When I was reading this book, my mind lingered on three things:
1. How much the plot and characters reminded me of The Picture of Dorian Grey.
I knew Yukio Mishima had written several LGBT books, and it was mostly due to the #1951club that the choice of book fell on Forbidden Colours. The story in both books are about an ageing artist falling in love with a young man, and dragging him into a web of cruilty. It’s the elder bitter gentleman teaching the young man to have contempt to the world around you. In Forbidden Colours Shinsuké is an elderly writer who hates women (the books mentions his failed marriages, but I think it might be a bit of repressed homosexuality mixed with being raised to think women should be there to please men, and then what happens if you don’t think women can be pleasing) and uses the young beautiful Yuichi to torment the women around him. A lot of the symbols and focus on youth and beauty are also similar in both books.
“True beauty makes men dumb,” began the old man, in spiritless tones. ” In the days when this faith had not yet been destroyed, criticism was a profession unto itself. Criticism strove to imitate beauty.”
2. The state of LGBT+ people in Japan.
While homosexuality has been a mixed bag, but certainly more acceptance than in a lot of other countries, I found it interesting when I read about homosexuality and desirability. Apparently you have to be young to be thought desirable, which is why there often is an age limit on the male prostitutes that cater to this demographic. This does reflect in the focus on youth in the book, especially regarding the young men.
At the same time, it would be wrong to say it’s easy to be gay in Japan (especially in the 1940s and ‘50s when this book is set). There is a huge focus on marriage, children and masculinity.
To samurai and homosexuals the ugliest vice is femininity. Even though their reason for it differ, the samurai and the homosexual do not see manliness as instinctive but rather as something gained only from moral effort. (Forbidden colours)
The book does describe how the homosexual men, most often, have to hide that they are gay or else suffer consequences. Especially the woman you married to hide that you are gay.
3. Yukio Mishima himself.
This is such an interesting man. He was upset over the westernisation that happened, so he staged a coup to get Japan back to the glory days of the Samurai. When this failed he killed himself by seppuku, where you disembowel yourself before someone cuts off your head. He was married and had two children, but was rumoured to go to gay bars on the weekend (and considering the books he wrote… I’m not saying people can only write about the sexuality they personally have, but he was very focused on this topic so my guess is either gay or bi).
I find these to aspects of him very fascinating, that he was mostly likely queer and yet his focus and his conservative way regarding Japanese culture. I have read that samurais did have a homosexual culture similar to the one found in ancient Greece (be gay with your military brothers, which makes you a better soldier, as long as you are married and have lots of children). Maybe that’s what he thought of when he tried his cupe, maybe he hated his queer side (as a lot of queer throughout time have) I don’t know.
The boy took in that cool gaze. He suddenly grasped Yuchi’s hands under the table. Cruelly, Yuichi wrenched his hand away. The cruelty was to a certain degree intentional. Overburdened by the resentment against his wife which he would not reveal, Yuichi yearned for the right to be unequivocally cruel to someone he had loved.
This book is a great piece of literature, and I hope Yukio Mishima would get more known as a LGBT+ writer in the western world. It could help spice things up.