Attraction to beauty is one of the most common and natural human features which often binds us together and even gives meaning to our lives. However, different people might perceive it to various extents, experience contradictory and complex feelings about it. In Confessions of a Mask, the main character Kochan appreciates beauty and is strongly drawn to it, but male and female beauty has very different effects on him because the male company was forbidden for him when he was a child, therefore it comes to possess his feeling and attracts him even against his will.
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The early years of Kochan’s life with his overprotective grandmother have significantly influenced and shaped his psyche. He grows to be a very sensitive, receptive, and mentally alert boy. His grandmother does not let him play with other boys fearing that they would spoil her grandson, so Kochan is mostly left to himself. This is what deprives him of the experience of human communication, interaction, watching others, and makes him find solace and entertainment within himself. Being exposed to no one but himself, he reaches such depths of his soul, which are uncommon for most of his peers. He feels deeper than an average boy of his age, and it eventually brings him to a painful perception of beauty that is inseparable from death and violence.
He finds beauty in unreasonable violence, the implicit menace of soldiers, the contrast between their fit and strong bodies, and the potential destruction they carry. Moreover, he is excited to sense their sweaty odor, hear them marching, which he explains to himself as the desire to get “the forbidden cartridges from them” (Mishima 9). The dramatic contrast between pain, suffering, and beauty in the picture of St. Sebastian arouses him and gives food for his fantasies, which further defines his relationship with himself, his body, and society.
Kochan’s attitude towards feminine beauty is rather controversial and changes throughout the novel. When he finds out that the picture of a knight in armor is not a man but Joan of Arc, he becomes infuriated and loses interest in it, as the fact of a woman wearing men’s clothes offends his feelings. However, he also idolizes the feminine beauty of Cleopatra from the American movie and the Japanese magician known as Shokyokusai Tonkatsu.
They both look exotic in their stage attire and unfamiliar to the traditional Japanese culture. Their aesthetics urges him to borrow his mother’s clothes and try makeup to look like them, but when he shows his outfit, his mother and the maid react to it as something inappropriate, which only tangles his way to self-identity and acceptance of his nature. Gill (2015) concludes that “by shaming him for his innocent experimentations with gender presentation and discouraging femininity in males, his family unwittingly shoves him into his first closet, where he must conceal his true passions or risk painful rejection” (5).
Women that surround Kochan are devoid of the inherent violence, destructive power, and filth that fascinate him in males. He can appreciate their beauty but is unable to feel anything close to passion, desire, or lust towards them. Aware of his homosexuality, he tries to consciously change his attitude, make himself normal with the help of his own will. And that understanding only distances the girls out of his reach because he instinctively feels unworthy of them. In the scene when he meets Sonoko for the first time, he compares her movements to the trembling of light; the only sight of her purifies him. He admits that “in all my life my heart had never before been so touched by the sight of beauty in a woman” (Mishima 74).
On seeing Sonoko, his heart fills with grief, which he cannot explain to himself until later when he understands that, deep inside, at that moment, he already knows that he will not be able to love her truly, become her husband, and build traditional relationships.
Kochan loves her as a person, her beauty attracts him, he longs to spend time with her, she becomes a good friend whom he treasures and wants to protect from his dark side. It feels like Sonoko is beyond his reach, and he can only follow her with his eyes but is unable to come close, take her, and make her belong to him. According to Gill (2015), “his platonic satisfies him” (19), and he does not want to change their relationships.
Kochan becomes aware of his inconsistency with the norm and expectations of his family quite early, and though he tries to fit in with the social life and behave like everyone else, he only tortures himself and proves what he already knows. He cannot alter his nature, his passion, and because of that, he tries to fool himself and the people around him with a mask to hide his true identity. He lives in a state of permanent loneliness, “always at odds with his desires and trying to hide from himself” (Hirata 296). Women do not stir his feelings in the same way men do, and he is content to contemplate their beauty as if from afar. He can only feel desire when beauty borders with violence and self-destruction, and no woman can bring that to their relationship.
Gill, Shannon Michelle. “The Reluctant Masquerade”: Constructing the Closet in Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask. Thesis, University of North Carolina, 2015. Web.
Hirata, Hosea. “Two-Timing Modernity: Homosocial Narrative in Modern Japanese Fiction by J. Keith Vincent (review).” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 69, no. 2, 2014, pp. 295-301.
Mishima, Yukio. Confessions of a Mask. New Directions, 1958.