After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima: a portrait of a marriage through domestic and political aspirations in a post-war Japan

Yukio Mishima, After the Banquet/ Dupa banchet

Published 2001 by Vintage (originally published in Japanese in 1960), 288p. In limba romana: Dupa banchet, Editura Humanitas, 2004

 

When first published in 1960, The New Yorker called After the Banquet the most profound thing Mishima had done until then and acknowledged the author as an international genius. Nominated three times for the Nobel Prize, Mishima was praised for his gift to depict human experience and psychology.

After the Banquet describes a world of elegance and traditions, a segment of the Japanese high society after the war.  Kazu Fukuzawa is a charming woman in her fifties that runs a restaurant in Tokyo.

Kazu radiated open good nature, and her absolutely unyielding disposition had assumed a form both simple and beautiful. Ever since she was a child she had preferred to love rather than be loved. Her air of innocent rusticity concealed a considerable determination to have her own way, and various underhanded acts by petty individuals around her had only served to nurture her infinitely direct and outgoing disposition.

It is in her restaurant, often attended by politicians, that she met Yuken Noguchi, a former foreign ambassador, now in his seventies. Although silent and often too rigid, Noguchi fascinates Kazu and they begin to meet frequently. When visiting his old house, Kazu reflects:

A world formed by the intellect and composed of exclusively intellectual elements lay outside her comprehension. Her common sense told her that everything must have its other side. But what continually amazed her in Noguchi was that he was one man without another side: he seemed to have no other face but one he showed her. Kazu, of course, as a matter of principle disbelieved in the existence of such people. But for all her disbelief, a kind of ideal image, tantalizingly incomplete, was gradually taking shape around Noguchi. His stilted behavior had acquired an aura, indescribably mysterious and intriguing.

Noguchi’s personality intrigues and stimulates Kazu, who always tended to idealize love rather than experience it. Men had killed themselves for her but she could never turn her feelings to ennoble a man or help him build his success. In a strict society, determined to copy Noguchi’s principles, hoping she will change him later, Kazu accepts to live in his world and the two marry, although they could never list the real reasons for their action. Kazu loves the idea of being the wife of a distinguished man although she disagrees his radical ideas. They don’t know how to behave as a married couple and have no definition of how happiness should be.

When Noguchi is asked to run for office, Kazu finds her purpose. A captive of her dreams and her wild imagination, Kazu is determined to help her husband to win the elections. Without telling Noguchi anything, Kazu elaborates a complex campaign, becoming a familiar figure at events, making substantial donations and winning her way into the hearts of the simple people. She mortgages her restaurant and accepts compromises.

Her decision to resurrect Noguchi’s career and her vitality will cost her more than she expects. Betrayal and loss will affect Kazu’s marriage and soon she will understand politics is often above principles and morality.

Complement After the Banquet with Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, a meditation on the unexpected turns of life.

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