Yukio Mishima: Patriotism (憂国)
A masterpiece by Yukio Mishima – Patriotism – the story of love and dead. A short story about the double suicide of a Lieutenant and his wife following the Ni Ni Roku Incident where some parts of the military tried to overthrow government and military leaders. Although Lieutenant Takeyama wasn’t involved into the coup, because his friends wanted to safeguard him and his new wife, he found himself facing a fight and execution of his friends. Not being able to cope with this situation he commits suicide, followed by his wife.
Written in 1960 by one of the most interesting writers of Japanese modern history, Yukio Mishima, this book and the movie made by Mishima himself, are very disturbing images of the relation between human and state.
Although the English title says Patriotism, the Japanese one is 憂国 (Yukoku) which is closer to Concern for one’s own country. This concern, and the feeling of devotion to the Imperial system and the country that leads the two into their deed. We are guided through the whole book and movie by a large scroll with 至誠 (shisei, devotion) written on it.
But indeed, Patriotism is a good title I think – one of the most dangerous concepts mankind has brought forth. If Patriotism would be only the love for one’s own country, all would be fine. But reality shows that patriotism unfailingly brings along xenophobia and the feeling of superiority.
For someone coming from a small and unimportant country, I never had even the slightest allure to be patriotic in the bad sense. And looking at the world and people around me, I often have the feeling that mainly big countries produce the biggest and worst style of patriotism. This is obvious in countries like China, but having recently learned that all US pupils have to recite (obviously without understanding) the Pledge of Allegiance, the shock of how bad patriotism can start washing the brains of even the smallest kids in a seemingly free country is still present.
But back to the book: Here the patriotism is exhibited by the presence of the Imperial images and shrine in the entrance, in front of which the two pray the last time before executing themselves.
Not only the book is a masterpiece by itself, also the movie is a special piece of art: Filmed in silent movie style with text inserts, the whole story takes place on a Noh stage. This is in particular interesting as Mishima was one of the few, if not the only, modern Noh play writer. He has written several Noh plays.
Another very impressive scene for me was when, after her husbands suicide, Reiko returns from putting up her final make-up into the central room. Her kimono is already blood soaked and the trailing kimono leaves traces on the Noh stage resembling the strokes of a calligraphy, as if her movement is guided, too, by 至誠.
The final scene of the movie shows the two of them in a Zen stone garden, forming the stone, the unreachable island of happiness.
Very impressive, both the book as well as the movie.