With exaggerated characters and recurring poetry that echoes like a refrain, The Frolic of Beasts reads like an tragicomic opera, and who will emerge as hero or villain will be determined by whose story you find most sympathetic.
Within the terse Japanese drama, is a myriad of love stories. In the central plot, Yuko, Ippei and Koji make an unlikely threesome – Ippei is the sophisticated writer brought to his knees by unrequited love as his wife, Yuko, a beautiful young woman, is attentive but indifferent to him. In his attempts to provoke jealousy in her, he enlists the help of a younger man, Koji, to befriend her and spill the secrets of his adulterous relationships. However, in the process, Koji falls in love with Yuko and when he witnesses her pain, he attacks Ippei for what he has done to hurt her. The crime lands Koji in jail while Yuko cares for the now-paralyzed Ippei. Eventually, Koji returns and Yuko brings him back to their home, saying she is responsible for his conviction and thus his new circumstances. But does she have other motives? This new living arrangements also gives us an introduction to the other members of the household and community – the gardener, Tejiro, and his teenaged daughter Kimi, who takes a liking to Koji while she also uses her body as a weapon to avenge the crimes that have been done to her by men.
Eventually, the dramatic turns of these relationships morphs into a discussion of sacrifice and elicits the question – how much of the suffering described here is fictional and how much is real? Ippei is the writer whose early actions brings him great pain in his middle years, so Ippei’s story is eerily similar to the author’s own biography – Yukio Mishima was a prolific writer who committed suicide at the height of his career, betraying the fact that career success doesn’t solve the other issues in one’s life. Mishima’s characterization of women as antagonists in both stories seeds a discussion of the representation of women within traditional societies like the Japanese one being described here. Other comparisons include that of youth versus experience, culture and religion, native and traveler, marriage and infidelity, wealth and freedom. And all of these philosophical musings are packed in a small volume. It is no wonder the author was so lauded during his lifetime and why the translator, Andrew Clare revived this work. Kudos to him for bringing this written operatic to a new audience.
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The Frolic of the Beasts (Vintage International)
- Title: The Frolic of Beasts
- Author: Yukio Mishima
- Original Title: Kemono no Tawamure
- Original language: Japanese
- Translator: Andrew Clare
I read an electronic copy of The Frolic of Beasts courtesy of Netgalley.