Review of The Sound of Waves (1954)


Mishima Yukio (writer).

Read in 2022.

Read in Meredith Weatherby’s 1956 translation.

Two teenagers on poor but idyllic Uta-jima fall in love at the end of the Korean War and triumph against classist adversity.

The dramatic skeleton of the plot is simple, even banal, but heart-warming. The way that plot is implemented is a curious mix of salty and full-bodied romanticism with a faint sense of irony that looks ahead to Mishima’s many darker books.

The characters are religious and pay attention to the signs of supernatural providence in nature, but when a pregnant turtle goes ashore on Uta-jima, the islanders simply kill it. In the final scene at a shrine, Hatsue imagines that it was a picture of herself that “had protected Shinji”, whereas he knows it was “his own strength”, the “get-up-and-go” of an intrinsically good man like Sugata Sanshiro in Judo Saga (1943). Neither thinks it was the gods. One of the crucial developments that brought the pair to their happy ending is the bizarre conceit that the women of their village are able to tell, just by looking at Hatsue’s breasts, that she is in fact still a virgin, contrary to Chiyoko’s malicious slander against her. That creeping sense of ironic distance is kept just strong enough to add an extra dimension to the narrative, which as of 2022 has been adapted to film five times.

There are a couple of grammatical weaknesses in Weatherby’s translation, but nothing major.

References here: “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” (1963), “Bear’s Wood Main Line” (1974), Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988), From Up on Poppy Hill (2011).

text Japanese production fiction