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Mishima: A Biography

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  327 ratings  ·  36 reviews
At forty-five, Yukio Mishima was the outstanding Japanese writer of his generation, celebrated both at home and abroad for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. In 1970 he startled the world by stepping out onto a balcony in Tokyo before an assembly of troops and plunging a sword into his abdomen; a disciple then beheaded him, completing the ritual of hara-kiri. Joh ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published April 7th 2000 by Da Capo Press (first published 1974)
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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  327 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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4.5 stars

The Last Samurai

Two months short of his 46th birthday, on November 25, 1970, Yukio Mishima with a handful of followers and dressed in full uniform, entered the compound of the Japan Self-Defense Force,
gagged and tied up the commander of the JSDF, demanding the assembly of the entire Eastern division ( a gathering of 800 soldiers) to listen to his planned speech: "an appeal to repudiate the post war democracy that robbed Japan of its identity; to restore Japan to her true form, and i
J. Watson (aka umberto)
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, literature
When I was an undergraduate in 1970, as far as I could vaguely recall, one day I read in some newspapers and watched on television concerning Yukio Mishima, a remarkable, celebrated Japanese writer for his plays and novels at home and abroad, whose unthinkable novel-like action with his troops ended with the ritual of hara-kiri became shocking news to the world when he was 45. I didn't follow it in detail because I had never read or heard of him till, a decade or two ago, I didn't know why I sta ...more
Sean O'Hara
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, j-lit
Imagine: In 1970 Norman Mailer, fed up with hippies and the wimpification of America, leads his personal militia into a National Guard outpost in Washington DC, takes the commandant hostage and then exhorts the troops to rise up with him, overthrow the government and restore the Confederacy.

Crazy, right?

And yet that's pretty much what happened in Japan when Yukio Mishima, a renowned author who was seen as a sure bet for the Nobel Prize in Literature, attempted to incite a revolution within the J
Patrick McCoy
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
I’ve been interested in reading John Nathan’s biography of Yukio Mishima, Mishima, for two reasons: 1) The man is interesting in his sum total of contradictions 2) It was the source material for Paul Schrader’s film. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which I have been writing an essay about. Although Schrader has borrowed and developed many of the themes from the novel as well as reproducing some of the photos that accompany it-it was some of the details in the book that really captured my atten ...more
Ross McPhail
Mar 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Yukio Mishima was certainly one of the most prolific Japanese writers of the twentieth century, if not one of the greatest. Between 1945 and his death in 1970, Mishima wrote forty novels and twenty collections of short stories, as well as a vast number of book reviews, literary articles, screenplays and traditional Japanese plays.

But with Mishima, the drama of his life mirrors the drama of his works. His fascination with the samurai lifestyle, a fascination that lead to his ritualistic suicide
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
-“Cuando uno hace un estudio de un hombre considerable, tiene que atreverse a ver y mirar todas las cosas y, por lo menos, a indicar todo lo que se ha visto” (Sainte-Beuve).-

Género. Biografía.

Lo que nos cuenta. Relato de la vida del escritor japonés Kimitake Hiraoka, más conocido como Yukio Mishima, desde su nacimiento en el seno de una familia que posiblemente le marcó en muchos aspectos hasta los sucesos del 25 de noviembre de 1970, con un repaso simultáneo a su obra y la relación de ésta con
Jul 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Good analysis of the man and the work, with lots of information on how Mishima lived his life (what he liked for dinner, his clothes, etc). Sometimes biographers who knew their subjects can be a bit annoying about it (I remember Iris Murdoch's biographer identifying his own dog in one of the photographs ...), but Nathan is only ever interesting. The one thing I would have liked is more information on the subsequent trial (or otherwise) of the survivors. Otherwise, pretty perfect. Great photograp ...more
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: yukio-mishima
I wished John Nathan would have wrote more about the creation of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion as much as he described Kyoko's House or Confessions of a Mask.

There were a couple instances were the author drew opinions which seemed out-of-place for a biography about another person. However, his thesis, being that Mishima was acting out a life-long aesthetic death wish was convincing and fascinating.

I've read Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and The Sailor Who Fell f
David Haws
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
If Japan’s renunciation of war was something forced on the Japanese people by an occupying army, then it was dishonorable (and the dishonor is ours). If it was an epiphany, recognized and promoted by the Japanese people, then it was probably the most important political act of the 20th Century. I tend toward the latter, and feel that Japan neo-nationalists (which would include Mishima) are the people who just didn’t get it. When you turn a man into a weapon, you turn him into a thing. It might b ...more
Jun 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Yukio Mishima, a dude who makes Lord Byron and Hubert Selby Jr look like puppies running through a field of daffodils, has been the subject of a lot of biographies, which is really something considering he was a writer wrote in Japanese and has only a fraction of his books translated into English. But this one was my favorite. John Nathan was the translator for The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, and knew Mishima personally (like Scott-Stokes), but also had a falling out with him over s ...more
Betsy Ashton
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
The best biography of a tortured mind and soul. I have my first edition, as well as all of Mishima's works. Mostly in English, but a few aren't.

Nathan manages to balance the author's brilliance as a writer with his megalomania of wanting to bring back the samurai culture and spirit. Well worth reading to understand both sides of this talented writer.
Oct 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Even a straight-laced account of Mishima's life can't hide his crazy.
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great read. Really looking forward to reading more of Mishima's work.
Jul 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a man who wrote novels that were practically autobiographies, Mishima is inscrutable. This was probably somewhat intentional, based on Mishima's own words and diary entries. He seemed to enjoy being different things to different people, then upending the assumptions they made. I suppose its a truism that artistic geniuses are "complicated" people, but there is something fascinating about Mishima's life and creativity that I can't quite put my finger on. Every time I think I've found it, it s ...more
Aug 13, 2007 rated it liked it
John Nathan's Mishima: A Biography was the first biography in English of the Japanese novelist, whose 1970 death by seppuku after a failed coup d'etat is just as much a part of his legacy as his works.

In an introduction Nathan briefly summarizes the circumstances of Mishima's death and lists the numerous people interviewed, and then he begins with a history of Mishima's family. From the very start Nathan tries his hand at psychological analysis, feeling that the center of Mishima's being was mas
John Nathan's biography is an interesting read for those who want to learn about Mishima from a scholarly and distinctly Western perspective. The book manages to balance the right amount of information both from private life and literary output, offering access to fragments of documents — letters, diary entries, untranslated books, etc. — and recollections from those who knew Mishima, without giving much space to sensationalistic speculations and idle gossip. The book contains also visual materi ...more
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
While Mishima's suicide took those who knew him by surprise (or so it is said), who could not read "Confessions of a Mask" "Thieves" or "Patriotism" without noting the author's fascination with suicide? In this book John Nathan reviews his life and work and in doing so shows how clearly Mishima's writings show his intent.

Nathan takes the reader through Mishima's oppressed childhood, his life during and following the war, his marriage and eventually the workouts, the gravitation to the right wing
Nam Pham
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it
A very detail account of Mishima's obsession with death and how he strived to confirm his own existence - by means of non-existence. The writing is rich and fascinated though the mood and clarity are not so consistent. Towards the end, it seemed the author hastened to finish the book and so the tone lost the coolness of the first half. The later chapters also lacked details regarding the influences of his wife and his mother, of which in the beginning seemed to play important roles in shaping hi ...more
Nov 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Mishima fans
This book is well worth a read from anyone, as it's amazingly engrossing. Mishima essentially is a fictional character himself, it seems, and any reader will come away from this story confused and disturbed by all that took place, wondering if this man was ever a human being in the first place.

The book is also given a personal touch as the author actually knew Mishima and translated some of his works into English. It's fascinating to see that even someone who knew Mishima can't seem to figure o
Alison Elizabeth
May 17, 2010 rated it liked it
It's my understanding that the author, John Nathan, was one of Mishima's translators. This book is a fairly interesting overview of Mishima's life from birth to his spectacular, nearly public, suicide in 1970. The author attempts to delve into the reasons and motivations behind Mishima's turn to radicalism and suicide, but Nathan's ideas are merely hypotheses and musings. "Mishima" seems like a well-researched biography, yet I get the feeling that a foreigner, even though a translator of Mishima ...more
Sep 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This biography is rather good, mainly because the author knew Yukio Mishima.
The whole description of Mishima's childhood and early life is very interesting, but the other part of the book seems a bit rushed.
John Nathan analyzed quicky some of Mishima's books, but not the main ones, and mention barely the plays that Mishima wrote.
J.Nathan seems more interested in Mishima long prepared suicide than his books, as he doesn't even talk about his last tetralogy, considered by many as his masterpiece.

Steve Scott
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Nathan's biography gets only four starts because it ends far too abruptly. Taking Mishima's life up until his death, he goes no further than his funeral, and doesn't discuss later views of Mishima's suicide and his impact on literature and Japanese culture.

That said, this was an excellent biography of a brilliant, but deeply disturbed man. Mishima was controlling, narcissistic. affected. masochistic and nihilistic. He was also a disciplined genius, had an incredible work ethic and was extremely
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mishima
The most interesting parts were the parts about Kyoko's House - of course. I also liked that Nathan doesn't really try to justify Mishima's self-destruction. He analyses it, but in the end it's just presented as an unavoidable tragedy. I also liked the way Nathan avoided any of the assumptions ("Confessions is an autobiography," "Mishima had a boner when he topped himself." etc. etc.) favoured by other biographers.

I'm kind of getting over the whole seppuku shtick.
Aug 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
I think that the author’s friendship with Mishima (he translated several of his books) benefited this book immensely. It gave him a level of access to family and friends that some stranger would never of had. Even though it is clear the author has deep affection for Mishima, it is not an overtly biased depiction of his life. The author sheds light equally on Mishima’s talents as a writer, but also does not shy away from exposing his hypocritical, and fascist tendencies.
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
A rather straightforward biography of an incredibly complex subject. Not much insight, but also does not venerate or aggrandize him. Easy to read, follows a simple chronological path, with not much to say beyond the facts about the end; it basically ends around 1:00 11/25/70. A good basic introduction to the author if one is interested beyond several paragraphs of a Wikipedia entry.
Aug 23, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
When I found out how Mishima died, I became less interested in his work and more interested in his life. This biography is written by one of his translators. His description of the "Mishima incident" itself is quite good.
Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
A fascinating biography of a complicated and intense man. Nathan builds a convincing argument that Mishima's suicide in 1970 was more to do with his lifelong obsession with a beautiful, glorious death than a deep belief in his chosen poison of ultranationalistism.
May 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Probably a great literary write but very hard to read.
Jovanka Damjanov
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
great biographical book...
Matthew Jackson
Aug 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio-autobio, own
My review is on my blog - direct link:
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