Queer Legends

That time Yukio Mishima was read to filth by Japanese drag queen

When speaking of the all-time great queer authors, no list would be complete without Yukio Mishima, the Japanese writer whose tortured queer sexuality led him down many self-destructive paths. Perhaps the most famous thing about Mishima—outside of his best-remembered work, 1949’s Confessions of a Mask—is his death by seppuku in 1970, at the age of 45. Before that time, he became obsessed with making his body “perfect” by his own standards.

In his 1968 personal essay “Sun and Steel,” he talked about the project of getting his body into shape for death.

“I cherished a romantic impulse toward death,” Mishima wrote, “yet at the same time I required a strictly classical body as its vehicle; a peculiar sense of destiny made me believe that the reason why my romantic impulse toward death remained unfulfilled in reality was the immensely simple fact that I lacked the necessary physical qualifications.”

Mishima may have had a romantic idea about becoming a perfect corpse, but there was another impetus for Mishima’s body obsession. According to the Japanese singer, drag queen, and Miyazaki voice actor Akirhiro Miwa, who danced with Mishima at a gay club in the 60s and possibly had a longer term romantic relationship with the author, it was a comment Miwa made that started the Mishima on this particular path.

Miwa commented on Mishima’s padded physique and ribbed him gently. Chadification soon followed.

Obviously it’s more complicated than that: a chance observation from a friend or lover usually isn’t enough to make someone completely change their attitude to their body, yet this exchange between the two queer legends is interesting to think about. Miwa and Mishima found themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum: Mishima was controversially excited about the butch possibilities of Japanese militarism, while Miwa, a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, was rightly critical of it. Yet the two found themselves thrown together in queer spaces at a time when outright queerness was far from celebrated. Their romantic relationship has long been speculated about, with Miwa providing some fascinating details.

When Mishima put an end to his life in 1970, Miwa was just getting start in film and TV. A year before, Miwa even played the villain Black Lizard in Mishima’s adaptation of a novel by writer Tarō Hirai. Their paths kept crossing, even after Mishima was long gone.

At 87 years old, Miwa is still a force to be reckoned with. And Mishima’s influence, both in Japan and the States, has only grown as new generations have rediscovered his work.

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