While renowned Japanese author Yukio Mishima may have died a spectacular death in 1970 at the age of 45, his influence and artistry continue to this day, as evidenced in his novel “The Frolic of the Beasts,” translated into English for the first time and now made available in the United States through Vintage International. The novel explores a number of heady themes — including the false fronts we wear, and the myriad of reasons why — but, like Mishima, the three central characters are fated to be remembered by audiences for the way they died as much as for the way they lived.
Here is the story of Ippei, a pompous literary critic; Yuko, his beautiful, if distant wife; and Koji, his young student and employee. Set just after Word War II, the three form a delicate love triangle made all the more complex when Koji is sent to prison for attacking a man with a wrench, an act that changes all their lives: Ippei becomes a mute shell of his former self, and Yuko transforms into a shrewd business woman, determined to secure the life she desires.
When Koji is released and rejoins the couple as their employee, the tension between his former mentor and current love reaches a dangerous climax, which is foreshadowed in part through a side plot involving Kimi, the daughter of Yuko’s gardener, and her two persistent suitors.
And while the novel is structured to increase the tension, readers may have difficultly following the disjointed narrative, especially in the opening chapters, as the prologue details events that occur after — not before — the main action, and chapter 2 serves as a flashback. Still, “The Frolic of the Beasts” is worth the extra work at the start — especially because the ending sent this reader straight back to the prologue, which read very differently the second time around.
A philosophical work not for the faint of heart, “The Frolic of the Beasts” is a tragic, haunting work from a master.