After the Banquet
Reading through this later work of Mishima's, I was very quickly reminded of a much earlier book, that being The Sound of Waves. Both are about love in post war Japan, one on a small quite secluded little island, and the other mostly in Tokyo. The earlier work focuses on young love, innocence, and though I felt it contained very slight hints that the romantic elements were appearing to disappear, it was still undoubtedly a work of simple and straightforward romance. In After the Banquet, however, we have a winter romance to pit against the spring of youth depicted previously and while there are positives appearing at times; such as people appearing to make great sacrifices for their love, and a women leaving behind her lust for action and money for a dream of steadiness into the afterlife, these appearances fade and are whipped away along with all the other lies.
But, to bring it all back to the beginning, Mishima gives us Kazu, a woman of about 55 years old, wildly successful in the restaurant business. While wealthy, she appears to worry about being dismissed as a type of whore. She meets Noguchi, a much older man, who appears to be at the end of a career involved in politics of the radical party. They meet, fall in love, and decide to marry. One may argue that the simplicity and understated value of the love here holds more power than the two teenagers in The Sound of Waves, as our older characters understand the world much more and still choose to give love another go. There love culminates in Nara, where in a perfect explanation of the two characters, the old man shows his love by formally announcing it to his old coworkers, while Kazu sees her love while standing in front the Omizutori festival, a festival of long tradition and burning flames. In the fire Kazu sees the love she wants, but in the tradition she sees the legitimacy she needs and the respectable placement she will gain in death after marrying such a traditional man.
It appears that Kazu will be happy working her restaurant during the week, and spending her weekends in the quiet retirement with her older husband. Here she will be given both success and respect, and often Kazu expresses her need have her ashes placed under the Noguchi name. However, when political opportunity pokes its head out Kazu is gung-ho to mix her success and respectability, by attempting to buy the election.
Not to spoil things from here, but things work out as they do, and Mishima while examining both politics and love takes an opportunity to share his own beliefs. There is a brilliant moment when two people involved in the election, both of whom had tried to use money to sway voters, meet and as apology, the winner makes a move to make sure the loser comes out on top in other arenas. So, they both win, but maybe every average person loses in the meantime.
Throughout the book Mishima sets something up that pays off on nearly the final page. This woman, so scared to lose respect, so sensitive to being seen as something of a prostitute, is always sure that anyone and everyone, not least of which is the reader, knows that she never, ever cheats on her husband. Throughout all the deceit and secrets this holds true. When the couple meets late on and the husband accuses Kazu of being "unfaithful" she is insulted to no end, but only by semantics. Noguchi explains, this old man was far less concerned with her flesh, but it was her intentions, her lack of integrity, honesty, and faithfulness of ideals, that insulted him.
Maybe that young couple on the island off of Ise might think that love is flesh, and Kazu never lost that idea, but the old Noguchi is far removed from the idea that love is sex, and honesty and trust far less important. For him at least, and probably Mishima as well at this point, such ideas are proof of a world dying from such failures at integrity.