HOW DOES YUKIO MISHIMA USE THE CHARACTERS FUSAKO KURODA AND RYUJI TSUKAZAKI TO EXPRESS HIS VIEWPOINT TOWARDS A CHANGING JAPAN IN THE NOVEL ‘THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA’
how does Yukio Mishima use the charactersFusako Kuroda and Ryuji Tsukazaki to express his viewpoint towards a changing Japan in the novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea?
In the novel ‘The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea’ Yukio Mishima contrasts future and current Japan by the use the two respective characters: Ryuji Tsukazaki and Fusako Kuroda by their actions, dialogues and descriptions. Mishima’s personality and his views towards post war Japan, which is a desire to revive imperial Japan and a strong opposition to westernization, are both very prominent in the novel.
The novel is set in the backdrop of post-war Japan. To say Japan was going through a period of turmoil at this time is an understatement. There were food shortages, homelessness and most significantly a loss of culture. Japan was forced to relinquish all their weapons as part of a ‘peace clause’, which effectively was them relinquishing their cultural identity.Mishima makes his views towards the westernized Japan evident within his novel. Focusing on the characters: Ryuji Tsukazakiand Fusako Kuroda.
On the one hand Fusako Kuroda has a desire for western goods and for economic growth, as she releases herself from her traditional Japanese ethos and lets her materialistic desires lure her towards the western culture. Interestingly however, her husband Ryuji the sailor, is a symbol of Japan’s situation at that time, unsure as whether to embrace the westernization or fight for the fleeting Japanese culture.
Yukio Mishima’sdisappointment towards Japan is evident within the plot of the novel. In that by representing the three stages of Japan with respect to when it was set. The past, the present and the future, with these three characters.
Noboru expresses the mindset of what we would assume Mishima was raised with, ‘Death took root at the moment of birth’ as reflected in the novel. This reflects the samurais’ ethos, which can be seen in Mishima’s act of seppuku, which is Japanese ritual suicide. We can see that the imperial Japanese feel they are born to die and that death is not something to fear. This is consolidated by the fact that Noboru took his father’s death as something to embrace rather than grieve over. We can predict the outcome of the novel based on Mishima’s dissatisfaction with post-war Japan, that some how, Noboru will end up triumphant. This is proven correct when Noboru and his gang kill Ryuji at the army base suggesting that Japan will return to its traditional values and once again be mighty.
Noboru possesses elements of both western and Japanese cultures, in that he gets impeccable academic grades in school, with academia being closely related to intellectuals of the western society. At the same time, he is part of a savage gang that idolizes samurais’ ethos and rebels against current society. The killing of the cat is incredibly descriptive and exposed us to a side of Noboru that we did not normally see; not only did he see beauty in killing the cat, he found it enjoyable. ‘Finding wholeness and perfection in the rapture of the dead kittens large languish soul’, this darkness is interesting because the samurais’ principles was not at all just to be blood hungry, it was about fighting nobly and appreciating both life and death. However killing this cat was presented as gratuitous and the vivid description adds to the effect that Mishima wanted this to be seen as overly violent. This is noteworthy because, perhaps there is a slight side of Mishima condemning imperial Japan, but still not yet ready to embrace the western ideology.
This darkness is contrasted with the western representation of Fusako, a materialistic woman whoruns a store that sells western goods such as antiques and clothes. Shehas a very large presence, whether it be in her business or at home. Furthermore, she is described to be ‘wearing her white suit’. It is possible that the reason she wears the white suit is to express her power because white stands out from the crowd and a suit is associated with success. Fusako’s confidence and desire for power is a terrific juxtaposition with her son, she works to get the things she desires and loves to display her success. Whereas to express his dominance, Noboru viciously killed a cat. He hides behind a mask of himself, where he is seen as a harmless, good child. However, he is quite the opposite. Similar to the mask that Japan is hiding behind with the introduction of the ‘peace clause’, as it doesn’t change who they really are.
Despite Fusako’s more direct nature in obtaining power, she is still presented as a chameleon. Fusakowas wears a ‘black-laced kimono over a crimson under robe’ this contrast in colors suggests that no one is what they seem.Under Fusako’s serious and businesslike nature, which is represented by the color black, she retains distinct Japanese roots as the color red is often used in conjunction with themes such as blood and death. It is also the main component in the Japanese flag.
Ryuji embodies the current Japan in that they don’t know who they arenow or where to go. He symbolizes the limbo they are in. They do not really have any cultural identity and this can be inferred from Ryuji often being unsure as to who he is.“Noboru didn’t realize Ryuji was sinking into a void”. This description allows us an insight into Ryuji’s mind where he is sinking, unsure and confused, the same way Japan is being blinded by the western goods and losing grip with their true cultural identity.
Reinforcing the idea that the current Japan is mirrored in Ryuji, Ryuji’s face was described as ‘featureless’, which corresponds to the idea that he does not know who he is. Same being said about post-war Japan. Furthermore, if we explore Ryuji’s attitude towards money, ‘I have almost two million yen in the bank. Unused’.Ryuji does not really care about superficial possessions and has no purpose for this sum of money, an exorbitant amount during the economic crisis Japan was in. This gives us insight to Mishima’s impression of Japan, a country torn between the westernized ideals of economic prosperity and the search for honor, depth and meaning in an imperialist Japan.
Overall, we can see that Yukio Mishima uses the three central characters Ryuji Tsukazaki, Noboru and Fusako Kuroda to symbolize the three versions of Japan: post-war, imperial, and future Japan. Near the early part of the novel, we witnessed some tension between Ryuji and Noboru, which foreshadows what is going to happen at the end of the novel, when Mishima’s hope for the future of Japan is revealed.
In my opinion the character that most successfully presents their version of Japan is Noboru. For example the killing of the cat.Mishima took the beauty of death, as presented in the samurai ethos and twists it with a more sadistic nature. I feel Mishima has managed to take the key aspects of imperial Japan and distort them to make it more visible to the reader. This makes us question what Mishima’s real opinion towards imperial Japan is.
The novel ends at Ryuji’s death, this is incredibly significant because here we are we clearly givenMishima’s opinion towards the current Japan. Noboru’s killing of Ryuji suggests that Mishima believes that imperial Japan was the ‘right’ Japan and since Noboru’s character is not further developed, it gives the reader no indication that Mishima’s or Noboru’s beliefs will ever change.
In conclusion, we can see that Mishima wanted to use the three main characters to represent the three different types of Japan.As the reader we can predict based on the foreshadowed tension, the novel will end with a form of death, be it metaphorical or literal. If Ryuji marries Fusako and gives into the western way of life, it is the death of Japan as Mishima knew it. However if Noboru prevails, he will kill Ryuji due to the fact thatNoboru symbolizes the imperial Japan and Ryuji stands for everything they despise. This contrast ultimately answers the main question of ‘How does Yukio Mishima use the main characters and Fusako Kuroda and Ryuji Tsukazaki to express his viewpoint towards a changing Japan?’ as Japan is torn between two completely different worlds just like these characters.
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