Considering Yukio Mishima’s reputation, it seems odd that a book as innocuous as “After the Banquet” could have had such an impact. The novel tells the story of Kazu, the owner of a restaurant frequented by the rich and powerful of Tokyo society, and Noguchi, a semi-retired politician. They marry, but the prospect of happiness is derailed when Noguchi is convinced to run for office once more. Kazu is an independent woman, with a vitality ill-matched to the demure role Noguchi expects of her. Inevitably Noguchi loses, in part because of a pamphlet circulated detailing Kazu’s less-than-perfect past. When he learns she is eliciting investment capital from his political rivals, the marriage is over.
“After The Banquet” touches on familiar themes — death, aging and loneliness — yet it’s something of an anomaly in Mishima’s oeuvre, lacking the idealism of his later works or the hard honesty of his earlier novels. Kazu is an unlikely protagonist, and his portrayal of her shows an empathy and warmth absent from many of his other protagonists. The novel was inspired by the real-life affair between politician Hachiro Arita and a nightclub hostess — Mishima hated hypocrisy and Arita’s story may have pushed him in a new artistic direction. Arita successfully sued Mishima for invasion of privacy and the famous case has meant writers, filmmakers and TV producers since have shied away from the dramatic potential in the lives of celebrities and politicians. In part, this thin novel is effectively responsible for the dearth of satire in Japan today.