Mishima was a nationalist who killed himself after his 1970 coup to restore the emperor’s power failed, and here he stares unimpressed at a 1960s Tokyo awash with money and adverts, where manicured streets are overlooked by bland offices and self-indulgent hippies roam. It may be only a footnote in his career, but this surreal tale offers a trenchant critique of a city that has misplaced its soul.
This existential crime novel has an arresting premise and Mishima plays it for all it’s worth. Quotidian reality has no place here. You know this is going to be fun when, after his suicide attempt almost on the first page, Hanio sees the days that now lie ahead as ‘a row of dead frogs with their white bellies exposed’. His perspective on life is a constant pleasure — ‘a dead body reminds me a bit of a bottle of whisky’. So too is his jaundiced view of Westerners with their ‘hairy knuckles’ and their ‘gaseous smell, redolent of chives’.
There is a place in life for the exhilarating, surreal and sometimes downright silly. This novel ticks all the boxes.
Mishima’s complex sexuality, combining a fetish of masculinity with elements of sadomasochism, gives the impression of being as much an aesthetic construction as the expression of an erotic impulse. More significant than its precedents in samurai tradition is the fact that his death was choreographed as a performance... Mishima’s work continues to be of interest because it deals with a dilemma that has not been resolved. His abiding preoccupation was with what being modern meant for Japan, but in pursuing it he opened up a question that resonates everywhere. Theories of modernisation have posited some kind of stable state as being the endpoint of all societies. Modernity has been equated with egalitarian democracy and science-based technocracy, liberal individualism and charismatic dictatorship. In practice no stable endstate has emerged; modern societies have been and continue to be all and none of these. Everyone wants to be modern, but being modern can mean anything or nothing. Mishima’s life shows him looking for an exit from the world that he himself embodied.
Grotesque, melodramatic, spectacular, utterly silly. Mishima — a devotee of Oscar Wilde, obsessed with John the Baptist’s beheading in Salome — ended his life as he had lived it, and written it. No other leading literary figure (the Nobel selectors thrice considered him for the prize) could boast a career that spanned not only acting and film directing but a weight-training regimen, martial arts and star modelling roles in photo albums with titles such as Young Samurai: Bodybuilders of Japan. His devotion to bushido (the “way of warriors”), sacred monarchy and ascetic Buddhist traditions coincided with a media-savvy, role-playing, club-hopping hunger for celebrity that could have had Andy Warhol kowtowing in homage. With Mishima, scarcely the wafer breadth of an antique sword-blade separated high art from screamingly high camp. Life for Sale repeats in a consciously trashy key the themes that had bewitched this proud, gifted and hard-working dandy and aesthete since his debut in the 1940s... Cue a comic-book parade of vampish femmes fatales (one of them a vampire), sinister gangsters and ludicrous plot twists involving death-dealing carrots, toxic beetles and agents of the all-powerful “ACS”, Asia Confidential Service. Mishima rattles through each mock-thriller episode with a flair for farce and parody that undercuts Hanio’s narcissistic efforts to annihilate himself.