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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Frolic of the Beasts

Mishima Yukio

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To purchase The Frolic of the Beasts

Title: The Frolic of the Beasts
Author: Mishima Yukio
Genre: Novel
Written: 1961 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 166 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Frolic of the Beasts - US
The Frolic of the Beasts - UK
The Frolic of the Beasts - Canada
Trastulli di animali - Italia
  • Japanese title: 獣の戯れ
  • Translated by Andrew Clare
  • 獣の戯れ was made into a film in 1964, directed by Tomimoto Sōkichi

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sultry, heady

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 23/5/2019 John Nathan
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/1/2019 John Williams
Publishers Weekly . 24/9/2018 .
TLS . 26/7/2019 Damian Flanagan
Wall St. Journal . 22/11/2018 Sam Sacks
The Washington Post . 26/11/2018 Andrew Ervin

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) decent translation by Andrew Clare. The novel is stuck in the middle of Mishima's divergent styles: romance fiction with pretensions to seriousness. (...) There is no pathos in this violent story: it brims with perversity, and the improbable situation makes it hard to believe that the characters are real." - John Nathan, The New York Review of Books

  • "The novel’s plot isn’t really enough to sustain even its relatively brief length, and there’s a slackness to certain scenes that’s missing in Mishima’s other work. But two primary things make this book worthwhile. First, it may be a minor work, but Mishima is a giant, and even the minor works of giants are inherently interesting. Second, the uniquely askew relationships at the center of the story mean that its most riveting scenes are well and truly riveting; unforgettable, even." - John Williams, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(L)uridly propulsive (.....) What follows is an ominous reunion that slowly builds to more violence, with Mishima’s baroque, beautiful prose hinting at depravity on every page" - Publishers Weekly

  • "It is good to see this sexually and psychologically complex novel finally available in a honed translation by Andrew Clare." - Damian Flanagan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Frolic of the Beasts, a morose little gem from Mishima’s middle period, boasts its share of sensuous depravity. (...) Mishima is on record saying that he drew inspiration for the novel from a Beethoven overture and the translator, Mr. Clare, notes that the plot parodies a classic work of medieval Noh theater. These influences -- romantic Sturm und Drang and formalized gestures and expressions from the stage -- aren’t integrated so much as piled on top of each other, like a face gaudily layered in makeup. It’s a train wreck of styles, but because the book is about moral catastrophe the collision seems fitting." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Mishima’s sensibilities will seem a bit dated to contemporary readers. For example, the excessive and repetitive attention to the breast size of every female character is -- to put it in technical terms -- yucky. On the other hand, I did enjoy underlining the many fun and weird similes." - Andrew Ervin, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       From the very beginning, there's little doubt about where The Frolic of the Beasts is headed, with the opening sentences of its Prologue pointing very clearly to what can be expected:

     It's hard to believe this phot was taken a few days before the final wretched incident. The three of them looked really happy, at ease with one another; as if there was a bond of mutual trust between them.
       The three are Ippei Kusakado, his wife Yūko, and a young man named Kōji, and beside an account of the taking of the photograph the Prologue also reveals the final consequences of the 'wretched incident', leaving:
Three small new gravestones stand huddled together in a shallow depression in the hillside. To the right is Ippei's grave. To the left of that, Kōji's, and in the center lies Yūko's.
       The story proper then begins a few months earlier, with Kōji just released from prison and on his way to the fishing village of Ito on the Izu Peninsula, where he is welcomed by Yūko. Circumstances have changed since they last saw each other some two years earlier: Kōji, then just twenty-one, had been a university student who worked for Ippei in the Western ceramics shop he had in Tokyo's Ginza-district. Ippei had studied German literature at university, and even after taking over his parents' successful shop, "he continued to write highbrow literary critiques". He had quite a reputation and numerous followers; he was also quite the ladies' man.
       At first, Kōji did not see much of Yūko back then, but eventually he also came into her orbit. He was attracted to her, but also disturbed by the way the couple lived: "I can't allow such lies, even if they are nothing to do with me". He let himself be drawn into Yūko's web, manipulated, or at least led, to a scene of confrontation, and then unable to hold himself back.
       Two years later, the trio is reunited. Having done his time, Kōji can convince himself:
He had repented, he was a different person from his former self, and he no longer had any concerns.
       Meanwhile, the Kusakados now take operate some greenhouses, far from busy Tokyo, and it is Yūko who helms the new family-business. Ippei is just a shadow of his former self, puttering around but barely functional. He still sits with the newspaper every morning, going through the motions, but, for example, can't understand anything he's reading. He's neither a ladies' man nor acclaimed intellectual nor adroit businessman any longer.
       Even the prison governor had been surprised that Yūko was willing to be Kōji's guarantor upon his release, but she convinces him, and she installs Kōji in their household after his release, and gives him a job. With Ippei there and Yūko a dutiful wife the situation is admittedly somewhat awkward -- yet it seems to work, as Kōji settles in quite well.
       Tensions remain. The locals learn of Kōji's past, and so even as he blends in better once he's lost his prison-pallor he remains something of an outsider. Among those he does get closer to is Kim, the daughter of the other hired hand in the business, Teijirō, who briefly returns to Ito -- ukulele in hand, from the factory she works at. She is not close to her father -- for a reason that Teijirō eventually reveals to Kōji -- but several of the local men compete for her -- and Yūko is jealous of her closeness to Kōji.
       As Andrew Clare explains in his Afterword: "The Frolic of the Beasts is considered a parody of the classical Nō play Motomezuka"", its love triangle mirrored in the story of Ippei, Yūko, and Kōji as well as that of Kim and her suitors, and this secondary love triangle -- with Kōji drawn into it as well -- makes for an interesting second layer to the story. But it's a brief interlude-story: Kim is sent on her way -- she has to go back to her factory-job -- and the grip of The Frolic of the Beasts tightens on its central trio, who find themselves closer than ever.
       Kōji keeps reminding himself that he has repented, but with Yūko and Ippei encroaching he finds himself drawn further into this strange domestic web. And, as Kōji recognizes in Ippei:
     This man's soul is beginning to struggle behind a wall that has no exit, thought Kōji. Although he is not cognizant of the goings-on in the world, he can hear sounds outside -- he can hear the knock at the door.
       Readers know where this story is going, but Mishima still manages to keep up the tension in getting there. The weather is used effectively, as are the stray characters around the story, from the cat at the local bar to Kim as well as a local priest. The story builds up nicely, and even though Mishima opts for the very obvious rather often -- one scene has Kōji in his bed, separated from Yūko by mosquito-netting -- it's in keeping with generally sultry atmosphere. Admirably, too, the promised final 'wretched incident' is presented only after the fact, the novel shifting in an Afterword to a first-person narrator coming to the fore who learns the story and sees the photograph -- a nice and all the more poignant dramatically effective understated way of bringing the story to a close.
       His characters grating in a variety of ways against the rigid Japanese code of behavior, Mishima handles them -- and particularly Kōji and Yūko -- very well (if a bit puppet-master-obviously). Some of the writing can feel over-heated, but mostly it works for this story of simmering passions and carefully controlled actions -- punctured by flashes of overwhelming impulse. The sense of inevitability to it all, hovering from the first sentence on, is also effective.
       A dark but nicely turned and presented tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 November 2018

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The Frolic of the Beasts: Reviews: 獣の戯れ - the movie: Mishima Yukio: Books by Mishima Yukio under review: Books about Mishima Yukio under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Mishima Yukio (三島由紀夫) lived 1925 to 1970.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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