Review of “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” (1963)


Mishima Yukio (writer).

Read in 2021.

Very Fyodor Dostoevsky. Like Dostoevsky, Mishima inserts youths—in this case a gang of 13-year-olds—who murder somebody over an implausible philosophical misapprehension. While it is ostensibly bad philosophy that drives the boys, Mishima is careful to show that their true motives are less high-minded, and yet, in all his beautiful literary prose, Mishima—like Dostoevsky—does not make their actions believable. As a result, a sense of insincerity and irony pervades the novel. Notice, for example, that normal sailors in The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea scorn sea shanties, whereas in Mishima’s earlier The Sound of Waves (1954), sailors are less ironic and listen to nothing else:

Without exception they were all sentimental ballads concerning ports or sailors, fog or memories of women, the Southern Cross or liquor or sighs.

The plot only looks more curious given that Mishima, later in his own life, took a turn to the far right and died illegally entering a military base to “inspire” a coup d’état. He had some fans with him and thus, in 1970, took on the role of the “chief” in this novel, who also enters a military base: A fascist, in a cult of personality, who goes to an extreme length defending untenable ideals. Unfortunately, the novel doesn’t make more sense if you read it with that knowledge.

References here: Chinatown (1974).

text Japanese production fiction