“Confessions of a Mask” is Yukio Mishima’s second novel, published in 1949.

Confessions of a Mask, by Yukio Mishima
Translated by
Meredith Weatherby
256 pages.
TUTTLE, Fiction.

The novel hinges on the painful balance between the main character Kochan’s inner experiences and the realities of the real world during World War II.

Kochan is a fascinating and unusual character, a homosexual, and a weakling in a world of wartime machismo. He spends the novel keeping his true identity hidden, much like Mishima in his early life.

Like all Japanese men his age, Kochan expects to go to war when the time comes, and he describes his wait for certain death as a “unique happiness.” He feels free from responsibility to others as he toys sadistically with the emotions of those who profess to love him.

His fantasizes about brave warriors and heroic, bloody deaths, yet lives in fear of conscription and holds a secret hope of being ruled ineligible on medical grounds. Outwardly he curses the “revenge of reality” upon his dreams but knows that if his mask slips he will become the nail that sticks out — the one hammered down as an example to others. His terror at the possibility of being found out is vivid.

In many ways “Confessions” is the key text to understanding Mishima’s later novels. In it, he explores the poles of his psyche, his homosexuality and his romantic/erotic attraction to warfare and combat. It is a scathing, unflinching examination of the darkness at the far corners of the human mind.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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