Strange Scribes #3: Yukio Mishina
By Gabino Iglesias
Some writers are strange not necessarily because they write weird things, but because what they do in real life makes them as bizarre as any fiction out there. At last year’s BizarroCon, Brian Keene gave a fantastic workshop on developing a persona. When you think of mythical literary figures, their persona is as powerful as their writing. Hunter S. Thompson’s antics, looks, and guns, for example, are as much a part of his legacy as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In any case, doing strange things in real life is why I chose to write about Yukio Mishima this time around.
Yukio Mishina was the pen name used by Kimitake Hiraoka. Mishina was a very well-known Japanese author, playwright, poet, actor, film director, and even occasional model. Today he’s recognized as one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century and his work, which has been translated into a plethora of languages, is as popular as ever (trust me, I checked the magical Amazon numbers). He was also very prolific. Between novels, plays, and short stories, you could say he was productive on a Carlton Mellick level.
When it comes to themes, Mishina was obsessed with love, the ocean, Japan, politics, culture, sex, and death. All those subjects are featured in his fiction in ways that would appeal to lovers of weird/dark fiction. For example, in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a small boy watches as his mother has sex with another man in the presence of his dying father. The trauma turns him into a hopeless stutterer who eventually becomes infatuated with a temple in Kyoto and can’t stop thinking about it even when enjoying the company of prostitutes. Nice story, isn’t it? Oh, and you might also enjoy The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, which tells the story of a bunch of angry thirteen-year-old boys who reject the adult world and eventually kill the boyfriend of one of their mothers because they feel he’s soft and too romantic and not the hard sailor they’d imagined.
Despite that fact that he was a bodybuilder who posed for pictures dressed as a samurai and that his work deals with things like murderous teenagers, watching your mom have sex with a stranger, and trying to deny the fact that you’re gay, what makes Mishina a very strange scribe is the way he left this world. He was a very political individual, but I won’t get into all the details here (there are plenty of solid online biographies and about six books about his life, so you can do that the next time you’re bored). To keep things short, here’s the Wikipedia version:
“On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai, under pretext, visited the commandant of the Ichigaya Camp, the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto and a banner listing their demands, Mishima stepped onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire a coup d’état to restore the power of the emperor. He succeeded only in irritating the soldiers, and was mocked and jeered. He finished his planned speech after a few minutes, returned to the commandant’s office and committed seppuku.”
For those of you less knowledgeable in Japanese culture, seppuku is also called harakiri. Yeah, disemboweling yourself and then having someone chop your head so you don’t suffer for too long. However, unfortunately for Mishina, he chose an idiot to be his kaishakunin, the fellow that does the head chopping. If you read a few online biographies, you’ll come across phrases like “failed attempts” and words like “unsuccessful.” What they mean to say is that Mishina exposed his intestines to sunlight and the guy that had to chop his head off had awful katana skills and repeatedly had to whack him in the neck with the sword. Finally, a more apt individual stepped in and finished the job.
If that story is not enough for you, consider this: Mishina got up early on the morning of November 25, 1970, and, loyal to his never-miss-a-deadline attitude, finished the last chapter of Decay of the Angel, the last book in his Sea of Fertility Series. Enough said.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias