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CompleteMartialArts.com - Sun and Steel

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Manufacturer: Kodansha International
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 813
EAN: 9784770029034
ISBN: 4770029039
Label: Kodansha International
Manufacturer: Kodansha International
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 108
Publication Date: 2003-04-11
Publisher: Kodansha International
Studio: Kodansha International

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Editorial Reviews:

In this fascinating document, one of Japan's best known-and controversial-writers created what might be termed a new literary form. It is new because it combines elements of many existing types of writing, yet in the end fits into none of them.
At one level, it may be read as an account of how a puny, bookish boy discovered the importance of his own physical being; the "sun and steel" of the title are themselves symbols respectively of the cult of the open air and the weights used in bodybuilding. At another level, it is a discussion by a major novelist of the relation between action and art, and his own highly polished art in particular. More personally, it is an account of one individual's search for identity and self-integration. Or again, the work could be seen as a demonstration of how an intensely individual preoccupation can be developed into a profound philosophy of life.
All these elements are woven together by Mishima's complex yet polished and supple style. The confession and the self-analysis, the philosophy and the poetry combine in the end to create something that is in itself perfect and self-sufficient. It is a piece of literature that is as carefully fashioned as Mishima's novels, and at the same time provides an indispensable key to the understanding of them as art.
The road Mishima took to salvation is a highly personal one. Yet here, ultimately, one detects the unmistakable tones of a self transcending the particular and attaining to a poetic vision of the universal. The book is therefore a moving document, and is highly significant as a pointer to the future development of one of the most interesting novelists of modern times.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Probably not for the general reader.
Comment: Sun and Steel is a book-length essay which describes Mishima's effort to recover himself from the "corrosive" nature of words through developing his physical beauty and prowess. On the most superficial level it is about bodybuilding. On another level, it is about a man attempting to reclaim his identity later in life, and doing so with discipline and knowledge of the nature of time.

I am honestly not sure that this book is worth reading unless you are generally familiar with Mishima's biography and work. I would recommend that people interested in this book first read Confessions of a Mask and at least one of the novels.

The exception to this recommendation would be readers looking for specific work on bodybuilding in literature. As I side note, I found it interesting to note the similarities between what Kathy Acker and Mishima had to say on the subject. (Wouldn't Mishima have been horrified by the comparison?)

The essay seems written more quickly than other works in the Mishima canon. I had trouble engaging with it at times, and found it more interesting biographically than as a work in its own right.

The book is bound with an Epilogue called F104 and a poem called Icarus. The Best translation felt competent, although there were some noticable typographic errors which I hope were corrected in later editions of the book.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Props to Mishima, a philosopher who walked his talk
Comment: This book is a literary type that was once common in Japan, the self-obsessive partial memoir. But Mishima's style, tone, and content are absolutely unique.

He writes about the relation between world and word, body and mind or spirit. But to me, the most interesting aspect of this book, and Mishima's whole outlook is something that's often overlooked. It is this, he could not stand ugliness. He shrank from (his own perception of) ugliness as we would from a rabid rat. So then, how did he define beauty and ugliness? You may call it shallow but no matter, this book makes no apologies: beauty or ugliness lie in physical appearance, body and face.

To most of us there are many kinds of beauty, and maybe that multi-perception keeps us going - we see or imagine the beauty of inner virtue, selfless giving, artistic projection, humility or humor and so on. A wide expansive definition.

But there's room on your bookshelf for somebody who takes an uncompromising view: beauty is the beauty of your body and your appearance. While it can be crafted and guided by external method (who knows what Mishima would have thought of the cosmetic surgery craze now sweeping China), ultimately physical beauty to him is the only important projection of the soul.

The insanely monomaniacal American football coach Vince Lombardi once said "Winning isn't everything - it's the only thing". This book, despite all its meandering and subtle threads, is really saying just that, about beauty - it's the only thing. And Mishima, at mid-life, was losing all illusions about attaining or retaining any personal beauty.

Of course what sheds the interesting backlight on this book for most readers is Mishima's dramatic seppuku at Ichigaya Japan self-defense force headquarters. (Reminds me of the wit who stated, when informed of Sylvia Plath's suicide, "Good career move".) People read this book to try to unravel the mystery of it.

But in light of what I've said above, about beauty and Mishima's uniquely narrow definition of it, this book leaves no mystery to his action. Just as Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray slashed the ugliness accumulated on his horribly aging portrait, Mishima, lacking a magic painting, did just the same to his own body - sentenced it to death for the crimes of aging and ugliness.

It is entirely summed up by the following single line from 'Sun and Steel':

"I had already lost the morning face that belongs to youth alone."

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: Please, people, PLEASE!
Comment: So Mishima finds out through exercise that he's been wasting his time with the writing. He writes all about that. Attention liberal: this review is helpful.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Mishima turns Mishima inside out
Comment: This isn't Mishima's best work. Mostly because he is too close to the subject. At once a guide book on his beliefs and how he transformed himself from "bookish" into a physical specimen. But you can see his troubled focus shift from the internal Mishima to the external Mishima.

To me this is an explanation of something even Mishima doesnt understand. More of a catharsis of the self than a clearly defined work.

Many of the descriptions of Mishima's internal evaluations sound almost as if he was dealing with aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder. Which would make his style of death even more ironic and symbolic.

Don't get me wrong, this is true Mishima -- makes us think and examine ourselves even as he talks of himself.

Any work by Mishima is worth reading and adding to your collection. It took me years to find a copy, now it is available for everyone -- I wouldn't hesitate to buy or read.


Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Fascinating insights into a mysterious character
Comment: Every author should write at least one of these books of personal reflection. This is not the only place you can get a glimpse of the inner workings of Mishima's mind ("Confessions of a Mask" and "Patriotism" are good examples).

Of course, this is assuming the book accurately reflects the author's views. If you have read Mishima biographies such as Stokes' "Life and Death of Yukio Mishima" you might agree that "Sun and Steel" is a true reflection of the author's feelings. Otherwise, you might not have a good frame of reference.

It's a good idea not to make this the first of Mishima's works that you read (the aforementioned biography and "Confessions of A Mask" are suitable prerequisites). However, it is an interesting work in its own right.

My main reason for not giving this book 5 stars is that I was longing for more depth into his character than could be provided in so short a work; but maybe that's just because of my fascination with the author's life.

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