Customer Reviews: Confessions of a Mask
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VINE VOICEon February 8, 2004
Reading other reviews of Confessions of a Mask, I see that many readers are looking at it from a perspective of "gay literature" and seem disappointed that Mishima is not really a supporter of the cause. But from my perspective, as someone interested in Mishima as a giant in Japanese literature, Confessions of a Mask is a great introduction into the literary world of Mishima Yukio.

Without giving away too much, the main forces that propel the protagonist in this semi-autobiographical work, are a secret lust for masculine beauty and an attempt at heterosexual "normalcy" attempted mainly through a painfully flawed try at loving a sister of his friend. Other reviewers have commented that the second half of the story flags a bit, but for me, the frustration and concealed emotion that is tangible in the conversations between the protagonist and Sonoko is both convincing and intriguing.

However, I would agree that the first half of the book is probably more interesting. Mishima's work is less about homosexuality (with the emphasis on sex) and more about an almost reverent approach toward masculine virtue and beauty. These ideas and the struggle within the protagonist start to flag as the war draws to an end and he becomes involved with Sonoko.

I have yet to read many of Mishima's works, but the two main things that appeal to me are his staunch commitment to an ideal or perfection of some sort, and also the amazing penmanship that his stories exhibit. As with most Japanese literature, this sort of subtle detail is lost in translation, so I encourage all who have the ability and time to read the originals!

Although I have a feeling this book will be hard-pressed to please everyone, for me at least it seems like a great insight into the mind and the works of Mishima. No study of modern Japanese literature would be complete without a look at Mishima, and although Confessions of a Mask may not be his greatest work, it is unquestionably an excellent starting point.
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on April 24, 2003
Mishima's sadomasochistic homosexuality asserted itself early. While still a tiny child he responded instantly to certain kinds of masculine beauty and found a mysterious fascination in images and narratives of heroic men being tortured and, ideally, killed. The supreme example was a picture of the martyred St. Sebastian, bound and riddled with arrows, which the child Mishima experienced as the world's heaviest turn-on. Naive as he was, the young author still knew somehow that his interests were unusual and disgraceful, so he kept them secret. The story of his early inner life, with its crushes and fantasies, takes up the first half or so of the book and is fascinating.
But then, during young manhood, Mishima tries to become "normal" and fall in love with a girl. Though he likes her very much, he isn't attracted to her physically. The story of this doomed relationship takes up the second half of the book. Being more or less devoid of incident, and (obviously) lacking in erotic passion, it's much less interesting than the foregoing chapters.
Confessions of a Mask ends disappointingly but the earlier section of the book gives a candid, moving, and memorable account of a child's confused and troubled emerging sexuality.
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on November 21, 1998
This book operates on several levels, as an existential novel, portrait of war-time Japan, and as a coming of age story. I will leave it to others to comment on the other aspects of the book. As a gay story, the author confronts his present and future as a homosexual in a society that hardly recognized the existence of such persons. It is a tragic, but surprisingly not depressing, story written in direct, occasionally dark, prose.
As a gay man, I have given this book to several of my straight friends to help them understand the complex feelings gays, especially those coming out, have about their identity and place in society.
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on March 11, 2014
What an incredible book, unlike anything I have read before. It took me awhile to read, as almost every paragraph carries the weight of a poem. This is a story of a young Japanese man discovering he is gay, set against the U.S. air war in the mid 40's. It speaks to the split that occurs in one's psyche for those who do not meet the social norms. It tears the soul in two at so many different levels. The entire book focuses on the author's inner life. All his thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and hungers are laid bare for the reader to digest. His later introduction to a woman he cannot forget seems to represent some sort of purity, yet even this is fraught with contradictions. One cannot change the core of who they are, and a hidden life often brings torment. The raw honesty and stark reality of this book will not soon be forgotten.
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on December 9, 2001
Here in Japan, a lot in life is kept behind closed sliding doors and emotions rarely surface in public. Private and public are clearly delineated. The narrator courageously allows us into his complex private world of tangled emotions. Complicated sexual desire, an artistic sensibility, wit and intelligence create a picture of a precocious teenager that will remind you of Salinger's and Joyce's jaded teens. The narrator is intensely introspective, sympathetic, and has an active imagination fixated on death, sex, and workingclass muscular male bodies. Gay and straight readers alike will find this novel engaging and full of meaning about growing up behind a mask.
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--those words only begin to describe this claustrophobic, asphyxiating novel which is really an exercise in language as torture, prose as death sentence. Confessions of a Mask is a remarkable revelation of self and affirmation. It's hard to get a handle on Mishima's influence, but it's harder still to imagine very much of the grim and quite tedious prose coming from "the underground" today without bowing hard in Mishima's direcetion. Highly recommended.
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on April 9, 1999
Often people draw a definite line between being homosexual and straight, and once you know who you are you always know. Mishima, in detail, describes the inner conflicts of growing up gay. Dealing with the confusions of being able to find a woman beautiful at charming and yet being able to go no further. It is an excellent book for someone doubting themselves right now or for friends or family to know exactly what their loved one had to struggle with for many years and in some ways may still be struggling with.
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on November 10, 2012
A fascinating read for all with an interest in the works of Yukio Mishima. `Confessions' is Mishima's tortured autobiography, laying his life and mind bare, from his earliest memories through to the immediate post war period. Mishima touches on vivisection in his extraordinary `The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea'; `Confessions' established the groundwork for this through a gruelling vivisection of his own life. The deep and murky elements of his personality are exposed - the constant theme of desire for death, a particular kind of death, which he awaited impatiently `with a sweet expectation' (only to run from it with abandon/relief when his army enlistment drew him close), his morbid sadomasochistic/homo-erotic sexual fantasies, his life echoing man's desire to play with fire and more, and more. Mishima's peculiar construct of a life appeared ready to collapse as defeat in the war loomed; with the recognition that his life on the edge was at an end (oh no it wasn't!), he would need to `begin that everyday life of a member of human society' - his greatest fear of all.

Mishima may have felt himself `incapable of social intercourse ... nothing but a creature, non-human and somehow strangely pathetic' - sad, but the literary world is without doubt richer for the brilliance that was born of that touch of madness.
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on September 12, 2011
I haven't read a Japanese book in awhile, but I picked this one up. I'm strangely glad I did. Mishima is a very strong author, uncompromising, thoughtful but without falling into the trap of over-thinking his book.

Kochan, the protagonist, also the narrator, is a strange, intellectual creature. He studies himself, turns himself on all sides, then shows the results to his audience, not asking for any reaction at all. He doesn't complain, he isn't proud. He seems to be alone, talking to himself from somewhere just outside of a society that he acts for in order to exist. Having the double misfortune of being both a homosexual and perverted - associating sex with violence and death - there's no chance of even confessing himself to anyone but the silent reader.

This inner monologue, this honesty, are even more emphasized by his starting to explain how this passion came by, describing the strange reactions he had as a child in seeing torn princes in fairy tales, Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows and other such art, and then subtly moving off to remember the women in his life. Two. The second of which he tried very much to be straight with, hoping that he would become so with the first kiss - and failing.

A very lonely book, very honest, suffering quietly and doing nothing to ask for help. It left me at the end with a feeling of emptiness, loneliness, of a quiet resignation.

I loved it, even if I didn't expect to.

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on May 15, 2014
Though Mr. Mishima deals with the nascent awakening of his sexual "difference" briefly in this work, it is more, ultimately, to this reader at least - a peering into the life-perspective of a different culture. I don't know how old the author was when this was written, but it seems as if it actually were written by a teenager, to my perspective.
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