the English version of 眠れる美女

 
 

House of the Sleeping Beauties is a 1961 novella by the Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. A story about a lonely man, Old Eguchi, who continuously visits the House of the Sleeping Beauties in hope of something more. As the great Japanese writer Yukio Mishima expresses it perfectly in his introduction, this book is a pregnant reflection on ‘the terror of lust by the approach of death.’

Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s last written work, has some similarities to Kawabata’s short novel, which Marquez even quotes in the epigraph:

 

“He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the house warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort.”

 

Kawabata’s book is about an old man who watches sleeping young women and feels himself overwhelmed by desire for them. Marquez’s book is about an even older man who first desires a sleeping young woman, and then feels himself overwhelmed by platonic love. Thus, Marquez inverts Kawabata’s painful yearning into a sentimental fantasy.

And of course he replaces Kawabata’s old man with the typical Marquez protagonist. Marquez protagonists are men who invariably possess amazing virility, miraculous longevity, and larger-than-life charisma. They are never good-looking, but they can always get any woman they want. In this book, the protagonist explains that he had been with 514 different women by the age of fifty. It is also typical for Marquez to give the exact number. It’s not enough for his character to have had great success with the ladies, he has to have had exactly 514 of them. Marquez did this exact thing in Love In The Time Of Cholera, where Florentino Ariza filled some similarly huge number of notebooks with descriptions of his romantic conquests.

In 1982 Gabriel García Márquez wrote a story, Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane, in which Kawabata is specifically alluded to. Seated in the first-class cabin of an airplane crossing the Atlantic beside a young woman of extraordinary beauty who sleeps throughout the flight, García Márquez’s narrator is reminded of Kawabata’s novel. As a work of fiction the “Sleeping Beauty” story is undeveloped, no more than a sketch. Perhaps for this reason, García Márquez feels free to reuse its basic situation —the no longer young admirer side by side with the sleeping girl— in Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

House of the Sleeping Beauties is a study of the activities of eros in the mind of a sensualist of an intensive and self-aware kind, acutely—perhaps morbidly—sensitive to odors and fragrances and nuances of touch, absorbed by the physical uniqueness of the women he is intimate with, prone to brood on images from his sexual past, not afraid to confront the possibility that his attraction toward young women may screen desire for his own daughters, or that his obsession with women’s breasts may originate in infantile memories.

 
 

FILM ADAPTATIONS

 
 

Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen (Vadim Glowna, 2006)

 
 

Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 2011). The film is based in part on the novel House of the Sleeping Beauties. In writing the script, Leigh drew from several literary inspirations— Yasunari Kawabata’s novella; Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; a story in The Bible in which King David as an old man spends the evening alongside sleeping virgins; and the eponymous fairytales by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm. She also noted the phenomenon of images of sleeping girls on the internet, presumably in somnophilia pornography. Mia Wasikowska was originally cast as Lucy but she dropped out when offered the title role in the adaption of Jane Eyre.

Not So Unexpected References

The tagline is “Be unexpected.” The fragrance created by perfumer Jacques Polge debuted on fall 2010 preceded by a media campaign which include the short advertisement “Bleu de Chanel” by Martin Scorsese featuring French actor Gaspard Ulliel. Prior to Scorsese, Baz Luhrmann had worked on Chanel No. 5.

The Rolling StonesShe Said Yeah, from band’s 1965 album December’s Children (And Everybody’s),  propels the script of the short film, in which rising international star Gaspard Ulliel plays the role of a young actor whose artistic talent, rebelliousness and good fortune have thrown him into the public eye. However, he refuses to conform to the lifestyle and expectations his newly found fame has placed upon him. As he struggles with new pressures and expectations, he runs into his first love, who for years, supplied him with the passion and turmoil that fueled his work. Faced with a decision, he pushes aside convention to embody the bold energy and elegance of Bleu De Chanel by daring to be unpredictable and refusing to bow down to convention. Scorsese had directed the 2008 Rolling Stones concert film Shine A Light. 

The song She Said Yeah was recorded by the group in September of 1965 at RCA Studios in Hollywood, the very same place where the band’s anthem (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction had been recorded a few months earlier. She Said Yeah was written by the late Sonny Bono and West Coast rockabilly performer Roddy Jackson, and had been a single for Larry Williams in the late 1950s. Williams became known with such early rock ‘n’ roll hits as Bony Maronie, Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Slow Down, the last two of which were covered by The Beatles.

 
 


Still from Mishima, a Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, 1984)

 
 

Still from short advertisement “Bleu de Chanel” (Martin Scorsese, 2010). The exploding screen wall seems to be inspired by Ishioka’s set design for Mishima. “We knew the old Hollywood system was gone, so we thought we could get in the cracks somehow. Francis was already at it — he was the big brother…”, Scorsese said about starting out with his friends George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Rolling Stone Magazine 40th Anniversary (2007)

 
 

Gaspar Ulliel taking pictures to the woman he was chasing. This scene reminds the famous photo-shoot played by David Hemmings and  sixties model Veruschka in Blown-Up. In a piece called, The Man Who Set Film Free, Scorsese wrote about the sensation of seeing the Italian director’s L’Avventura for the first time, almost 50 years ago.

 
 

Movie Poster from Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

 
 

Life and Music

“Yet how strange a thing is the beauty of music! The brief beauty that the player brings into being transforms a given period of time into pure continuance; it is certain never to be repeated; like the existence of day flies and other such short-lived creatures, beauty is a perfect abstraction and creation of life itself. Nothing is so similar to life as music.”

Yukio Mishima

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

 
 

Yukio Mishima in New York. Photograph: Carlo Bavagnoli. Life magazine, 1964

The Color Schemes of a Biopic

Eiko Ishioka and Paul Schrader

 
 

By the spring of 1984 Eiko Ishioka was one of the most sought after art director/designers in Japan. She hardly needed to throw herself into what was widely expected to be a controversial film project. Moreover, she would be working with a traditional film art director, Kazuo Takenaka, whose feature credits as designer went back to 1960. Mr. Takenaka was to design the biographical parts of the film and Eiko was to design sets and costumes from the three Yukio Mishima novels chosen by Paul Schrader, in scenes that parallel key events from Mishima’s life. What could easily have been both a generational and aesthetic chasm between Eiko’s and Kazuo’s visions became, in fact, a close collaborative bridge across the film’s several styles.

The color scheme of the first novel presented itself easily enough. Eiko explained that the Golden Pavilion of the title was a legendary, but fragile wooden edifice in Kyoto, often rebuilt after periodic fires. The temple was a spiritual idea as much as a physical edifice. The gold leaf that Eiko chose to cover the set walls and floor, stretching around three curved walls and over the floor, created a limbo environment broken up by green walkways and a bamboo garden. The robes of Mizoguchi and fellow acolytes were in black.

 
 

The story begins with chapter 1, “Beauty,” where the awkward young boy grows into a man, looking to change his position as a misfit in this world and embrace love and the goodness that life has to offer, the things that are beauty personified. For this section, Schrader chooses to adapt the 1953 novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the story of a Buddhist acolyte (Yasosuke Bando) with a severe stuttering problem whose “deformity” prevents him from finding love, forcing him to always remain separate. He fixates on the golden temple where he is studying and eventually becomes intent on its destruction. Turning it to rubble blots out the false promise he can never fulfill. This action actually teaches him something about beauty, about how it’s best to halt it at its apex rather than let age diminish its luster.

 
 

Kyoko’s House takes place in the 1950s, a period still very much under the cultural influence of the American Occupation. Eiko offered us a palette of 50s pastels that also featured pink and black. Think of the trope of fuzzy dice that hung from the dashboard rear view mirrors of Detroit cars, and of the stripped down aesthetic of Scandinavian interior design. John Bailey thought also of the color palette that designer Nando Scarfiotti had shown John Schlesinger for Honky-Tonk Freeway (a splayed roll of Necco wafer candies). Eiko promoted the idea of these pastel colors; she knew also the high regard that Paul had for Nando. (Bailey had by then done three films with Nando, two of them directed by Schrader.)

 
 

From there, Schrader moves to chapter 2, “Art,” where Mishima, tasting his first blush of success, begins to ponder how to resolve the false and finite nature of beauty and realize the artist’s purpose of preserving said beauty. In his novel Kyoko’s House a young actor turned body builder (Kenji Sawada) realizes that despite his personal perfection, bodies decay. Art is nice, but it requires no sacrifice. He enters into an abusive relationship with a female gangster (Setsuko Karasuma) who begins to use his body as a living sculpture. Real blood is a greater expression of true beauty and art than the false blood spilled on a theatrical stage.

 
 

Searching for a way to separate these fictional scenes of the novels from the events of the last day (since both were to be done in color) Paul, Eiko, Tom Luddy and John Bailey met with engineers from Sony who had recently developed an analog HD video system. Photographing the scenes from the novels in HD video seemed a natural way to establish a “look” different from the 35mm. color scenes of the last day. It was quickly obvious that the intense chromatic density and subtlety of Eiko’s sets and costumes would be poorly served by the limitations of this cutting edge but still embryonic  video medium. They resolved to shoot the novels on film as well—but with mostly undiffused and harder edged light to preserve the rich blacks that only film could capture, a lighting style Paul and John had chosen for American Gigolo; it was by then a retrograde style in an age of  increasing soft light. Eiko presented the physical design of the sets to them  in near schematic sketches that defined the lines and bones of the sets. The final sets proved to be every bit as reductive, even elemental, with geometric forms and saturated colors creating a stage-like theatricality as the set pieces and walls shift, even collapse.

In one scene, the light on a large Eugene Delacroix wall painting dims to reveal a Beckett-like woods outside: an unlikely mash-up, but pure Eiko. The final scene of Runaway Horses unfolds on an actual beach in pre-sunrise light. Eiko transposed blood red painted rocks from the stage set to the location in order to introduce theatrical artifice into the real world. Here, at a cliff edge, facing the rising sun, the cadet Isao commits seppuku.

 
 

Chapter 3, “Action,” where Mishima begins to question his role in the world. Words can express ideas, but like how beauty without art fades, so too do ideas go nowhere without action to back them up. The novel for this section is Runaway Horses, a later work about a young soldier (Toshiyuki Nagashima) who forms a cabal of like-minded youths to stage a revolution and restore Japan’s honor. As his plan falls apart, he tries one last action before turning his sword on himself. Here the fiction dovetails nicely with the reality, as we go into chapter 4, “Harmony of Pen and Sword,” which concerns itself entirely with Mishima’s last day on Earth, along with commentary taken from his last book of personal writing, Sun and Steel. (Again, fiction gives way to reality–though reality as seen by Yukio Mishima.)

A Concept Built from Three Novels

Eiko at work on stage floor for set of the Golden Pavillion

 
 

Never before Eiko Ishioka had worked as a film production designer, but at Cannes she received a best artistic contribution prize, along with the film’s cinematographer, John Bailey, and its composer, Philip Glass. Ishioka, whose late father was a noted pioneering graphic designer, combined a free, ever-questing imagination with traditional Japanese diligence. “He (Paul Schrader) gave me the second-draft scenario to read, and basically the structure of the movie seemed fresh for me,” said Ishioka.

 
 

Ishioka and George Lucas, executive producer of the movie

 
 

“I asked him two questions before I decided to do the film. I asked him, ‘Why do you need me as an artist for your movie?’ Then I said that I wasn’t a fanatic fan for Mishima, that I was like an ordinary Japanese audience for Mishima: ‘Is this OK?–It means I’m not an expert on Mishima.’

“He said that this movie was to be made in a very innovative style. He had tried to find a production designer in America but decided he wanted to choose someone outside the film field. He wanted a fresh concept. I told him that I didn’t have enough knowledge of technology for the job. He said it was not so difficult to find technical people–‘We can find find someone to help you as a partner.’

Ishioka gave her final decision only after Schrader selected veteran art director Kazuo Takenaka as her partner. “It was like an arranged marriage,” she said. “If one of us doesn’t want to work with the other, then we have an out. Takenaka wanted to work on the realistic and documentary parts of the film, and I wanted to work on the novels. But he has his pride; he’s an older man and wanted to be more than just a partner. I understood that.” (Takenaka’s credit reads executive art director.

At first, after intensive discussions with Schrader, Ishioka was intent on carrying out his ideas, but Takenaka told her that she must have her own concept. ” ‘Don’t worry about describing Schrader’s images,’ he told me. It was very strong, very important advice. I was so shocked, but it opened my eyes, my mind–my spirit. Paul said, ‘OK, try it.’

 
 

Eiko at her desk reviewing classic woodblock prints for Mishima

 
 

“My concept was built from the three novels, not from the scenario,” said Ishioka, who was soon turning out scores of sketches. “I wanted to do a big presentation. I told Paul, ‘If you don’t like it, there is no meaning for me to continue.’ I built a model for ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavilion’ at 1/50th scale. Then there were many, many discussions with Schrader and Bailey–talk, talk; talk many, many times.”

Into this project Ishioka said she poured her “body and spirit. Almost 20 years as a graphic designer and art director, a designer in the theater, publishing, advertising and designing corporate identities.

“I built my own philosophy as an artist. I care about the relationship between the artist and the audience. Eiko is on the stage, but she’s also in the audience. I want to judge my work from the audience. Eiko is my best audience. I’m like a commercial artist, not a fine artist who cares about patrons. I’m relating to the whole media. It comes from my training”

Although Takenaka did much of the rest of the picture, Ishioka had the overall responsibility as production designer and was deeply involved in re-creating Mishima’s Western-style home, which was cluttered with European and American reproduction kitsch.

Beyond Our Grasp

“Dreams, memories, the sacred–they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles.”

Yukio Mishima
Spring Snow

 
 

The Power of Knowledge

“What transforms this world is — knowledge. Do you see what I mean? Nothing else can change anything in this world. Knowledge alone is capable of transforming the world, while at the same time leaving it exactly as it is. When you look at the world with knowledge, you realize that things are unchangeable and at the same time are constantly being transformed.”

Yukio Mishima

The Golden Pavillion

 
 

A Life in Four Chapters and Many Colors

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act”
Truman Capote

 
 

 
 

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is an American/Japanese film co-written and directed by Paul Schrader in 1985. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas served as executive producers. As the title indicates, Mishima is divided into four chapters, each encapsulating a different aspect of the man’s spirit, three of which include condensed adaptations of his most famous novels. The film is based on the life and work of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, interweaving episodes from his life with dramatizations of segments from his books The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko’s House, and Runaway Horses.

 
 

 
 

Although Mishima only visualizes three of the writer’s novels by name, the film also uses segments from his autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask. At least two scenes, showing the young Mishima being aroused by a painting of the Christian martyr Sebastian, and his secret love for a fellow pupil at school, also appear in this book. The use of one further Mishima novel, Forbidden Colors, which describes the marriage of a homosexual man to a woman, was denied by Mishima’s widow.

 
 

The film sets in on November 25, 1970, the last day in Mishima’s life. He is shown finishing a manuscript. Then, he puts on a uniform he designed for himself and meets with four of his most loyal followers from his private army.

 
 

 
 

As Schrader wanted to visualize a book illustrating Mishima’s narcissism and sexual ambiguity, he chose the novel Kyoko’s House (which Mishima had translated for him exclusively) instead. Kyoko’s House contains four equally ranking storylines, featuring four different protagonists, but Schrader picked out only the one which he considered convenient.

Mishima uses different colour palettes to differentiate between frame story, flashbacks and scenes from Mishima’s novels: The (1970) contemporary scenes are shot in subdued colours, the flashbacks in black-and-white, the The Temple of the Golden Pavilion-episode is dominated by golden and green, Kyoko’s House by pink and grey, and Runaway Horses by orange and black.

Schrader considers Mishima the best film he has directed. “It’s the one I’d stand by – as a screenwriter it’s Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), but as a director it’s Mishima.”

Mishima earned Eiko Ishioka the Best Artistic Contribution award the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.

Without Meaning

“Soon after the suicide of the esteemed Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, whom I knew well, a biography about him was published, and to my dismay, the author quotes him as saying “Oh yes, I think of suicide a great deal. And I know a number of people I’m certain will kill themselves. Truman Capote, for instance.” I couldn’t imagine what had brought him to this conclusion. My visits to Mishima had always been jolly, very cordial. But Mishima was a sensitive, extremely intuitive man, not someone to be taken lightly. But in this matter, I think his intuition failed him; I would never have the courage to do what he did…”

Truman Capote
Nocturnal Turnings, or How Siamese Twins Have Sex

 
 

Truman Capote. Photo: Robert Mapplethorpe, 1981

 
 

In the late 1970s, Capote was in and out of rehab clinics, and news of his various breakdowns frequently reached the public. In 1978, talk show host Stanley Siegal did an on-air interview with Capote, who, in an extraordinarily intoxicated state, confessed that had been awake for 48 hours and when questioned by Siegal, “What’s going to happen unless you lick this problem of drugs and alcohol?” Capote responded with “The obvious answer is that eventually, I mean, I’ll kill myself … without meaning to”. Capote died in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on August 25, 1984, aged 59 from liver cancer. According to the coroner’s report the cause of death was “liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication.” He died at the home of his old friend Joanne Carson, ex-wife of late-night TV host Johnny Carson, on whose program Capote had been a frequent guest.

The Strange Predicament

“He found himself in the strange predicament all sailors share: essentially he belonged neither to the land nor to the sea. Possibly a man who hates the land should dwell on shore forever. Alienation and the long voyages at sea will compel him once again to dream of it, torment him with the absurdity of longing for something that he loathes…”

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

Yukio Mishima

 
 

Yukio Mishima and Henry Scott Stokes on the beach

Good-Bye, Men of Nippon!

Tamotsu Yato (矢頭 保 Yatō Tamotsu, 1928(?) – May 1973) was a Japanese photographer and occasional actor responsible for pioneering Japanese homoerotic photography and creating iconic black-and-white images of the Japanese male. He was a friend and collaborator of the writer Yukio Mishima and the film critic Donald Richie, as well as a long-term romantic partner of Meredith Weatherby, an expatriate American publisher and translator of Mishima’s works into English. Yato completed three volumes of photography:

Taidō: Nihon no bodibirudā-tachi (体道:日本のボディビルダーたち). Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1966; English version: Young Samurai: Bodybuilders of Japan, New York: Grove Press, 1967. With an introduction by Yukio Mishima.

Hadaka matsuri (裸祭り). Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1969; English version: Naked festival: A Photo-Essay, New York/Tokyo: John Weatherhill, 1968. With an introduction by Yukio Mishima and essays by Tatsuo HagiwaraMutsuro Takahashi, and Kozo Yamaji. Translated and adapted for Western readers by Meredith Weatherby and Sachiko Teshima.

Otoko: Photo-Studies of the Young Japanese Male, Los Angeles: Rho-Delta Press, 1972. Dedicated to the memory of Yukio Mishima.

Even though Yato’s work received only a limited public distribution, it has attained a cult following and has been acknowledged as a major influence by a number of artists working with male erotica. Thus, Sadao Hasegawa remarks in his Paradise Visions: “Tamotsu Yato achieved fame by creating Otoko (Man) a picture book. He photographed Yukio Mishima, nude. His subjects: traditional, muscular, unsophisticated countryside men, are mostly extinct today. Otoko was valuable because you could see these long-bodied, stout-legged, cropped hair, square-jawed men… Good-bye, men of Nippon!”

 
 

 

Ordeal by Roses

“To me photography can be simultaneously both a record and a ‘mirror’ or ‘window’ of self-expression.”

 Eikoh Hosoe

 
 

Yukio Mishima photographed by Eikoh Hosoe

 
 

Bara (薔薇, “rose”), also known as the wasei-eigo (English words coined in Japan) construction “Men’s Love” (メンズラブ) or ML, is a Japanese jargon term for a genre of art and fictional media that focuses on male same-sex love, usually created by gay men for a gay audience. The term bara in relation to gay material for men originated in the 1960s, possibly as a result of Bara kei (Ordeal by Roses, published in 1961), a collection of semi-nude photographs of the gay author Yukio Mishima by photographer Eikoh Hosoe, and was reinforced by the early and influential gay men’s magazine Barazoku (薔薇族, lit. “rose tribe”), founded in 1971 and the first gay magazine in Asia to be sold at mainstream bookshops.

 
 

Killed by Roses or Ordeal by Roses (Bara-kei, 1961–1962). The series of dark, erotic images centered on the male body  was set in Mishima’s Tokyo house, positions Mishima in melodramatic poses.

 
 

Born inJapan in 1933, he decided to become a photographer at age 18. Since then Mr. Hosoe has been established himself as an internationally acclaimed photographer and professor. Mr. Hosoe has consistently pursued personal original directions in his work, focusing on the dialogue between men and women, life and death, the supernatural, theatre, and the nude and the landscape. His photographs have been recognized in major exhibitions spanning Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US, at venues including the Yokohama Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institute, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center for Photography, and The Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art. The Howard Greenberg Gallery has long represented his work in NYC. The many books of his work include Man and Woman; A Place Called Hiroshima; Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses; Eikoh Hosoe: Aperture Masters of Photography; Embrace; Butterfly Dream, and recently re-released by Aperture, Kamaitachi. Hosoe has been the director of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Kiyosato, Yamanashi), since it’s opening in 1995. He has lead workshops in Japan and abroad.

Homoerotic photography has also been accredited as contributing to the bara genre, with Tamotsu Yatō and Haga Kuro mentioned by Tagame in particular.

 
 

*More photographs by Heikoh Hosoe on The Genealogy of the Style‘s Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.599051250183652.1073741829.597542157001228&type=1&l=0d4956a127

Leaning Against a Dusky Tree

 
 

仮面の告白 (Confessions of a Mask) is Japanese author Yukio Mishima‘s second novel. Published in 1949, it launched him to national fame though he was only in his early twenties.

The main protagonist is referred to in the story as Kochan. Being raised during Japan’s era of right-wing militarism and Imperialism, he struggles from a very early age to fit into society. Like Mishima, Kochan was born with a less-than-ideal body in terms of physical fitness and robustness, and throughout the first half of the book (which generally details Kochan’s childhood) struggles intensely to fit into Japanese society. Due to his weakness, Kochan is kept away from boys his own age as he is raised, and is thus not exposed to the norm. This is what likely led to his future fascinations and fantasies of death, violence, and sex. In this way of thinking, some have posited that Mishima is similar.

Kochan is a homosexual, and in the context of Imperial Japan he struggles to keep it to himself. In the early portion of the novel, Kochan does not yet openly admit that he is attracted to men, but indeed professes that he admires masculinity and strength. Some have argued that this, too, is autobiographical of Mishima, himself having worked hard through a naturally weak body to become a superbly fit body builder and male model.

 
 

San Sebastiano, Guido Reni, c. 1615

 
 

Mishima’s adolescent hero has a very special sexual fantasy after he recognized the high sexual appeal of depictions of St. Sebastian. In fact, his first ejaculation comes from staring at a picture in an art book of a painting of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. Kochan fantasy is represented on the above cover of Mishima’s novel.Excerpt from Confessions of a Mask, wherein Yukio Mishima recalls his (“his character’s”) first ejaculation and masturbatory experience regarding this image:

 
 

Suddenly there came into view from one corner of the next page a picture that I had to believe had been lying in wait there for me, for my sake.
It was a reproduction of Guido Reni’s “St. Sebastian.”

The black and slightly oblique trunk of the tree of execution was seen against a Titian-like background of gloomy forest, and evening sky, somber and distant. A remarkably handsome youth was bound naked to the trunk of the tree. His crossed hands were raised high, and the thongs binding his wrists were tied to the tree. No other bonds were visible, and the only covering for the youth’s nakedness was a coarse white cloth knotted loosely about his loins.

I guess it must be a depiction of a Christian martyrdom. But, as it was painted by an esthetic painter of the eclectic school that derived from the Renaissance, even this painting of death of a christian saint has about it a strong flavor of paganism. The youth’s body—it might even be likened to that of Antinous, beloved of Hadrian, whose beauty has been so often immortalized in sculpture—shows none of the traces of missionary hardship or decrepitude that are to be found in depictions of other saints; instead there is only the springtime of youth, only light and beauty and pleasure.

His white and matchless nudity gleams against a background of dusk. His muscular arms, the arm of a praetorian guard accustomed to bending the bow and wielding of a sword, are raised at a graceful angle and his bound wrists are corssed directly over his head. His face is turned slightly upward and his eyes are open wide, gazing with profound tranquilty upon the glory of heaven. It is not pain that hovers about his straining chest, his tense abdomen, his slightly contorted hips, but some flicker of melancholy pleasure like music. Were it not for the arrows with their shafts deeply sunk into the his left armpit and right side, he would seem more a Roman athlete resting from fatigue, leaning against a dusky tree in a garden.
The arrows have eaten into the tense, fragrant, youthful flesh and are about to consume his body from within with the flames of supreme agony and ecstasy. But there is no flowing blood, nor yet the host of arrows seen in other pictures of Sebastian’s martyrdom. Instead two lone arrows cast their tranquil and graceful shadows upon the smoothness of his skin, like the shadows of a bough falling upon a marble stairway.

But all these interpretations and observations came later.

That day, the instance I looked upon the pictures, my entire being trembled with some pagan joy. My blood soared up; my loins swelled as though in wrath. The monstrous part of me that was on the point of bursting awaited my use of it with unprecedented ardor, upbraiding me for my ignorance, panting indignantly. My hands, completely unconsciously, began a motion they had never been taught. I felt a secret, radiant something rise swift-footed to the attack from inside me. Suddenly it burst forth, bringing with it a blinding intoxication…

Some time passed, and then, with miserable feelings, I looked around the desk I was facing. A maple tree at the window was casting a bright reflection over everything—over the ink bottle, my schoolbooks and notes, the dictionary, the picture of St. Sebastian. There were cloudy-white splashes about—on the gold-imprinted titled of a textbook, on a shoulder of the ink bottle, on one corner of the dictionary. Some objects were dripping lazily, leadenly, and others gleamed dully, like the eyes of a dead fish. Fortunately, a reflex motion of my hand to protect the picture had saved the book from being soiled.

This was my first ejaculation. It was also the beginning, clumsy and completely unpremeditated, of my “bad habit.”

 
 

 
 

Yukio Mishima’s seppuru. Photo: Tamotsu Yatō