Book Review: After the Banquet by Mishima Yukio

mishimaMishima Yukio 三島 由紀夫 (1925-1970) is a well-known Japanese author and playwright. As a multi-talent he wrote novels, dramas and modern Nô-plays furthermore he was a political activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times.

After the Banquet is based on historical incidents and takes up the political atmosphere of the 1960’s and the personal story of the politician Hachirô Arita, who was a Japanese politician and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The story is written from the perspective of a strong-willed woman in her fifties named Kazu Fukuzawa, “a plump, attractive figure, always bursting with energy and enthusiasm”. She is the owner of the highly exquisite Japanese restaurant Setsugoan.

There she meets Noguchi, a radical politician and ambassador with his entourage. After a stroke of an elder statesmen  in her restaurant, she takes this as an opportunity to get closer to Noguchi. From now on she manipulates him to catch and hold his attention permanently. Finally she marries him, but it will be a sad and cruel marriage from the very first day based on prestige reasons in the first place. But being the wife of a famous politician makes her very proud though.

“Her marriage involved no sacrifice, no confinement in a stranger’s house, nor any annoyance from a mother-in-law or sisters-in-law, but married life had on the other hand not brought with it any surge of happiness. When she and Noguchi went out together as man and wife, she felt a joy she could not conceal. But when she attempted to track down the ultimate source of this social pleasure, she discovered that it was connected with the melancholy delight which stole over Kazu’s heart in the middle of the wedding ceremony. Kazu had kept her eyes lowered as she drank the ritual cups of saké to hold back the tears, but she was thinking all the while, ‘Now I’m sure to be buried in the grave of the Noguchi family! At last I’ve found some peace of mind!'”

With full enthusiasm she throws herself into an electoral campaign to assist her husband. And then Noguchi forces her to give up the Setsugoan. He uses all her property for his political career. Eventually he and his party loses the election. Kazu finds herself broken but not desperate.

Kazu is an ambitious female character with strong narcissistic tendencies. Although her marriage is unhappy and her husband acts very violently, she devotes herself to him. Penniless but still strong Kazu finds a way to gain her freedom then — of course through an intrigue.

The narration is very lively. The setting and the plot is interesting. Mishima is a master of storytelling and the characters are very elaborated. All in all a good read.

三島 由紀夫 : 宴のあと Utage no Ato, 1960. Mishima Yukio: After the Banquet. Translation by Donald Keene, 1963.