The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a tempest of a book. Mishima writes poetically and his descriptions are a work of art in and of themselThe Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a tempest of a book. Mishima writes poetically and his descriptions are a work of art in and of themselves. What starts as an innocuous romance novel, quickly turns into a far more sinister tale of destroyed hopes and lost dreams. Throughout the novel love, death, and glory all seem to be intertwined in a matrix of chaos. Ryuji believes that through love you embrace death:
For Ryuji the kiss was death, the very death in love he always dreamed of. The softness of her lips, her mouth so crimson in the darkness he could see it with closed eyes, so infinitely moist, a tepid coral sea, her restless tongue quivering like sea grass . . . in the dark rapture of all this was something directly linked to death. He was perfectly aware that he would leave her in a day, yet he was ready to die happily for her sake. Death roused inside him, stirred. (Mishima 77)
The characters in this book—at least the male characters—all struggle with finding glory. Ryuji believes he can find this through a woman; while Noburo thinks the only way to truly live is to be adventurous and free, forsaking all human ties to explore life on the sea. Ryuji, a sailor, quickly becomes his idol; he puts all his illusions of manliness and glory onto him, imagining him to be the ideal Japanese male and hero. Here in lies the crux of the novel, a young, dispassionate youth struggling to find a path in an unrecognizable, false world.
Noburo’s living in a westernized Japan; even in his most immediate surroundings—his home—traces of Japanese culture are missing: “There wasn’t a single Japanese room in Fusako’s house; her mode of living was thoroughly Western except on New Year’s Day, when she observed tradition by serving the special New Year’s breakfast on lacquered trays and drinking toasts with spiced sake” (Mishima 113). Noburo’s mother, Fusako, embraces and represents westernization. She is a single mother, who owns a retail store that fashions in imported western clothing. Noboru has no father figure and the ideal Japanese figure that he so desperately clings to, seems to have no place in this westernized, peaceful Japan. Him and his gang of friends try to make sense of the world through violence and nihilism. This leads the reader down a very dark path. The way Mishima writes about these brutal acts, makes the reader feel as an unwilling participant to the atrocities being committed. It is quite an eerie feeling.
This was my first introduction to Mishima and though it was brutal, harsh, and unforgiving, it also remains beautiful, thoughtful, and symbolically layered. I will be reading more by him.
Akutagawa Ryunosŭké—a Japanese modernist writer—uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of Akutagawa Ryunosŭké—a Japanese modernist writer—uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of his times. Akutagawa lived in a rapidly changing world due to modernization. Some of the most drastic changes that contributed to or were a result of modernism include: the changes in transportation which enabled people to travel in a totally new way and changed people’s conception of time, the introduction and assimilation of foreign culture (Western dress and furniture, influence of Western artists, directors, and writers, etc., adaptation of capitalism), and a rise in consumerism which led to the commodification of art forms. His stories in this collection reflect the repercussions of modernization, illustrating the egotistical nature of humanity, the subjectivity of truth and morality, and the struggle with identity due to a changing world.
Not only did Akutagawa live and write in an interesting time but he is one of those rare artists whose life is equally engrossing as his work. His family had a history of madness and Akutagawa lived with the constant fear of going insane, his latter works give us a glimpse of his slippage into insanity. These stories are brilliant, painful, sad, and artistically executed. I highly recommend this collection of short stories for it shows Akutagawa’s diversity with his craft and its genres include: horror, parables, satires, and autobiographical works. Perhaps more importantly these stories show the nature of man and the flaws of the human spirit.