Mishima : The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea

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Mishima : The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea

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Oct 24, 2012, 3:36 pm

I had read Mishima once before in probably my early years of college: a collection of short stories from the book La Mort en Ete (Death in Midsummer and Other Short Stories). Although I was in the middle of my Japanese major and I had already gained a lot of Japanese knowledge at the time, Mishima hadn't clicked for me then. So I waited until it would become time to read him again.

This book I've owned since at least 2006 as I was attracted to the title of this book: a poetic title, "The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea". Funny enough, the Japanese title is 午後の曳航 (Gogo no Eikou) which simply means "Afternoon Towing of a Boat", hardly the poetry that the translation has. Looking up the titles of translations in other languages, I found they primarily all used this new title of grace. Makes me wonder who was the originator of this title. Upon reading the book though, I discovered that there is poetry within the Japanese title as well because Mishima is all about subtle poetry.

The story is separated into two seasons: summer and winter.

In the summer, a widowed woman, Fusako, and her son, Noboru, meet a sailor, Ryuji, on land for a few days as his ship delivers its cargo. Noboru is riveted by Ryuji's stories of maritime adventures and seems to admire this man who is the definition of a man, not marked by everyday pleasantries. Fusako is riveted by Ryuji himself and they begin their love story. Unfortunately at the end of the summer, Ryuji must return to work as his ship is scheduled for Brazil. They part and Noboru is left with stories to tell his band of (intelligent but) misfit friends of this heroic sailor man.

However, winter comes as does the return of the ship. And with the return of the ship comes the return of Ryuji who decides to leave his maritime ways and settle with Fusako. This is much to the dismay of Noboru who sees this as a sacrilege to the rule of man. In the end, he meets with his band as they decide a sacrifice must be made to fix this misdeed.

It's an interesting book but when I put it down and my boyfriend asked me how it was, all I could say was that "it was a strange book". I almost felt disappointed. Once again, Mishima hadn't click for me. And yet, certain passages of the book really stick out. Is this what "Mishima's power" is? His writing is flawless as it really carries you to a destination. He is neither rushed, nor too slow-paced but at the end, what is his motivation? Mishima is a character in himself and like the characters in his book, it is difficult to see what dictates his moral compass.

An interesting book which will require some background search into Mishima. In the meantime, it has been interesting reading other reviews of this book.


In terms of translation, the last line is particularly interesting in the French version. (Technically there is no spoiler in the last line of the book but feel free to stop here if you don't want to read the last line of the book.)

Comme chacun sait, la gloire est amère.

This translates to "As everyone knows, glory is a bitter taste." (The official English translation writes "Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.") But in the French translation there is a pun. Amère, which means bitter, sounds like "a mer" which means "to the sea" so it almost reads as "As everyone knows, glory is to the sea." Depending on what the original Japanese is, this almost feels like a more perfect ending to this book.

Oct 28, 2012, 10:50 am

I read The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea exactly one year ago. The work of Mishima often has a puzzling effect, many strands of possible meaning, none in essence can be comprehended, altogether an alien experience.

In retrospect, I assume that the peep hole episodes might create a type of camera obscura effect, which could be interpreted as an inversion of reality, and inversion of values: Beauty contrasted with the horror, trust versus distrust, strength against cunning, young versus old, many against one.