- Sadism and The Vicissitudes of the Drive in Mishima Yukio's Patriotism
Moral masochism becomes a classical piece of evidence for the existence of fusion of instinct. Its danger lies in the fact that it originates from the death instinct and corresponds to the part of that instinct which has escaped being turned outwards as an instinct of destruction. But since, on the other hand, it has the significance of an erotic component, even the subject's destruction of himself cannot take place without libidinal satisfaction.—Sigmund Freud, "The Economic Problem in Masochism" (1924)
The subject of this essay is Mishima Yukio's twenty-eight minute black-and-white film Yūkoku (Patriotism, 1966), told in five chapters, and to a lesser degree the story on which the film is based, Yūkoku (Patriotism, 1961).1 The story and the film are both based on historical events. On February 26, 1936, in Japan there was an incident in [End Page 123] which a cadre of young imperial officers, loyalists to the emperor, carried out a failed coup. In the end, the emperor ordered their arrest and execution. One lieutenant, Aoshima Kenkichi, killed himself by ritual suicide in the aftermath. Naoki Inose quotes Wada Katsunori on the suicides:
When he [Aoshima] told these sentiments to his wife Kimiko, she said she'd gladly accompany him. The two put on formal attire as man and wife and wrote a will. The lieutenant calmly cut his stomach straight from left to right with his military sword and further stabbed his throat, thus killing himself excellently. His wife followed him. She wrapped a blanket around her waist and stabbed her throat with a Japanese sword, thus meeting her death as admirably.2
The film focuses exclusively on the evening when Aoshima (called Shinji in the film) returns home to his wife (called Reiko in the film) and adds a chapter of lovemaking to the writing of the wills and the double suicide.
Mishima is infamous for his complex and nihilistic aesthetics and widely divergent texts including fiction of all sorts, for the now open secret of his homosexuality, and for his ritual suicide by hara-kiri. Mishima was a complex and prolifically productive persona whose corpus of work was enormous and consisted of fictional narratives, photo shoots, film roles, nonfictional essays, and more. Out of this huge body of text, Patriotism is the only film he wrote, directed, acted in, and edited, that is, made with his own control from top to bottom. Financed by Mishima himself, the film was shot in two days.3 He handwrote four versions of the script inter-titles, in Japanese, English, French, and German.4 The English version translates the title "Yūkoku" as "The Rite of Love and Death." Mishima repeatedly claimed that the short story on which the film is based was his favorite of all his written texts. This is worth noting, particularly because of how Mishima engineered a double bind between his life and his writing and other "performances."5
Many studies of Mishima have classified him as a masochist; others have insisted that a masochistic aesthetic is central to his corpus.6 Astrid Lac has specifically discussed the short story "Patriotism" as exemplifying a masochistic economy as described by Gilles Deleuze in his Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty.7 Lac's argument is generally congruent with mine in The Ethics of Aesthetics that there are ample examples of sadism throughout Mishima's corpus. However, "Patriotism" she finds to be as an exemplar of a masochistic economy. She sees an anxiety in the text's depiction of Shinji's concerns that there be no "irregularities" and argues that [End Page 124] "Reiko's effortless execution at every turn with perfect coldness" is "a mark of the masochist's 'woman torturer' (à la Deleuze) par excellence."8 Further, she reads Reiko's total submission to Shinji as a hyperbolic replication of Shinji's devotion to the emperor that "exposes the narrow margin between comedy and tragedy buoying the drama."9 Quite to the contrary, I argue that the suicide scene is effectively weaponized and that Shinji's demand of Reiko is thoroughly sadistic...