The title is pretty straight-forward: it is an almost autobiographical confession of a closet homosexual struggling with social restrictions, a nasty World War, and his own delusions. I have to admit that I have a certain bias for Mishima. He is one of my favorites. But this book somehow didn’t met my expectations.
Confessions of a Mask was published in 1948, Mishima’s first novel that was published right right after he graduated from the University of Tokyo. The story follows a pseudo-memoir-like structure; it simply narrates the narrator’s experiences and meanderings from his childhood into his adulthood. While this may seem bland, what makes the book interesting (and probably what kept me from throwing the book into the toilet) is Mishima’s writing style. It was morbidly reflective, with the character describing in the most unlikable style possible how he developed a certain liking for strength, death, and naked guys tied-up to a tree. The narrator was not gifted with a god-like physique. In fact he was far from being considered healthy, a thing which may have led to his obsession for perfection. It was disturbing. Mishima detailed the character’s first masturbation (the liquid spurting right into a magazine; how true!), how the character developed a strong taste for men’s hairy armpits, how he wanted to die with his brains splattered on the ground after being hit by a warhead. The cute thing is the very realism of these morbid thoughts. Every nasty and filthy detail was not deliberately machinated to be cringing like some shock rock artsy-fartsy gimmick. It only accounts how people’s minds create and juggle these kinds of dirty thoughts. There is one instance in the novel wherein the narrator’s classmates play a game they call ‘Dirty’, wherein the more powerful and daring boys attempt to grab the pre-pubescent balls of a helpless victim. And yes, I remember participating in that sort of game when I was in second year high school.
While the narrator (named Kochan) is struggling with his latent homosexuality, it is apparent that Kochan is not at all acquiescent with his own homosexual nature. He disliked Joan of Arc because she dressed in men’s clothes. In these kinds of instances we may easily sense the traditionalist politics Mishima is trying to infuse in his works. While the protagonist itself is gay, he dislikes gays and the idea of gayness. In fact he worships the glory of manhood and nobility of manly death. In a time when sex has become a dominating aspect of his personality, he attempts to liquidate his filthy thoughts and still strive to conform to the backward and misogynist culture of imperial Japan.
Another thing I liked from the novel is how Kochan was immersed in the brutality of World War II ( I remember that dramatic film Grave of the Fireflies). Kochan attempts to stabilize a relationship with a woman, albeit in a very awkward, horror-filled and self-denying way. The imagery of the war, its uncertainties and violence is a parallel metaphor to Kochan’s personal struggle.
So much for the good stuff. One thing that I disliked from the book is its lack of consistency. Some scenes and sequences are interesting, tension-gripped. But some are just outright boring. I was tempted a lot of times to skip a couple of pages. Many of them are uncalled-for. Also, in many an instance Mishima is somewhat repetitive. Like: ok, I get it, you’re gay, you wanted to die an honorable death, you wanted to kill this or kill that— but, for Pete’s sake please stop shoving it in my face! Unlike the temperance and modesty of The Sailot Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, Confessions of a Mask treads the line between self-indulgent.and deliberately far-fetched. Maybe not too refined. Or maybe Mishima’s personal connection to the protagonist may have affected this unmitigated sentimentalism.
I’ll give this thing a 3 over 5. Not bad, but not too enjoyable.