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Mishima’s Frolic of the Animals

Had I not known that Frolic of the Beasts (originally published in Japanese in 1961 as Kemono no Tawamure) was by Mishima, I’d have guessed it was by Tanazaki. It is, perhaps, not kinky enough to be Tanizaki fiction, and warped relationships were by no means missing in Mishima’s works translated into English sooner. But there are no suicides. There is an attempt to maintain purity from carnal desire, a refusal to enact the frolicking beasts that the husband longs to watch.

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I found the opening of the book quite confusing, but the reader learns why Kôji is in prison relatively soon. A university student, he had been employed by a dandyish former professor turned merchant, Ippei. Ippei, “who may have lost his, [but] made use of the youth of others,” was a flagrant womanizer, eager to make his beautiful young wife, Yûko jealous (Ippei is the very Tanizaki character for me). She refuses him the satisfaction, though she discreetly hires a private detective and knows what he is up to.

The three of them and Ippei’s current main mistress are together. Ippei twice knocks Yûko to the floor and Kôji brings a wrench down on Ippei’s skull (also twice), after which Ippei is paralyzed on his right side.

Yûko takes over a set of greenhouses that supply orchids etc. When Kôji is released from prison (17 months, even though his attack was ruled to have been premeditated—which it was not, at least not by him!) he goes to live and work at the enterprise. He is intent not to have sexual congress with Yûko, who is sometimes teasing, sometimes needy, and cares for her disabled husband.

A typhoon threatens and we learn that the other employee raped his daughter after his wife died. Plus there is another triangle interlude centering on a ukulele (the daughter works in a ukulele factory). This inner(-narrative) triangle has some relationship to the 14th-century nô play (Motemazuka) the translator, Andrew Clare, believes Mishima was parodying.

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There is so much description of settings that I find it hard to think the story derives from a nô play. Moreover, the fiction is followed by an epilogue (for me the best part of the book) in which Mishima recounts how he heard the story and got somewhat involved (visiting the model for Yûko in prison, where his fiction does not consign her). The fictional priest does not resemble the one whom Mishima admired, btw.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

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