Star


Star (1960), recently translated into English for a release in April of this year, is a novella by Yukio Mishima written in the first person and about celebrity and the exclusivity, pressures, and pleasures of stardom. A young man contemplates his experience of acting in a yakuza film, his rising fame, and his life off the set. Mishima wrote it soon after or during the filming of Afraid to Die (1960), in which he starred. The novella was originally published in a Japanese magazine.


The novella takes about an hour to read. What I found interesting is that it's somewhat of a memoir disguised as fiction. Mishima's protagonist here, who goes by the name Richie, philosophizes on super stardom and later comes to a conclusion that life is pretty much meaningless. He is regularly sent love letters from his young admirers, and he too adores his godlike status, telling us that the "worst" thing is to see his promotional poster face down on the street after a gust of wind. Towards the end, Richie mulls over the idea of killing himself, and sees an older celebrity, whose age he'd never hope to reach. Reading these parts it's hard not to think Richie is Mishima, suffering with thoughts of ending his life back then, a decade before he performed seppuku on a balcony at the Ichigaya Camp in 1970.


After watching Afraid to Die and reading Star, I read through a bunch of bits and pieces about Mishima online and discovered that he'd been raised in an area three blocks away from the office building where I work, in the Yotsuya area of Shinjuku. So on my lunch break I walked down there (like down into a valley) to see if I could find the address, realizing of course that the actual place where he'd grown up had very likely been torn down long ago and replaced with something else.


At the address was a lackluster three- or four-story apartment building, maybe with six flats at most. Behind it was a tiny art gallery with a damp concrete, basement-like or garage-like feel. This was just inside a little side street that dead-ended at a house on the slope of a rather steep hill. It really felt like I was at the bottom of the neighborhood, in this otherwise hilly area not quite between Yotsuya-sanchōme Station and Akebonobashi Station but a few blocks closer towards Shinjuku proper.


There's a graveyard down there too and a lonely park with a five-foot weathered totem pole for whatever reason. Anyway, I went into the gallery since the sliding door was open and I figured somebody would be inside and behind the hanging curtain, and they might be able to confirm I was at the right location. There were a couple dozen framed photographs on the wall, nothing striking. Sumimasen, I said, and then said it again, hoping whoever was in charge would appear from behind the curtain.


A timid woman stepped out and then stood leaning away from me as if I were about to leap at her or make off with one of the dull pictures. I asked her in Japanese if she knew if this was the spot where Yukio Mishima had lived as a boy. Despite my best Japanese, she gave me a quizzical look, as though I'd stuffed a sock in my mouth before asking an odd question. Long story short, she had no idea if someone named Yukio Mishima had lived there or lived there now. No idea. Arigato gozaimasu, I said with a quick bow. Shitsureishimashita. And up out of that gloomy deep neighborhood I went, back to my office. It was a lovely day for a walk, though. And the sun felt warmer once I'd left what may or may not have been the place where Mishima dreamed as a child.

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