Runaway Horses – Yukio Mishima

It is rare to find in an author someone so married to the beliefs that they write about; particularly when it comes to fiction. Good writers can pen from any angle, get into the heads of both villains and heroes. While we may get an authorial viewpoint sneaking in from time to time, it is sometimes considered unprofessional to write books promoting one’s political or religious beliefs. Literature is about the human experience, and that experience encompasses all sides. Don’t tell the Ayn Rand lovers that.

Yukio Mishima, in addition to being one of the most hardcore individuals I have read about, seems capable of several key things: he can write well (beautifully in fact), he can represent multiple viewpoints, and he manages to express his own deeper ontology. Whether he is trying to influence one way or the other is questionable, but his ability to shroud that influence with good writing is not.

Runaway Horses is the second in what is known as Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy (five books). It is the story of a judge named Honda who meets a young kendo master named Isao that he unknowingly has intimate connections with. In Spring Snow, the prequel to Runaway Horses, Honda loses his best friend, a young man that he loves  more than anyone, named Kiyoaki. He believes, in the course of Runaway Horses, that Isao is Kiyoaki reborn, and endeavors to find out if his belief is correct. Running alongside this theme is Isao’s dedication to the nation of Japan, a patriotism that mirrored Mishima’s own devout and somewhat fanatical tenets. Isao is an extreme right-wing conservative, which in 1930s Japan meant a complete and total devotion to the samurai tradition of serving one’s Emperor as God. He sees Japan’s descent into the marketeering of Western capitalism as the end of the true Yamato Spirit, and goes to extreme lengths to win back that spirit for his God.

In Spring Snow, Mishima tells a simpler story of a young man destined to die, though a tale heavy with the themes of Japan’s death as a nation much in the way that Runaway Horses plays with the same ideas. The difference here is that Runaways Horses, from what I understand, is almost biographical in its telling. Mishima is Isao, and perhaps Kiyoaki before him. I didn’t know until I’d make it halfway through the novel that Mishima killed himself in true samurai fashion by slicing open his stomach with a knife, presumably in protest at the direction that his beloved Japan was headed. To foreshadow your own death in a novel, and then write three more within in the same series before finally fulfilling your own prophecy is remarkable and astonishing. The conviction to say what he will do and then fully go through with it frightens me. I also admire it.

I was reminded often, in reading Runaway Horses, of the current political strife in my own nation. I have none of Mishima’s spirit of patriotism, largely because I find very little in America’s history worth being proud of, but I know of plenty of Americans, many of them operating militias in areas I used to visit frequently, who would see his intent and his actions as something to be mimicked in our own time. To these people, enacting gun control laws would be as horrendous as banning samurai swords in Mishima’s age. In Runaway Horses, Mishima talks about the Reds, communists, seeking to change Japan from a different angle, and I am reminded of my own bent towards socialism that is so at odds with the right-wing ideals of free-market capitalism and low regulation. The difference here, I think, is that Mishima sees greed as the ultimate source of Japan’s downfall, and tradition as the way to uphold that Yamato Spirit. I too see greed as the downfall of my country, but feel that tradition hampers us, potentially as much as free-range money-grubbing, in reaching the true utopia that is possible.

So by this notion, the difference between right-wing and left-wing beliefs, both in modern day America and 1930s Japan, is one of progression versus tradition. The trouble is that both are possible, and in keeping one another at bay with barbs and swords we don’t see the bigger picture. Greed is still the problem, and its greatest weapon is one of confusion and semantics. What I don’t agree with in Mishima’s worldview is this idea that traditional and faith are the bedrocks of humanity; that we need either one in order to be and do what is best for the world.

I wonder what Mishima would make of the progressive movement of people like Bernie Sanders here in the U.S.  He might not make much of it at all as he seems to have been a fierce loyalist to his own race, and our problems and ideas may have been seen as lesser to him. This is all conjecture on my part, but given his ultimate demise, I wonder if I’m not close to some truths here.

I am curious to see where the Sea of Fertility heads. The common theme throughout the books is that Honda continually finds people he deems as Kiyoakis reborn, and I assume that each new Kiyoaki is Mishima’s own representation of a facet of Japan as it stands in its time. It is refreshing to read about the ‘other side’ from an author who has given it real thought and isn’t a reactionary blowhard screaming into a camera. That is the power of literature and good writing at work.

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