In Which We Seriously Miss Megan Fox At This Time

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Operation: Enduring Freedom

by ELEANOR MORROW

Transformers: The Last Knight
dir. Michael Bay
149 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 7.45.34 AMThere is a scene smack-dab in the middle of Transformers: The Last Knight where Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is sitting in a room opposite Oxford professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock) for over two minutes. That is how long it takes for him to refer to her attire as “stripper-wear” because she was showing maybe an inch of her breasts. That no one has thought to arrest Michael Bay and put him in jail for this is a testament to the enduring freedoms possible in our country.

In all other ways, Mr. Bay informs us at length, Dr. Wembley is a piece of shit. Even though she appears to be a tenured professor, she also gives tours at a local museum. She informs her tour group that the Knights of the Round Table probably never existed, which is quite the statement. Dr. Wembley is proved to be an academic fraud shortly after she was objectified by a man she did not even know. Subsequently, we learn her only purpose for being in the film is that she is the only one able to grip a man’s wooden shaft.

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The rest of Transformers: The Last Knight makes a lot more sense, except the parts that don’t. Take one subplot involving Seymour Simmons (John Turturro). Simmons appears in two scenes in Transformers: The Last Knight. Both of these scenes take place by telephone – Turturro literally got paid to stand next to a phone and talk to Anthony Hopkins for a few minutes. Why was he in Transformers: The Last Knight? I don’t know, is it weird every single woman in these movies is a carbon copy of Megan Fox at different ages? Yes.

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At the beginning of Transformers: The Last Knight, Cade Yeager finds a fifteen-year old Peruvian girl (Isabela Moner) in the wreckage surrounding Wrigley Field. He calls her “bro” and allows her to stay in his house. Much later, she hides aboard a dropship, unnoticed by a platoon of soldiers in order to follow Cade Yeager into the upper atmosphere. And that’s it. That is her entire role in the movie. I don’t know, is it weird that the way we are introduced to Dr. Wembley is when she careens into a bunch of bicycles with a car because she can’t handle the challenges of an automobile?

In another scene, Anthony Hopkins is trying to evacuate an old Navy submarine that is held in a museum. He screams, “Get moving fat boy!” when one of the tourists does not vacate the premises as quickly as he would like. But why stop there? Why not just bring racial slurs back into vogue, Michael Bay? It certainly would have livened up the proceedings. Without ever having met Michael Bay, is it not terribly hard to conclude he is the dumbest piece of shit of all time. Transformers: The Last Knight features the long awaited return of the ghetto Transformer, who speaks in an African-American dialect siphoned from landmark films like Do the Right Thing and Scary Movie.

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Cade Yeager and Dr. Wembley take a submarine into a ship buried off the coast of England. Although it is at the bottom of the ocean, there is no depressurization whatsoever as they return to the surface. I don’t know why, but this bothered me more than anything else in Transformers: The Last Knight. The cast heads from underwater to Stonehenge, where they have learned the Earth’s ancestral name was Unicron, and that the planet hides a massive organism beneath the surface. Despite teasing this early on, Bay saves this plot development for a future movie he has promised not to direct.

The worst part of Transformers: The Last Knight, besides the lack of plot of any kind, is the humor. Since the characters have zero pre-existing relationships, it is painful to hear them joke with one another. Particularly cringe-worthy is a transforming butler voiced by Jim Carter responsible for the major comic relief. He is more like a physical manifestation of Michael Bay telling us what we should be laughing at in each scene of the movie. After Anthony Hopkins dies at Stonehenge, this butler explains that of all the lords he served, “you were by far the coolest.” Michael Bay hasn’t changed since the moment he walked out of The Goonies in 1985.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which The Bank Was In Serious Trouble

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Monaco Story

by ETHAN PETERSON

Riviera
creators Neil Jordan & John Banville
Sky

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 8.01.13 AM.jpgJulia Stiles is an actress who spent her twenties relegated to a variety of smaller roles. She was never really suited to being a young woman. In Riviera, as the widow of a prominent European banker, she inhabits middle age with a comfort and assurance that turns her in a completely different person than the agreeable girl she once was. Stiles’ character, an art dealer named Georgina, married her wealthy client Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia) a year before his death from a fiery explosion on a yacht.

Georgina is rendered shaken by the events that follow her husband’s murder – a will held pending a criminal investigation, a secret apartment in Monaco and a safe in the basement of her house, an ex-wife who is about as wholesome as a cigarette. The children of her husband also occupy a central focus in Riviera. One is a compensating boy addicted to heroin and sunglasses; another is a lesbian teenager with a predilection for stripping; the last and most sinister is one Ramsay Bolton.

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Neil Jordan sets much of Riviera in Monaco. This seaside metropolis is both overwhelmingly white and gorgeous, and yet sinister in its flimsiness. On the intensely saccharine walls of every house, the Clios family keeps photographs of themselves as they were. Having their family as witness to their indiscretions diminishes the individual guilt: Riviera is as heady an indictment of the fabulously rich as you are likely to witness.

Georgina’s main friend in the art world is Robert Carver (the incomparably talented British actor Adrian Lester). He reveals several of her husband’s various double dealings, and when an Interpol investigator named Jukes (Phil Davis) goes after Georgina, he protects her. Meanwhile, the naturally sinister Lena Olin plays Clios’ ex-wife with a devastating aplomb. “I want my life back,” she informs a co-conspirator, as the odds against Georgina continue to mount.

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Riviera gives us a nuanced and unique perspective on the vagaries of the art world. He uses work by Egon Schiele and others that seems to reflect the basic dysfunction at work in this community. There is a serious cruelty and evil accommodated in this part of the world, and those who were not born into this strata of wealth seem to resent and fear being excluded by it.

In one harrowing scene, Georgina is forced to spend a single night in jail. In any other movie, this would be a quick shot and no more. Jordan gives Stiles’ character such a sustained and believable history that we recognize what a nightmare even a moment of imprisonment is for her, even as we are forced to admit she may in some part be complicit in her husband’s crimes, to whatever minuscule extent.

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Jordan has always been really in tune with how the tangible things we keep for ourselves reflect who we are. Chains and handcuffs play a consistent role in the drama; even a single locked door might be the difference between exoneration and incarceration. A local detective (Igal Naor) attempts to help Georgina, but she is no more trusting of law enforcement than she is of the husband who unintentionally or intentionally abandoned her to this fate.

Jordan’s last venture in television was the dreary The Borgias, which never had any of the playful fun of his best cinematic work. Riviera never gets too bogged down in its somewhat intricate plot, humming along with a lively electronic-hip/hop soundtrack and relentless pace charted by a sensational group of directors.

Despite the rapidfire plot and eclectic cast of characters, Riviera is at its most enjoyable when we discover we don’t quite know Julia Stiles’ character as well as we thought we did. In private moments, in the rooms of her massive villa, she explores a depth of personality we have never seen before. Smashing her husband’s watches with a ball-peen hammer, a glint of malice takes over her normally steely countenance. We might never know exactly who we are.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Consider This All New Territory

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

I recently moved into an apartment with my boyfriend Edward. Neither of us have ever lived with a significant other before, and it has been challenging. I try to keep the lines of communication open, and solve problems in a respectful way.

I realized that Edward had obsessive compulsive disorder in the year we dated before moving in together, but I don’t think I fully realized the extent of this illness. When he is a passenger in a car, he holds his hands up in the air to ensure he is not touching any part of the car. I think of myself as being a very clean person, and it is hard to feel like I am not living up to an unimaginable standard. Edward tries to make me feel better about it, but it is hard not to be drawn into his delusion. 

Do you have any ideas on how to deal with this or am I just in a minefield?

Rana G.

Rana,

The reason it is a good idea to live together with someone is to see how it goes. We can infer from some of the struggles you are having that it is not going well, at all. While it is all very well and good to be accepting of someone’s illness, this does not change the challenge on offer. It can not just be you who is dealing with Edward’s extreme behavior – he also has to be addressing it in a clinical setting, or this will never become a tolerable situation. 

You also could consider strengthening the relationship outside of the concept of cohabitation. There is no shame in admitting you made a choice you wish to undo.

Hi,

My girlfriend May recently purchased a pet on the spur of the moment. It is a cocker spaniel puppy she has named Large. I had dogs when I was a kid and I know how to care for them, and how much responsibility they require. Large is May’s first pet of any kind and she is kind of clueless about how to train him or take care of him.

I did not want a dog because of the responsibility, and although he is a very cute puppy, I worry that she will grow frustrated by him, as she already has, because she cannot get him to obey her in any way. She has already begun asking me to do things for him and spend time with him. I don’t mind an hour or two a week of this, but as I said, this is not my dog.

What should I do?

David S.

Dear David,

When your girlfriend gets a dog, you now have a dog. Congratulations.

If you train Large correctly, he will become obedient, but he will never truly achieve the level of obedience that you yourself will perfect in the weeks to come.

It is better to embrace your fate than stray from it. Large is now the most important thing in your life, perhaps even more important than yourself. Since you say you know how to make him a good dog, make him a good dog.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which They Ruined William Shakespeare For Us All

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Beautiful Tyrant

by DICK CHENEY

Still Star-Crossed
creator Heather Mitchell
ABC

MV5BODA2MjM0NDQyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAxNzUzMjI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_It was my genuine mistake that I thought this show was going to be about if Romeo and Juliet lived and entered into a completely unhappy marriage, with Juliet still upset about the residual effects on her concentration from imbibing the poison. When Romeo and Juliet died in Still Star-Crossed, I was in shock, because I figured this would finally be the interracial romance that would work out well for everyone involved, unlike every single time Kerry Washington falls in love with a white man.

Replacing Romeo and Juliet as the stars of Still Star-Crossed are Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch) and Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs). They are roughly the same size, and they wear very similar outfits. The plot of Still Star-Crossed is somewhat confusing – a member of each family died because everyone could not accept their love. Yet in this show the Montagues and Capulets decide to force their families to intermarry, even though the couple in question is not in love at all. Nor do they hate each other, they are just kind of neutral when it comes to all this.

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Still Star-Crossed is the brainchild of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee writer Melinda Taub, who wrote the YA novel from which this is all abstracted. Sadly, even Ms. Taub appears to absolutely loathe this adaptation of her work. She never talks about the show on her twitter, just tells people nervously to buy her book. This is a sad deal, since Shakespeare can really be improved on, as you have recently seen with the Democrats who regularly have Donald Trump stabbed to death by a bunch of minorities. Considering pretty much everyone in the New York theater industry is a liberal, I expected more subtle commentary on current events, like maybe Twelfth Night with Trump as Duke Orsino.

Still Star-Crossed probably would have been a semi-decent TV movie, but it is hard going to sit down for the entire forty minutes of this show. At some predictable point in every episode, the writers get tired of the fake Shakespearan lilt to all the dialogue and one of the women is just like, “Wanna get something to eat?” The show is also fond of stealing lines from Shakespeare’s other plays to spice things up. There is even this one part where someone must have wholesale copied an anti-Semitic monologue from The Merchant of Venice.

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Shakespeare was never my absolute favorite or anything, and it seems like he is finally fading out of most curriculums. The reason is that he is not super great at writing for women and some of his racial attitudes were a wee bit retrograde. Or maybe The Tempest is proto-Amiri Baraka: I didn’t major in semiotics, people.

I had this one teacher who was just crazy about Falstaff, I have no idea why. Even Orson Welles made this guy look like a bumbling fool. I have learned to detest writers who turn tragic circumstances into comedy, and the reverse as well, but that was until I saw Still Star-Crossed. I mean, this was destined to be a comedy – Melinda Taub is a veteran of the UCB theater.

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There are some jokes in Still Star-Crossed. At one point Benvolio tosses this crazy guy who killed a bunch of people off a building – the man’s body is dashed on the parapets below. Rosaline is looking down on the corpse with something like regret, and Benvolio deadpans, “Did you forget he tried to rape you?” I’m sure she didn’t want to be reminded of that, but as rape jokes on network television go, I suppose it was fine.

In another subplot, Juliet’s father (Anthony Stewart Head) keeps seeing her as a ghost. When he finally tracks the girl down, she says, “Beware.” Instead of asking what he should beware, he just stands there with a goofy look on his face. What a weird show.

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The costumes and environments remain weirdly inconsistent throughout Still Star-Crossed. Even though everyone involved in this story should ostensibly be of the nobility, Benvolio usually looks like he is wearing rags he picked up off the floor, and it is impossible to tell which Capulet is the servant and which is the master from their mode of dress. At one point I was pretty sure a man was romancing a princess of some sorts, since she was wearing a frock from the Jasmine collection. When he tried to kiss her, however, she told him that even though she was a servant, she was still a lady. Perhaps she meant that literally.

I really try to give Shonda Rimes the benefit of the doubt, even though it’s obvious that her major influence on this project is to make the cast pleasantly multiracial, except no Asians. With that said, no one ever brings up race at all in Still Star-Crossed. At first this seems fine because who cares if we’re not going for a historical look at this period, but in practicality it means that ethnic differences, even national differences, cannot be acknowledged as part of the plot. Even though from all appearances this is a show about a race war, the core conflict can never be described in those terms.

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I think what is really hurting Shakespeare is that he does not have that one solid IP to hang his hat on. Hamlet is very pretty to listen to, but it is depressing and somewhat of an Oedipus Rex ripoff if I’m honest. Richard III is shit. Falstaff was a mistake. The comedies are about as humorous as T.J. Miller’s stand-up. Macbeth is kind of fun for an act or so but it all gets a bit predictable, doesn’t it? Julius Caesar is wretched and hackneyed. King Lear was probably his best play, but it makes no sense now and is incredibly sexist. Othello is decent, but no one has ever been like, oh my god, I am so psyched for Othello tonight. I think he probably should have written some more uplifting work.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which Rachel Reminds Us Of Ourselves

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Where to Begin

by ELEANOR MORROW

My Cousin Rachel
dir. Roger Michell
103 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 11.53.45 PMAs the only woman to successfully consummate a relationship with both Daniel Craig and Darren Aronofsky, Rachel Weisz has so much to teach us. So as not to be overwhelmed with her outstanding Rachelness, we never linger on her trademarked self-possession too long in My Cousin Rachel, Roger Michell’s adaptation of a dull Daphne du Maurier novel. Her scenes are all flitting, finding her dashing in or out of a room. She is continuously interrupted by the son (Phillip) of her now deceased husband Ambrose.

Sam Claiflin (Me Before You) portrays Philip as an immature, coddled orphan who idolized the father who adopted him after his mother perished. When Ambrose develops a serious brain tumor, he packs off to Italy where he meets his wife. Since Ambrose lives in the most glorious part of Great Britain one can ever imagine, this choice seems a bit bizarre; then again, no one can ever properly account for the tastes of the English.

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As a local woman obsessed with Philip, Holliday Grainger steals the show in My Cousin Rachel. She disapproves of Philip’s stepmother, and after Rachel arrives in England, she and her father/Philip’s godfather Nick (Iain Glen) do everything they can to persuade Philip that his stepmother is a freespending, manipulative malingerer who only wishes to deprive him of his considerable fortune. “You are very lucky,” Nick tells Philip, since he has so much money he can give it to Rachel freely and without any caution.

Philip’s father abandoned the entire concept of women to care for his son, and Philip took up his father’s example. It is not so terribly difficult for Sam Claiflin to act like a eunuch and virgin – he always look vaguely pent-up and constipated in himself. Whenever he plays concern or caution, he tenses up his cheekbones, giving his countenance the look of a castrated horse. Out of kindness, Rachel throws him a fuck one night since he reminds her of Ambrose.

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This turns out to be a very serious mistake, since afterwards Philip expects more sex. This results in a very uncomfortable scene where Rachel lies motionless in a garden of bluebells while her stepson penetrates her missionary-style. It is the only really good look we get at Rachel in My Cousin Rachel, and what a harrowing moment it is.

The idea that the blind assumptions of men about women are more likely to bring about feminine doom rather than patriarchal instability is a funny one. Roger Michell, who wrote the adaptation of the novel as well as directed My Cousin Rachel, expands on this idea and tries to make it work onscreen in a new way. He succeeds completely, and the film becomes a dreary, upsetting portrait of unhappiness.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Serve The Mistress A Margarita

Sleeping Beauty

by ELEANOR MORROW

Lady Macbeth
dir. William Oldroyd
83 minutes

lady_macbeth.jpgIs there ever a decently plausible explanation for doing something evil? Every single immoral act that Katherine (Florence Pugh) commits during the short running time of Lady Macbeth has a justification that is very moral indeed. It is difficult to imagine Lady Macbeth as a sympathetic character, and yet giving the ostensible reasons for her behavior is the basic task of the not-so-surprising events of this film concerning what the West identifies as the Russian way of life.

It is a great time to begin understanding Russia, only not really, since it is the single least rewarding area of study left to the West. Privileged and humanist, Europe can never see their Eastern neighbors clearly, and from America this nation seems only a dark, abiding, inextinguishable, blurry flame. Katherine is married off to the son of a wealthy Russian landowner many years her senior. Her new husband Alexander (Paul Hilton) has no interest in her at all; later we learn he was in love with someone else. He never tells Katherine this, or much of anything, and this rejection on its most basic level is her first and most significant experience of profound disappointment.

Katherine has no one to commiserate with, least of all her black servant Anna (Naomi Ackie) who has been reduced by fear of her masters. Florence Pugh, after only a tantalizing few roles onscreen, has already addressed herself as one of the most appealing British actresses working today. The point she is making in Lady Macbeth is that she is just as fearless as her character, and her various bouts in the nude as well as extensive lovemaking sequences demonstrate this fact. Her blend of androgyny and raw sexual angst is more than a novelty.

Only there is nothing much erotic about Lady Macbeth. With her husband away, Katherine quickly begins a complex relationship with a snotty servant named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). When her father-in-law discovers the infidelity, he does nothing to Katherine except a slap, informing her that he cannot even look at her. There is the constant suggestion of the past that lies between the characters, but playwright Alice Burch leaves so much to our imagination that at times it seems a shame that there is so little space in the diegesis to ponder Lady Macbeth‘s tight mysteries.

Her father-in-law Boris (the wild-looking Christopher Fairbank) refuses to release her lover from confinement, so Katherine poisons him. Anna is driven mute by this act of violence – someone she thought helpless has murdered the most important person in her world, and she never does come to terms with that. After she gains her freedom, Katherine arranges her life in as pleasant a fashion as she can imagine; only she cannot picture much in the way of happiness, since her experiences so far in life have been unpleasant. Katherine is alone as the lady of the house for only moments.

The estate itself is rarely depicted, and we acquire no greater sense of the hierarchy or rules at play in Katherine’s world. A bizarre, creepy egalitarianism pervades the manor, and this lack of order is no more evident than when Katherine finds a few of the grooms torturing Anna in the stables for their amusement. Instead of identifying their crime, which she is unable to manage because she no longer has a working concept of right and wrong, she scolds them for wasting her husband’s money and time.

Directer William Oldroyd lingers on the faces of his performers at great length, attempting to give a sense of the drama merely through reaction shots. Pugh herself has a terrifically expressive face that suits this choice, but the other actors in Lady Macbeth offer very little in contrast to her oversized presence. It is damn near impossible to keep up. As an allegory, this concept of self-determination seems a valuable one. It is only important for a person without state or property to be something, Birch seems to be explaining in this adaptation of the 1865 Nikolai Leskov novella, and what the thing is remains less important than that it is. Presenting this as a cultural difference is spin city, but you have to admire the effort.

During Oliver Stone’s embarrassing, fawning hagiography of Vladimir Putin, we learned that nothing has changed when it comes to our considerable ignorance of any other continent. Lady Macbeth is more along the lines of Stone’s blind searching for equivalence than careful analysis of history, but Pugh saves the entire attempt with the furtive wildness in her eyes and laugh. It is always a thrill to see someone with enough good sense to set themselves free.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Were Safe With Yukio Mishima

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Truly Enticing

by ALEX CARNEVALE

When Yukio Mishima graduated from high school, honored as the class valedictorian, given a silver watch by the Emperor, his mind was occupied by one prevailing thought: “Now I am ready to die.”

The next year he received his draft notice. Perhaps out of panic, or because he had been susceptible to illness ever since he discovered he was gay, Mishima came down with a cough, a cold and a fever. He was excused from service. By the time the war ended, all the people who had read his writing or cared about it (except his mother) were dead, either by their own hand or purged by the new leftist government.

with his sister

with his sister Mitsuko

Mishima’s native city of Tokyo was in ruins. The most common sight on the streets was the viewing of a metal safe; all that was left of what used to be a home. Very little of this touched Mishima, who had learned to ignore the vagaries of reality in favor of his own world. He wrote,

Japan’s defeat was not a matter of particular regret for me. A far more sorrowful incident was my sister Mitsuko’s death a few months later. I loved my sister. I loved her to an inexplicable degree.

His father forced him into law school, where he tried to think of the dull preparation for a bureaucratic career in as literary a terms as possible. Pushed into a job at the prestigious Ministry of Finance, he stayed up until all hours of the morning writing, so much so that his superiors chastised him for his sleepy look. But this was government, the only chance of him “failing” at it was to appear out-of-the-ordinary. (His colleagues even knew his literary work: they had him write a speech for a minister, before rejecting it as too flowery.)

Nine months into his new job, he fell off a train platform out of tiredness. His father relented and allowed him to tender his resignation shortly thereafter. He told Yukio, “Then quit the job and become a novelist, but make sure you become the very best in the land.”

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Mishima’s new novel was autobiographical, a subject he would never completely abandon again. He wrote to his editor, “I will turn upon myself the scalpel of psychological analysis I have sharpened on fictive characters. I will attempt to dissect myself alive.” That book was Confessions of a Mask, and the revelations within would change his life forever.

Today Confessions of a Mask seems dated and juvenile with respect to Mishima’s other work. It is essentially his memoir of becoming, and since it is easier to think of Mishima’s unraveling than his coming together, parts of the novel are easy to misread. The veiled discussion of his own homosexuality undoubtedly helped Confessions of a Mask become a sensation in Japan. The book was talked about everywhere, turning Mishima into the household name he desired.

The violence in his work was also divisive. He had been confusing pain with pleasure from his early days confined in his tyrant of a grandmother’s basement, and the range of it in his stories matches any in the literature of Japan. Once, in order to write about it convincingly, he watched a medical student vivisect a cat.

the market place into interesting

The homosexual culture that emerged in Japan after the war, with the first gay bars and meeting places in Tokyo, could have had its central star. Amazingly, Mishima was able to suggest his immersion in these places was a cover that allowed him to research his next creation. The world which had rejected his early ambitions now embraced them to a startling degree. Even his father had to approve of Mishima’s financial success in his chosen field. The family moved into a new house.

Fame gave Mishima the gratification he needed: the man barely ever drank or smoked. His intense focus on his writing meant that he met every deadline. His penmanship was flawless and his work rarely needed anything but the most cursory of edits. Explaining his behavior was easy: “Most writers are perfectly normal in the head and just carry on like wild men; I behave normally but I’m sick inside.”

His first view of the west came in 1951. He sailed into San Francisco, and spent ten days in New York, which he described as Tokyo “five hundred years from now.” He found it overwhelming and spent most of his time at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Brazil he was able to exercise his sexual needs whenever he liked, meeting teenage boys in the park and bringing them back to his hotel room. He hated his week in Paris, and spent most of his time in London sitting in dark theaters. (He would produce a play a year for the rest of his life.) He looked forward to Greece and found it more to his liking; it was as old as he felt.

at a korakuen gym

When he returned to his country, he immediately sought a relationship with a woman that he could use as a cover. He began dating a coed whose chief virtue was her willingness to participate in what he described as “his masquerade.” His mother chaperoned every date.

The Sound of Waves was the novel Mishima wrote after his trip. It has been described as his most normal work, and it certainly it appealed to more people than anything else he had produced to that point. Something had changed in Yukio during his journey around the world. His American biographer John Nathan suggests the travel freed him from feeling that the only environment in which he could survive was his native one. The Sound of Waves would also be Mishima’s debut in English, as Knopf was reluctant to publish the “homosexual novel” Confessions as a debut.

More popular than ever, Mishima’s freedom was unencumbered. He became consumed with bodybuilding. For the next fifteen years of his life, he worked out three times a week, slowly increasing the girth of his upper body.

Mishima’s commercial and critical success returned him to New York, where the astonishing news of his fame had not travelled so far. He asked a friend what to do to become famous in this country. His friend responded, “Faulkner and Hemingway could walk arm in arm down this street and nobody would pay any attention.” A New York production of his play meant that, until he could not afford the $16 a day it cost, he lived on Park Avenue. His new hotel, in Greenwich Village, was $4 a day. He even learned how to ride the subways.

Mishima’s off-Broadway debut was doomed from the start, but the experience was valuable. He had to again learn what disappointment felt like. When he returned to Tokyo (via Athens), his parents were determined to quiet rumors of their son’s homosexuality by finding him the right woman. His mother almost certainly knew her son’s true feelings, but felt a bride would solve a lot of Yukio’s problems in general.

The family reviewed applications as if it were a job opening. The major disqualifying characteristic for Mishima was interest in his work. He wanted his new partner to love him for his body, not his writing, for whatever reason. Mishima’s figure was not exactly appealing for some women: he was more a sex object to men and admirers of his work. He addressed the possibility of his marriage in his public writing, telling potential suitors that “with regard to her behavior in the outside world, I will not be generous with her; the world will be watching.”

The woman who would become Yukio Mishima’s wife was a 19 year old college sophomore named Yoko Sugiyama. The day before he married her, he burned all of his diaries.

at the airport with yoko

In time, Yoko would learn her husband’s true proclivities, but she never discussed them openly, even after his death, and denied them to anyone who asked. John Nathan has speculated that it was the position of homosexuality in Japan that allowed the marriage to persist happily – there was nothing abhorrent, strictly speaking, about being gay in Japan during this period, and bisexuality was also recognized as a legitimate preference. Far more unacceptable than being gay was being unmarried.

The wedding reception was in May at Tokyo’s International House; the families were still simmering over a difficult negotiation of terms. The press followed the couple on their honeymoon. Mishima wrote,

As we walked down the corridor on the second floor, a girl from the beauty parlor picked up the telephone in the corridor and began informing someone of our every step in a voice so loud we couldn’t possibly have missed it. As the elevator doors closed we heard her report, “They’ve just stepped into the elevator.” In our room whenever a girl came to clean up or bring us something she was always accompanied by two or three others who just tagged along for a good look at us on their way out. When a waitress from room service appeared and Yoko ordered a cream soda and I ordered one too, the girl said, “You drink the same drink! That’s passion!” I was appalled.

In his marriage Mishima was often caught between his mother and his wife. The two never got along. Living in the same home did not help matters; both felt possessive of Yukio. Despite the not-so-passionate nature of the arrangement, the couple was generally suited to each other. Yoko was not terribly entertained by the friends her husband had made as a single dilettante, and disliked his focus on bodybuilding. Each led their own lives, but Mishima surely relied on his wife for advice and for the most part they abided by one another’s wishes.

In 1959, Mishima built a new house for his entire family. It was a disturbing piece of architecture, embodying both his experience in the west and a judgmental view of his own culture. Each morning he would wake up, eat and sunbathe, and then turn to his exercise regimen. The afternoons were about meeting with agents and directors. All of his writing was done in the evening before the routine began again. That year Yoko gave him his first child, a daughter they named Noriko, who was followed by a son Ichiro three years later.

The year his daughter was born Mishima also finished his massive new novel Kyoko’s House. It sold based on his reputation, but the massive tome has never been popular with critics or readers. He had never worked harder on any of his plays or novels, and the reaction saddened him deeply.

Violence on the Japanese political scene frightened the vulnerable author, and the family was protected by a bodyguard. Mishima penned perhaps his most brilliant short work, My Wandering Years, which described his first trip around the world. John Nathan focuses in on one particular passage from the period:

Today, I no longer believe in that ideal known as classicism, and I have already begun to feel that youth, and the flowering of youth, are foolishness. What remains is the concept of death, the only truly enticing, truly vivid, truly erotic concept. For all I know, that twenty-six-year-old, that classicist who felt about himself that he was as close as possible to life, was a dissembler, a fraud.

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Mishima’s popularity declined noticeably in the years that followed, and much of his work from these years has never been properly appreciated either at home or abroad. He continued to subsist on the revenues from what he considered his trivial work, largely read by the Japanese housewives who had propelled his novels to their first success.

John Nathan had been responsible for a successful translation of Mishima’s 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. After reading Mishima’s novel Silk and Insight he decided that translating it would be a losing battle, both because it lacked the intensity typical of the author’s work, and because the political undertones could not possibly make sense to a Western audience. After Nathan informed him he would not embark on the project, Mishima never spoke to him again.

Mishima’s view of Japan was changing. In order to restore the nation to its former glory, he enlisted himself in the Army Self Defense Force and entered basic training. (Some suspect that his love of masochism was his principal motivation in this.) This position allowed him to maintain an ongoing friendship with a variety of young men, allowing him space from his wife and family.

Mishima was 42 and yet burned to keep up with the younger soldiers. His fantasy of becoming a warrior would persist until his death, tied up in political views that encouraged Japan to regain its former greatness. When another Japanese writer won the Nobel Prize, it was enough to set him off the rails completely.

leaving it on the field

Mishima planned his own death elaborately. He said farewell, in his way, to everyone that he knew, ending conversations with an unusual sayonara rather than the more typical “see you again soon.” He told no one specifically what he planned, although he did float the concept of showing his suicide live to a friend who worked in television. The idea that he would become more respected and famous in death than he was in life was only a part of his desire to die, expressed for the first time when he was a young man. It had never truly left him.

Along with his comrades-in-arms, Mishima abducted a Japanese general that day. He had already mailed journalists with his manifesto and a photograph, in order to ensure the reasons for doing what he intended would not be obscured. Mishima had assigned the ritual decapitation to a friend, Morita, but even after several attempts the man was unable to perform the task and another comrade, Koga, beheaded both of them. Yukio’s insides splattered to the ground. His wife placed a pen and manuscript paper in his coffin.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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