(1955 public domain photo of Mishima)
Like the other Mishima Yukio ((the pen name Hiraoka Kimitake, 1925-1970) plays I know (and unlike the one movie he directed, Patriotism), “My Friend Hitler” (1968) is a talkathon with the only action occurring offstage.* In this instance the action during “The Night of the Long Lives” (30 June-1 July 1934) and is not even reported in much detail.
Beyond being a provocation, the title is odd in that both the old friends, Gregor Strasser (1892-1934) and Ernst Röhm (1887-1934) address the führer as “Adolf,” not as “Hitler” or “Chancellor.” Strasser was something of the leader of a left opposition within the National Socialist Party until being forced to esign from his party offices on 8 December 1932 (and from his seat in the Reichstag in March 1933). If Strasser was the “socialist” in National Socialism, Röhn was an ultranationalist, and an opposition within the National Socialist Party with a large power base of his own developing, the Sturmabteilung (SA, storm troppers). The SA thugs were anathema to the regular German military, the Reichwehr, which Röhm sought to take control of. Both had participated in the November 1923 “beer hall putsch” in Munich, the seminal event in the early history of Hitler and the Nazis.
(Hitler and Röhm in 1933)
In the play, Strasser and Röhm and industrialist Gustav Krupp (1870-1950) are waiting for audiences with Hitler, who is out on the balcony protruding from the room that is the play’s sole set ranting away. He reassures each of them in turn.
(Hitler and Strasser)
Strasser then pleas with Rôhm to depose Hitler who will otherwise break and/or kill them in consolidating his power within the party (with Göring and Himmler). Röhm was widely known to be homosexual, and Mishima portrays him as in love with (or at least besotted by) Hitler. Mishima’s Hitler is aware of and uses that to set up the purge of right opposition and destruction of the SA.
Mishima regarded Hitler as a genius as a politician (though not as a military strategist). The play has been seen by some as pro-fascist, but others as anti-fascist. As someone with his own neo-fascist militia and nationalist fantasies, Mishima was heading for a failed putsch and self-destruction of his own, though there is nothing in the play that seems directly related to Japan of 1968, 1938, or any other time.
Having only four performers and a minimal single set, the play appeals to low-budget stage producers, and is probably the Mishima play most often stage in English. It is something of a companion piece to “Madame de Sade,” another play with historically real characters, in that instance all women. Mishima suggested that both plays with single-sex casts are about “the impossibility of eroticism.” I don’t know what this means, though both portray high costs of erotic fantasies. The play ends with Krupp congratulating Adolf (he also first-names him) for having cut down both the left and the right (within the party) and Hitler exiting, saying “Yes, government must take the middle road” — not where most of us would see the thousand-year Reich as having proceeded after 1934.
- Donald Keene recalled, “Mishima was fascinated by the theatre of Racine and wanted to explore the idea of the long speech, where the off-stage action is hinted at or described by another person.”
©2017, Stephen O. Murray