On Mishima, Immortality and "Ordeal by Roses"

Çağla Özbek
Duygu Demir




Many years ago, I wrote a story that I never attempted to publish; its main character was a swimmer who could only speak underwater. Following a family crisis he dared not remember, the only thing this mute swimmer could recall about this period was a hand-drawn  indigo fountain on a shard of Japanese plate, smashed to pieces after hitting a wall, its waters somehow still flowing peacefully from behind the door where it landed. My acquaintance with Japanese writer, poet, actor, and bodybuilder Yukio Mishima (b. 1925, Tokyo) came about thanks to the advice of a friend who, while reading my story, took the ornamental fountain tucked behind the door as a sign that I would love Mishima's writing with all my heart. Indeed, I really came to the work of Mishima, constructing as he does a world of beauty, violence and death where the painterly and the written word are constantly intertwined. Mishima's writing uses words to deftly sketch images and inject them with tense layers of meaning, using them not unlike tarot cards. Over the years, as the time and attention I have come to devote to the processes of drawing with text or reading images and photographs have grown, I have often felt the presence of Mishima's shadow lurking just behind the corner.


The focus of this article is Ordeal by Roses (Orig. Ba-ra-kei)1, a book that brings together a series of photographs which emerged from a collaboration between the photographer Eikoh Hosoe (b. 1933, Hiroshima) and Mishima. The publication comprises photographs taken between 1961-62, during which Hosoe captured Mishima in his home, positioning him within a series of elaborately composed setups. These photographs are the result of a creative partnership between Mishima and Hosoe that began when Hosoe was invited to Mishima's home to shoot the cover of the author's essay collection Assault on Beauty ("Bi no shūgeki") in September 1961, and later evolved over 10 sessions. Spread over five chapters, the photographs capture the role of the tragic figure that Mishima meticulously created for himself using his body; in a sense, Ordeal by Roses constitutes the author's personal testimony in visual format.


On their first meeting, Mishima, clad in a tiny swimsuit, greeted Hosoe by the pool in his garden and told the young photographer, then still in his early twenties, that he loved his photographs of the butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata; Mishima said he reached out to Hosoe via his editor so that he would also photograph him in his own way. Hosoe recalled this first encounter in 2010 as follows: "I soon realized Mishima never wanted a banal ‘portrait of the author.' In offering himself as the ‘subject matter' of my photographs, I thought he might have wanted to become a dancer himself. I was still in my 20s then, so I was naïve. I was unable to distinguish between an international literary figure and a dancer."2 Was there really any distinction to be made between an international literary figure and a dancer? Was there truly a visible difference to be discerned? This is the fundamental question that lies behind Hosoe's photographs in Ordeal by Roses. The very same question also applies to Mishima, who throughout his writing career sustained a performance both tragicomic and literary, taking in the memory of death and illusion, as well as notions of visibility and secrecy. In this text, I attempt to trace this question of text and images through both Ordeal by Roses and themes visible in Mishima's literary work.  

In his photographs, Hosoe approaches the human body as a series of cartographies tracing feelings of loneliness and disconnection whereby Elio Luxardo's platinum nudes seem to meld with the abstract, pictorial spaces of Brassaï. Yet Hosoe's photographs also carry traces of the controlled, ethereal movements of traditional Nō theater.3 When we think of the body as a map of desire, and consider Mishima's vacillating relationship with tradition and the avant-garde both in his work and life, it does not come as a surprise that he found in Hosoe's photographs things that already existed in himself as well as others that he desperately desired to possess. Hosoe's photographic eye is theatrical and melodramatic to the exact degree that invites Mishima to pose for him voluntarily. But Mishima, the bodybuilder, Mishima, the host who greets his guests at his cocktail parties by ostentatiously descending the stairs, Mishima, the nationalist committed to saving his country from degeneration, Mishima, obsessed with confining himself to paternal and mythological structures, is naturally in control of the poses he takes, through the parameters he set as well as through the introduction he penned for the book. Ordeal by Roses, then, constitutes a record of an unrestrained but voluntary process of abduction, as well as an illustrated rumination on civilization, which Mishima so carefully sets up as a push and pull between "control" and "release" both in his art and life.


Rejlander Introduces Rejlander, the Volunteer — Oscar Gustav Rejlander, c. 1871. © The Royal Photographic Society Collection, Bristol.4




"When I examine closely my early childhood, I realize that my memory of words reaches back far farther than my memory of the flesh. In the average person, I imagine, the body precedes language. In my case, words came first of all; then—belatedly, with every appearance of extreme reluctance, and already clothed in concepts—came the flesh. It was already, as goes without saying, sadly wasted by words."

Sun and Steel, Yukio Mishima (translated by John Bester)


"I do not know why it matters that I should tell the truth to myself at night, why it should matter that the truth should be spoken at least once in the world. Because the world is a place of silence, the sky at night when the birds have gone is a vast silent place. Words will make the slightest difference to the sky at night. They will not brighten it or make it less strange. And the day too has its own deep indifference to anything that is said."


The Testament of Mary, Colm Tóibín


The 1963 edition of Ordeal by Roses resembles a traditional black-and-white memoir, while the 1971 edition is a cloth-bound album, comprising separate sheets in a box. The 1985 version, however, the subject of this very text, was reprinted fifteen years after Mishima's suicide, and is a rollicking final testimony. On the paper dust jacket, Mishima can be seen gazing defiantly at the viewer, his face appearing in the role of a powdered mask in spring colors. Inside this is the canvas bound hardcover in imperial purple.5 Neither Mishima nor roses are to be found on its cover, however; instead, the cover bears a huge oval embossed in muted silver.



In his book In Praise of Shadows, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki speaks of the unease with which Eastern culture regards gilding and gloss. Is the blind mirror on the linen cover of Ordeal by Roses implying that we incessantly pursue claims or discoveries made about ourselves with borrowed light? The Latin root of the word "illusion" is "ludere," in other words, it finds its origins in "play". For centuries, the mirror has been the common playground of the artist, the magician and the devil. We have long suffered from a certain distrust for our own eyes; text and image have often gone hand in hand in this respect. Furthermore, when it comes to photography, science and magic, testimony and enchantment have tended to mingle since the 19th century. Ordeal by Roses is thus a series of negotiations with the art of photography itself—it is testament to Mishima's erring and justification of himself with the help of Eikoh Hosoe's hand, eye and collaboration.


A "magic lamp", or "horror lamp", developed in the 17th century to project photographic images onto a wall, often used to surprise or frighten the beholder.  — Willem Jacob 's Gravesande. Mathematical Elements of Natural Philosophy Confirm'd by Experiments, 1731. 



In the photographs in Ordeal by Roses, Mishima is at times seen in the garden of his house, while at others, he becomes part of the compositions of iconic Renaissance paintings. The author is seen exhibiting his body within the framework of an erotic and glamorous album cover, the body which, as he puts it, he developed by ‘testing it with sun and steel.' Naturally, the allure of this series of photographs also conceals a writer, a man who is the pride of his beloved country, someone who essentially calls himself into being with words, now surrendering himself to the world of images, frame by frame. In Mishima's world, we are often faced with the desire to devour both the source and the subject of bodily desire, and to transform into it. In Confessions of a Mask, the narrator recalls how, at four years of age, he noticed a young man on the street carrying buckets of refuse, his muscular body glimmering in the afternoon sun, and felt both the pain of burning desire towards him, and an excruciating longing to be him, to transform into him. For Mishima and the reflections of himself in his fiction, images of muscular, powerful and tragic bodies are not merely worlds in whose testimony it is possible to hide, but indeed as a potentiality which can gradually be penetrated through meticulous study and effort; these bodies are road maps for achieving mastery and thereby becoming whole. If we take a closer look at Mishima's life and writing, the sort of linear journey he takes towards visibility is not unexpected, it seems to merely be a matter of timing. Behind the apparent acquiescence in this series of photographs, which emerged following Mishima's invitation to Hosoe —and keeping in mind the world of Mishima, where homeland, tradition, body and domination are essential tenets—there is a relationship of control and resistance inherent to the dynamic between the viewer/photographer and the subject.


These photographs allude to deeply intimate and little-spoken issues; they range from Mishima's interest in classical painting and erotic explorations to parallels between his home and the construction of his self-image. This is a dynamic work of co-translation between Hosoe and Mishima from word to image, body to machine. 

Ordeal by Roses has five chapters. In the first section, titled "Prelude," are what Mishima in his foreword describes as "variations on a consistent theme:" images executed in different techniques and materials, including pastels and woodcuts, as well as collages where jewel-colored details become graphic accents: a saint's hand holding a sword, a woodcut print of a kneeling figure with his back turned, his naked rear end defined by soft lines, a blurry pastel owl in a hurry, those two lovers whose faces melt into each other with a preternatural passion, depicted tirelessly by Chagall, pointed rose thorns threatening the two lovers from the skies… This initial chapter announces the laws of this photographic universe, which reveals itself leaf by leaf over the following sections.



Mishima, whose body came to him after words, and who treated it as a garden circumscribing his spirit, describes his transformation from novelist to pictorial and photographic subject in the preface with the following words: "First of all, thus, the externals of the objects to be photographed must be precisely defined and in a state of affairs established where, for instance, the model's eye can be, quite simply, an eye and his back a back. Before Hosoe's camera, I was trained until whether I stared into the lens or turned my back on it completely meant exactly the same to me. If the flesh of my back and the retina of my eye were both treated simply as externals, what sense could there be to looking?"6 However, according to Mishima, a similar transformation was also the case for Hosoe, who was on the other side of the camera: "Yet I was not the only one who was placed in a position where he did not rely on his own eyes. It was the same for Hosoe, too, as a photographer. Quite obviously, as he peered into the viewfinder, he was waiting for some metamorphosis to overtake the objects he saw there. From beginning to end, his operations were aimed at preparing a state of affairs where his own eyes might be successfully betrayed…"7

"The Citizen's Daily Round"


Obviously, the relationship of trust and submission we have with our own eyes bears some similarities to the relationship between the photographer and his subject. Isn't "trusting the eye" a strange and complicated notion in itself? The hope that photographic processes can document the indisputable and essential reality of a particular moment has existed since the invention and spread of photography. The allegedly foundational doctrine of fiction writing, namely, "write what you know," is often similarly rooted in a fear of emptiness and uncertainty. Supposedly, photography is a world built on absolute confidence in the human eye, and fiction writing relies on a carefully composed economy where indisputable human truths are the main currency. However, a writer who has experienced the horror of being petrified along with the rock they depict with words must surely be aware that what is deemed to be the ‘persuasiveness of the image and the word' is far from total confidence in documenting what is known; rather, it hails from the vast darkness of intuition and elimination. Moreover, Mishima forged timeless still-lives out of decaying reality not only in the photographs he modeled for, but also in his own writing. For the image and the text, namely in gesture and metaphor respectively, reality is constructed and reconstructed each and every time; it is a possibility always hanging the air —and it seems that it is these countless betrayals of the rigidity Mishima sought in images and in his own writing that brought about his own end.8




Saint Sebastian — Guido Reni, c. 1615. Musei di Strada Nuova, Palazzo Rosso, Genoa. 


"Some time passed, and then, with miserable feelings, I looked around the desk I was facing. A maple tree at the window was casting a bright reflection over everything—over the ink bottle, my school books and notes, the dictionary, the picture of St. Sebastian. There were cloudy-white splashes about—on the gold-imprinted title of a textbook, on a shoulder of the ink bottle, on one corner of the dictionary. Some objects were dripping lazily, leadenly, and others gleamed dully, like the eyes of a dead fish. Fortunately, a reflex motion of my hand to protect the picture had saved the book from being soiled."

                                                                                    Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima (Translated by Meredith Weatherby)


The second chapter of the book, "The Citizen's Daily Round" concerns the moments of shock that ooze from the calm hours of the day—those slow-motion minutes of horror, when the furniture begins to cast foreign shadows as everything continues in its normal course, and the air suddenly thickens. Isn't it the case that what makes stock photographs, produced to represent ordinary situations, often to accompany news reels, unbearably disturbing is the fact that the mediocrity promised through these images is not fluid, but rather viscous and sticky, sometimes even petrified as in Pompeii? In a similar fashion, the photographs in this chapter also revolve around those moments when mediocrity is fossilized, forming an alien history frozen at the most unexpected period in time. For instance, in these grainy black and white frames, we first see Mishima in front of his house with a rose branch hanging from his chest in what appears to be a solitude family picture. Later, we see him leaning on a Baroque marble table in contemplation, the transposition of a chubby baby Jesus beside him. He then appears swinging a hammer9 against the backdrop of the marble zodiac wheel in his garden, and finally, he is finally laying to rest, enwrapped by a slithering garden hose.


"The Citizen's Daily Round"


The simultaneity of stillness and movement, the exchange of life and death in these photographs are reminiscent of a series of photographic experiments conducted by Doctor Hippolyte Baraduc in Paris in 1913. As part of a scientific study into the ‘here and the eternal,' Doctor Baraduc attempted to transcribe the movements of the human soul into an image. The photographs and accompanying text, published by Baraduc as The Human Soul, Its Movements, Its Lights, and the Iconography of the Fluidic Invisible, adopted the opposite of the representational principle of the photographic technique which relies on sunlight, claiming that darkness is a unique tool for revealing the inherent vibrations of living creatures. He called his technique ‘iconography' and attempted to explore manifestations of the living and their invisible extensions in the dark. According to Baraduc, these images, which were revealed through a series of chemical agreements and discords, contained the parapsychological mysteries of the human soul. Baraduc's convoluted processes and scientific myths aside, the striking quality of these grainy maps is shared by Hosoe's photographs, where Mishima is captured in his house at midday in blurred blacks and whites. The attempt to document the dreams, thoughts and moods of humans in tangible ways is an ancient fancy—sometimes even within the framework of positive sciences. The ability of one artist to visualize the dreams, thoughts and reflections of his object and subject is not only a testament to the fragile power exchange and creative partnership between Hosoe and Mishima, but may also function as the very definition of fiction writing itself.



The title of the third chapter, which follows the section in which Hosoe and Mishima dangled time in the air and reached beyond the quotidian, is "The Laughing Clock or the Idle Witness." The photographs in this chapter pursue the storied knot at the center of every traditional work of fiction, namely, the pressure and the unraveling, the dissolution and the transformation. In other words, these photographs are seeking movement itself. In the preface to the book, Mishima says that, in this chapter, it was the ‘model' who had to transform, thus completely evolving into a disdainful witness. He claims that a photograph can only be one of two things: a record, or a testimony. It is certain that Mishima, whose body hosts both an actor and an author, makes use of record and testimony in ample measure. Moreover, Mishima's approach to photography as either record of, or testament to, the object's essence speaks to his expectations of his creative partnership with Hosoe. It is no wonder that a mind so defined by dualities and contrasts, yet one only able to flourish in certainties, cannot escape the tension of holding opposites together without knocking down some tables. Moreover, when Mishima ultimately sees that neither a record nor a testimony is the way to the pure sincerity he seeks, it is no surprise he turns the steel against himself and puts an end to his life. One of the things that makes Mishima so attractive and dazzling as a creator is his passion for boundary and tradition, which is always followed by a desperate loyalty; another is his dedication and effort to make visible the tension between the interior and the exterior. He strikes himself against a thousand rocks, trying to settle into his body by gaining muscle in  "the test of sun and steel," and then surrenders to what has existed for thousands of years; giving in to the timeless binaries of ‘subordinate' and ‘superior', of ‘femininity' and ‘masculinity,' and then ultimately, to patriarchal power.

The traditional tale of the ‘bad boy,' of destructiveness and masculine anger, is relatively linear and familiar. However, in Mishima's narrative, where he continuously re-writes his life through his work and his body, trying to cope with the pleasure of experiencing a perfection that is constantly changing and decaying, and sensing that he can only speak to the sharp corners of the world by inhabiting the voice of authority, he is left breathless by the responsibility he assumes; his syllables are cut short. Once enough time has passed, all childhoods are defined by unmet needs and promises. Some bad boys can only leave the house when they are obliged to return: following the trauma of the Second World War and Hiroshima, Mishima found Japan diluting its essence with modernization, moving away from myths and traditions and being ‘drunk with prosperity' through novel economic initiatives. But his bodily and literary response to this period of wealth, which he saw as shameful degeneration, was a violent conservatism and an unreasonable longing for the customs of previous centuries, and moreover, a flamboyant excess in the aesthetic world. "When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished," once wrote Philip Roth, supposedly; yet it seems that Mishima could never find it in himself to break up his family (and his homeland). Behind the claim to gradually, tearfully squeeze transformation out of binaries, was a feeling of cowardice and shame. So then this is precisely why the clock cannot hold back its laughter while it counts the time in The Ordeal by Roses; it is the most attentive witness to the colossal rift between Mishima's irreconcilable positions.


"The Laughing Clock or the Idle Witness"


Ultimately, Mishima intended to create a national hero, a writer, a warrior, an actor, an entertainer, and a sex symbol from the little boy who lost his voice and gasped with desire upon encountering Jesus on the cross, writhing in blood and tears in the picture book in his grandmother's library. "The Laughing Clock or the Idle Witness" is evidence of Mishima's bargaining with Hosoe for these attributes, as well as an attempt to go down in history as a tragic figure in his own terms. These photographs, conceived as both a record and a testimony, with the hope that they will never betray the essence of the subject and the objects it contains, also says something about the umbilical link between fetish and death. Perhaps this is the reason why fetish and photography are so in love with each other: a fetish is not about movement and transformation, but about freezing, petrifying with the knowledge of one's own weight. It is a room that can house time only as long as its doors are shut—a room that does not breathe. In Mishima's own writing, I believe that both the clock's laughter and the silent scorn of the witness are hidden in this very room.


According to Mishima, the tradition that the fourth chapter of The Ordeal by Roses follows is the simultaneously elegant and brutal discipline of the Japanese warrior, as well as the art of painting that ‘brought an end' to photography. These photographs, which register the Renaissance classics included in the frames through the use of double exposure, are dominated by painterly gestures. In the photographs, Mishima appears to be included in Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Boltraffio's The Virgin and Child, Perugino's Apollo and Marsyas; his naked body appears inside and alongside sacred silhouettes. In this narrative, which begins in Mishima's house, the body of the writer eventually begins to split into limbs, dissolving into compositions by different painters, and into Hosoe's own vision. 


However, I think that the most striking, thought-provoking and symbolic frame of the Ordeal by Roses is from the last part of the publication, "The Retribution of the Rose." In this frame, rather than being included in an existing traditional composition, Mishima stands in front of a "Renaissance background" specially created for the photograph. He takes the place of the tense serpent awaiting transcendence in the Tree of Knowledge on which Cranach's Adam and Eve absently lean.


Left: Adam and Eve imaged with infrared reflectogram showing traces of old tremors and splits in the wood beneath the flawless surface. Right: In the X-ray, Eve's hand is preparing to pick another apple instead of holding the branch, Adam's fingers are in motion as he scratches his forehead. The snake awaits. Adam and Eve — Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526. The Courtauld Institute of Art, Department of Conservation. 


While the deer and lambs of Eden, symbolizing the innocence and salvation of Jesus/man, seem to roam apathetically around Cranach's Adam and Eve, Mishima and Hosoe's paradise is interrupted by the two-dimensional wooden surface which appears just within the borders of the frame, as well as the leg of another male figure, creating different layers of meaning and time. Beneath the surface of Cranach's painting—where unworldly tranquility is depicted in pearlescent tones, the moment before it is disturbed—lies the painter's changing thought process as regards Adam and Eve. In the previous layers of paint applied on the wooden panel, rendered visible by X-ray, we see Adam's hands resting thoughtfully on his head in several positions, in different stages of hesitancy, while Eve's hand appears to intend to pick the next apple.


Right: Adam and Eve imaged with infrared reflectogram showing traces of old tremors and splits in the wood beneath the flawless surface. Right: In the X-ray, Eve's hand is preparing to pick another apple instead of holding the branch, Adam's fingers are in motion as he scratches his forehead. The snake is awaiting.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Conservation Department


This restless movement underlying the final, finished phase of the painting is mirrored both in Mishima's written work and in Hosoe's series of photographs: for Mishima, this stunted sense of movement is an obligation on the part of his characters, who are fictional extensions of himself. For Hosoe, it is reflected in the bodies contracting within his frames. Artworks painted on wooden panels inevitably bear the hallmarks of centuries past, in the form of cracks which form on the surface due to temperature differences and environmental factors. Conservation practices focus on reducing these existing tensions and rendering them invisible, in part by predictive analysis as to where the grain of the wood panel will expand and compress. (Is the lone stork seeking its tranquil reflection in the water aware of these other impending threats?) In both Mishima's work and the Bible, however, peace and beauty are in constant and apparent processes of erosion, since the human body is always imperfect and incomplete.

In his magnificent work The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Leo Steinberg notes the disproportionate emphasis on Christ's genitals in depictions both of the body of Christ child and the corpse of the adult Christ in the devotional depictions replete in Renaissance art, and he reflects on the possible reasons for this particular emphasis. He mentions how in these religious representations, produced hundreds of times from the 1400s to the 1600s, the ‘main event' revolves around figures around Jesus who point to, touch, or discover his genitals. According to Steinberg, the poses, movements and gestures of the figures in these paintings are both master naturalist depictions reminiscent of real daily life, and, at the same time, they are loaded with certain meanings and attributions that have been repeated and solidified during the previous centuries in the history of art (quite like the way in which stock photographs combine the quotidian, the timeless and the didactic on a singular surface). Even though the intervening centuries obscured these meanings in Renaissance depictions and diversified their interpretations, according to Steinberg, this exaggerated emphasis on Christ's genitals is a sign of "God's descent to manhood," that is, this is a sign that God is indisputably male. The reflection of God in this world, that is, his copy, the Christ child, appears to have recourse to its original in this way. This depicted Catholic Christ—unlike images of Christ in previous centuries—does not need to prove that he is God, thus he is free to appear as human. The savior of humanity in these depictions is undeniably human, fragile and male.


Left: In the final chapter of Ba-ra-kei, Mishima's body finally surrenders completely to Western time and imagery. Right: Black and white negative of the Holy Shroud of Turin, believed to contain an impression of the body of Jesus after he was taken down from the cross, 1898. (World Imaging, 2009.)


Now, look above to see how Adam's genitals are surrounded and emphasized by the antlers in an almost comically precise fashion in Cranach's Adam and Eve—then look at the little black triangle in the photograph, the only piece of clothing that Mishima is wearing. Mishima was deeply uncomfortable with the domestication of the essentially brutal and ruthless Japanese war philosophy; he believed that it had been exhausted of its power after the war and was now conveniently represented only by grace, beauty, and pink blossom. Was it a coincidence that, given this unease, he turned to bodybuilding and, moreover, to a unique combination of nihilism and nationalism? Hosoe's photographs of Mishima appear to be documents of power, illustrating a flawed and devoted human attempting to reach eternity through mastery. Ultimately, these photographs arise from within the tautology and riddle inherent in any claim that a photograph documents an indisputable and neutral reality: Mishima believed that he could reach his humanity insofar as he could mythologize himself—as such, Ordeal by Roses constitutes a pictorial narrative of gradual destruction, rather than immortality.



(1) The series was first published in book form in 1963 as Killed by Roses, which was a title jointly agreed upon by Mishima and Hosoe. In 1969, when it came to reprinting the book in bilingual format in Japanese and English, Mishima decided to change the title of the publication to Ordeal by Roses (in order to better accommodate the English title, which was directly translated from the Japanese original as "Punishment of the Roses").

(2) ​​"Eikoh Hosoe: ‘Subject Matter.'" AMERICAN SUBURB X, 26 Apr. 2020, https://americansuburbx.com/2010/06/eikoh-hosoe-subject-matter.html.

(3) In her series Body Configurations (1972-1980s), Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT constructs a relationship between the body and its surroundings from a similar vantage point that is reminiscent of Hosoe's frames. In Body Configurations though, the silently persistent body of a single woman is seen in poses simultaneously aggressive and supplicant as it relates to the monumental architecture of Vienna's Ringstraße.

(4) Speaking of the artist's construction and presentation of different faces, in this early example of pictorial academic photography aiming to bury the truth via chemical processes in order to elevate it using photomontage and retouching, Swedish photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander brings together the two different public roles he has adopted in the same frame, namely the soldier ready to serve the empire and the sensitive artist.

(5) Imperial purple is a deep purple color high in red tones that was produced by the Phoenicians from sea snails and used to dye their ceremonial attire in what is presently the Lebanese city of Tire. Hosoe notes that in this later edition of Ba-ra-kei from 1985, designer Kiyoshi Awazu deliberately opted for colors heavy in meaning such as imperial purple and blood red.

(6) Hosoe, Eikoh, and Yukio Mishima. "Preface" Ba-ra-kei - Ordeal by Roses: Photographs of Yukio Mishima, Aperture, New York, NY, 1985, p. 2.

(7) Hosoe, Eikoh, and Yukio Mishima. "Preface" Ba-ra-kei - Ordeal by Roses: Photographs of Yukio Mishima, Aperture, New York, NY, 1985, p. 3.

(8) Mishima's taking of his own life in a public suicide ceremony performed at the top of the army headquarters building which he stormed together with a revolutionary brigade of his students in 1970 naturally invites some retrospective revaluation of his life and literary work, though I approach the personality cult around this planned destruction with a certain ambivalence regarding its contribution to dissolving the boundaries between fiction and biography, deeming it largely outside the scope of this essay.

(9) The photograph in which Mishima swings a hammer, standing on the circular zodiac mosaic in his garden with one foot in Capricorn and the other in Aquarius, corresponds to the beginning of my obsession with Ordeal by Roses. I can't help but wonder at length about Mishima's relationship with astrology: his choice to swing the hammer towards his own sun sign suggests that he at least had a superficial understanding of it. Saturn, the ruling planet of Capricorn, has been subject to novel interpretations following the publication of Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil by astrologer and psychoanalyst Liz Greene. In classical astrology, Saturn symbolizes the cornerstones of society that "needn't be moved," the traditional authoritarian father figure whose humanity is always obscured, arduous school assignments, as well as the pleasure that arises from constricting and being constricted. Saturn, in turn, promises trust and continuity. So in a way it would be apt if Mishima's portrait were to be used as an alternative icon for the sign of Capricorn, who, internalizing all the practices of Saturn, is the natural distributor of both discipline and punishment.





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Hosoe Eikō, et al. Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses: Photographs of Yukio Mishima. Aperture, 1985. 

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