I am rewiriting my review of Confessions because the
first time I wrote it I did it under the impression that it was
autobiographical but in actuality this is a novel which may or
may not be semiautobiographical depending on who you ask..
I tried looking up if Mishima was gay. What I came up with were
the following responses: "It's none of your business that he's
gay, or not,", "there's no proof he was gay, that is just
slander, stop hurting his family", and "Obviously he was gay,
deal with it bigot."
It ended rather abruptly. That was my first thought after
reading Confessions of a Mask. Maybe that's why I
was fooled that it was Mishima talking about his own life - it
felt like he had written an autobiography upto the current point
in his life in his early twenties and then stopped. It came to
an end with neither a happy or tragic ending, or an epilogue or
some such other narrative framing device.
Confessions reminded me of Osamu Dazai's No Longer
Human, though in this case the "mask" of the protagonist
is for a less ambivalent and more particular purpose. It's one
of those Japanese "I" novels, basically autobiographies about
fictional characters. But Confessions felt a lot less
novel like than NLH.
There just weren't many novel-like things happening, no
murders, suicides, rapes, bad guys or heroes, no characters
making unlikely reappearances or cameos. It all felt a bit too
real and ordinary. Characters just move by the protagonist never
to return without doing anything much. It's just the protagonist
who is oversensitive to the ordinary people and circumstances
around him because he is different from them. In retrospect the
first novel-like coincidence to happen was when Kotchan, the
protagonist, as a boy came across a picture of Saint Sebastian
and masturbated to it for the first time in his life. Novels are
full of these sort of thematic coincidences.
When I first wrote this review under the impression that this
was non-fiction, I said, "The events/incidents, probably yes,
because they seem ordinary enough, but the exact thoughts he
claims to have had at the time of these events/incidents could
be a later invention or a pose.
Mishima himself points out that there's nothing he could say
that could convice a doubtful reader about his honesty. Even if
he killed himself in a manly way, there are those who think he
is still a poser.
Confessions does not reach anywhere near the time of
his suicide and peters out while describing events in his mid
The hardcover copy of Confessions I got from my local
library had been stamped a few dozen times in late 80s to to
1990 but then it seems the interest slowly died, there were only
a couple of stamps from 1991 onwards till now, and the last time
it was stamped before I borrowed it was in 2005, that is 15
The shiny jacket of the hardback book sold it to the reader as:
"A hauntig story of a boy's homosexual development. It describes
his progress from a childhood spent largely in his grandmother's
sickroom, through adolescence at a boys' school and at summer
resorts, to young manhood during the war, and an abortive
love-affair with a class-mate's sister." I wish I was as good at
summing up the plot of a book or anime, but there you go, that's
what the book covers. It also mentioned that it was a novel but
that somehow must have skipped my mind.
A few pages into my copy, there's also the title in Romaji,
"Kamen no Kokuhaku." On the cover there was a pencil
drawing of Mishima cosplaying as Saint Sebastian with an arrow
in his armpit and an arrow in his abdomen, close to his loins,
and next to all this was another pencil drawing of the face of
an unnattractive boy with thin eyebrows, a receding hairline and
a slightly sociopathic face (a bit like the villain in the
Monster manga) which I assumed to be Mishima too.
I have some aquaintainces who are gay men and they appeared as
boring and ordinary as most people to me. Kind of like the real
person on whom the arsonist monk in Mishima's Temple of the
Golden Pavillion novel.
Golden Pavillion is based on an act of arson on a
buddhist temple by a disgruntled, ugly young buddhist monk. In
the novel he has all these deep thoughts about his act of arson
but when Mishima finally met him in prison in real life, it
turned out he appeared just a bitter little man. And yet who
knows the internal life, the thoughts of this monk, "if only you
got to know him," that sort of feeling feeling is unsatisfying
To keep the fire alight a man cannot appear wholly
dispassionate and only be passionate on the inside. The
protagonist of Pavillion set alight a beautiful temple,
and Mishima staged a coup to kill himself but, assuming that
Kotchan is not Mishima, what did Kotchan do? He kissed a girl
and masturbated while thinking of blood flowing down the
graceful torsos of handsome men. Basically as violent as his
fantasies are he doesn't in the end act on them which is rather
underwhelming. I hoped he would do some last, final hopeless,
hopeful act of violence but nothing like that happened.
Mishima himself of course did not let turmoil inside him go to
waste and both lived and thought aesthetically - on the opposite
side, and more masculine side, of the spectrum Oscar Wilde lived
Unlike Pavillion, there wasn't much time spent here on
artsy descriptions of locations and surroundings and even those
characters which got the attention didn't speak very much. There
wasn't much dialogue.
Whether or not Mishima was hiding his homosexuality, that was
certainly the case for Kotchan, and I can't help but feel that
if this wasn't so, his cause for turmoil would be lightened, and
so his story would have been a lot more shallow, dispassionate,
and ordinary - certainly even if he had felt any turmoil it
would have felt a lot more artificial.
Maybe that's why everybody finds transgendered people more
interesting these days and gay's like Mishima (assuming he was
gay) are yesterday's news and cultural icons. Opposition breeds
vitality and death, at least in Mishima's novels they seem to
but then again the events are not very novel-like. I guess what
I have been trying to say is that the thoughts of the
protagonist are very novel-like but the events and certainly the
presentation are not.
I am not going to give this novel a rating out of ten because
as I said it didn't feel like a novel and so it would get an
unfairly low score if I judged it as a novel. It felt more like
a long personal essay, a blog.
As for the depiction of homosexuality, I didn't find the
sado-masochism that fresh, though it is rather rarer in today's
more feminised and overcivilised form of homosexuality, however
the Kotchan did make an interesting remark about what made him
give up his first (unrequited) love. It was jealosy for his
object of desire beyond his reach. Envy of the beautiful body of
that the older boy had which was stronger and larger than his
own sickly body. In other words he wanted to inhabit his love
A week ago, I read a
short story by zerohplovecraft which suggested that a
reason for a low status straight man might want to transition to
a female might be due to a confusion of his object of desire
(i.e. the woman he desired) with the desire to be a object of
desire (i.e. the desire to be the woman he desired but can't
have because he is low status). Kotchan is kind of similar
because he desires to have a stronger more masculine body as a
reaction to his unrequited feelings for an older boy.
However this is not Kotchan's interpretation, in his view it
was the other way around, he had mistaken his desire to be
masculine as love of someone who was masculine.
By Otaking, or The Good Student