The public suicide of Mishima was all announced and choreographed. At the time I was working for Time and Life magazines. I still remember how us in Chicago production waited for the layouts, the photos and the text to arrive from the editorial offices in New York. I don’t remember exactly how we felt about awaiting for him to be done with and for us to put the magazines to bed and then go home. I don’t remember us having discussions about it either. Strange! Now that I think of it, it feels spooky, but then it must have felt a normal occurrence. Those were the days when Vietnam was well and alive and was covered extensively and in all its gory details in the Life magazine, week after week. The photos and the reports of the continuous death stream was hardly shocking anymore.

Mishima lost the Nobel Prize to his fellow writer and the close friend, Yasunari Kawabata, who too committed suicide by  gassing himself to death in April 1972. Unlike Mishima, tried to give a rousing speech amidst the boos of the crowd before proceeding to slice his stomach, Kawabata didn’t even leave a small suicide note, leaving his loved ones and the fans wondering forever. There are many theories about his taking his own life, among them, him being haunted by hundreds of nightmares following the death of Yukio Mishima.

The protagonist of Mishima’s Sailor Who Fell From The Grace With The Sea is murdered by a bunch of teenagers. I would go onto read Kawabata’s Snow Country, and realize that in both of his novels the “intruding” characters die of accidents, thus clearing the path of the survivors.

While I found Mishima difficult to read, I find Kawabata’s style and the narratives soothing, simple and nostalgically romantic. Both of the books have made a deep impact on me and yet even decades later, I can’t help but wish that instead of resorting to killing his characters, he could have given his stories delicate twists and left them alone. But the the endings do tell you something about the way the Japanese feel about life – or more precisely about death.

Committing Seppuku is the ultimate glory and so is the Kamikaze pilots taking off on suicide missions in their single engine, non-landing, one-man Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi planes and going down with the blazing bright and glorious flames.  And Madama Butterfly choosing the path of con onor muore (to die with honor), blindfolds her child, goes behind the screen and plunges the knife into her heart. Applause, applause!

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5