Mishima Yukio (pen-name of Hiraoka Kimitake, 1925-70) was a rising, if somewhat notorious (for the homoeroticism of Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors) Japanese novelist when he managed to journey to “the West” (east of Japan, the US, Brazil, France, Greece) in 1951-52. In Greece, he decided that his writing had been unrelievedly dark and set out to write a sunnier book, Japanizing Longus’s second century (CE) Hellenistic novel Daphnis and Chloe, which, though set on an island much smaller than Honshu (or, for that matter, the other three largest islands of the Japanese archipelago), concerned shepherds. The Sound of Waves/Shiosai, however, is set on (a fictionally renamed) Kamijima, a small island on the Ise coast.
In Mishima’s novel young would-be lovers faced the sea, not any pastures. His Chloe, Hatsue, is an abaloneY diver, as is the mother of his Daphnis, Shinji, who is a fisherman. In Longus’s novel, the romantic leads are both foundlings; Shinji is raised by his mother who was widowed by US strafing of the boat in which her husband was fishing. Her father, Terukichi Miyata, had given Hatsue to adoption (ot pearl fishers) on another island, but recalls her when his son dies. He announces that he will adopt whomever marries Hatsue (marrying in and taking the wife’s patronym is a venerable way to maintain lineages in Japan, Taiwan, and southeastern China).
As in Longus, there are failed rapes, malicious false rumors, and Shinji has a dalliance with another woman, Chiyoko, the daughter of the lighthouse-keeper. Chiyoko is a student at the University of Tokyo and encourages Kawamoto Yasuo to rape Hatsue to make Shinji renounce his interest in Hatsue and focus on Chiyoko.
Rather inexplicably, Terukichi, hires both Shinji and Yasuo to work on one of his ships. (Terukuchi gets a letter from Chiyoko explaining what really happened, that Yasuo rather than Chinji had attempted to rape Hatsue later.) Chinji saves the ship in a storm, while Yasuo floundered. After that test, Tekuchi gives Chinji permission to marry Hatsue, and they live happily ever after.
In Dawn to the West, Donald Keene explains that “apart from his general desire to depict the brighter side of human life, he wanted to prove that he could make the most hackneyed of stories come alive through his skill as a stylist. The enormous popularity of The Sound of Waves was a great surprise and even a disappointment” (being more acclaimed that work Mishima considered greater accomplishments, such as Kinkauji, Kyôko’s House, and his final Sea of Fertility tetralogy; Robert Nathan’s biography of Mishima reports Mishima calling it a “joke on the public”). But, Keene continues, “The most important contribution made to Mishima’s artistic development by The Sound of Waves was that it demonstrated that classical literature, whether of Japan or the West, could serve as an effective substitute for personal experience,” including his modern versions of Nô plays.
There is a plot and action scenes (the storm at sea) and I find hornets averting Hatsue’s rape by Yasuo rather funny, though Mishima’s fiction is deficient in comedy. The novel has some of the insipidness I often find in the work of Mishima’s master and advocate, Kawabata along with the lyricism. I certainly like it more than I like The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (as much as I like that title, which I long thought was “fell into” rather than “fell from”) or Patriotism.
The novel was filmed almost immediately (in 1954) by Taniguchi Senkichi with a then-notorious nude scene, and a four more times, not counting a 2003 anime version.
©2017, Stephen O. Murray