Nine of Yukio Mishima's finest stories were selected by Mishima himself for translation in this book; they represent his extraordinary ability to depict a wide variety of human beings in moments of significance. Often his characters are sophisticated modern Japanese who turn out to be not so liberated from the past as they had thought.
As much as I appreciated the first three stories, however, I found the rest of the book to be much better, revealing an incredible diversity of style and theme. "The Priest and His Love" is a beautiful Buddhist fable exploring the paradox and power of beauty and sensuality. The style of writing reminded me a lot of Pär Lagerkvist. "Patriotism" caught me completely off-guard, and undoubtedly represents the greatest work in the book. Its the story of an officer who commits seppuku (ritual suicide) and his wife, who follows. With great fluidity and poetic grace, Mishima describes their final night together, then, in a frustratingly objective prose, describes the morbid end of the two. Violence and sensuality are tied in with finality, duty and beauty. Mishima was an aesthete, but of the rarest kind -- much in the spirit of Poe, perhaps. The story had an enormous impact of me.
"Dojoji," auspiciously set after "Patriotism," is one of Mishima's Noh plays, and shifts entirely to the languid, allegorical style that characterizes the Noh (contrasted by the turbulent, grotesque realism of the previous story). The play is about the auction of a giant wardrobe that has a gruesome past. Mishima's attempt to reinvigorate the tired Noh theatre was a noble effort, and (in my opinion) a successful one. The spiritual quality of the theatre proves a profound vehicle to the pessimism and spiritual despondency that characterizes modern literature and thought. After reading this play, I went out immediately and found a copy of "Five No Plays by Mishima" which I very much look forward to reading. The next story, "Onnagata," deliberately takes us to the other side of Japanese theatre, the kabuki. Its a homoerotic tale of obsession and infatuation, and a love triangle between three men (or rather, two men and an onnagata -- a man who plays, or rather lives, as a woman in kabuki theatre). One man seeks the elusive love of a famed onnagata by joining the kabuki theatre. The onnagata, for Mishima, is "the illicit child born of a marriage between dream and reality." As infatuation drives him further and further into the world of the kabuki, it has the strange effect of driving him further and further away from the onnagata's love, who, in the end, falls in love with a pretentious young guest director who knows nothing of the kabuki.
"The Pearl" completely surprised me. Of all things, its a social comedy, the type I had suspected, from reading the other stories, that the author was incapable of. To my delight, I was proved wrong. Again poking tremendous fun at the middle class, the story is about five middle aged women, and a lost pearl and a silly mischevious act that explodes into a tale of deciet, head games, and irony.
After reading this, I am a confirmed Mishima fan. It has also excited me into exploring contemporary Japanese literature. Very highly recommended!
Finally, Patriotism is a visceral depiction of ritual suicide where Mishima's creates images so powerful that they struggle to transgress the bounds of text and transport themselves onto canvas. Despite the subject of the story and the severity with which it is handled, is it at heart a story of the great love and devotion that a wife has for her husband. This is Mishima's best short story, and it may even surpass a good number of his novels in terms of craft, imagery, and sheer emotional depth. This collection is essential for that one piece alone.