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Love, Death and Fascist Iconography Essay

To the fascist artist, his or her own art is merely a vessel that encapsulates his or her own socially-motivated beliefs. The works of Yukio Mishima and Leni Riefenstahl, for instance, embody the essence of their individual nationalities at the height of their individual careers—nationalities that might transcend origin and geography, yet extol  culture, tradition, ritual and society.

 Mishima and Riefenstahl exhibit incredible parallelism in their works. Mishima, in his short story Patriotism, describe the human form with such detail and meticulousness reminiscent of Riefenstahl’s style in her 1930’s films. Much like Riefenstahl’s The Last of the Nuba, the naked body is depicted as a means of fascist iconography—the body, perfect and pure in its own way, merges with a bigger community of bodies of like characteristics (Evans 31).

Susan Sontag’s treatise on the works of Riefenstahl, Fascinating Fascism, breaks down the latter’s appreciation and fascination of the strong and beautiful Nuba figure as examples of Nazi ideology corresponding to the idea of aesthetics for fascists. Sontag writes, “Riefenstahl’s portrait of them evokes some of the larger themes of Nazi ideology: the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical (par. 27).”

This description is echoed in Mishima’s Patriotism, when the lead character Takeyama decides to commit seppuku—ritual suicide by disembowelment—as an act of redemption from the dishonor incurred when his comrades formed alliances with the mutineers.  Mishima’s imagery of Takeyama and his wife Reiko’s preparations for the ritual, as well as the metaphors he uses in describing the couple’s physical forms conveys a fascination for perfection and beauty a la Riefenstahl—remarkable symbols of fascist iconography, as Sontag would consider. In its own effect, Takeyama, Reiko and the Nuba become examples of the “master race”, where everyone is beautiful, strong, and does not age (Trimborn & McCown 256).

Mishima and Riefenstahl’s works are also parallel in such that their depictions of death are detailed, beautiful and almost enthralling.   In Patriotism, death in is portrayed as a reward, a happy and celebrated ceremony that requires the utmost preparation. In the Nuba culture, death is a central event, along with fighting.

In the Japanese culture, as evidenced by Mishima’s paramount detail in describing Takeyama’s death, death is a way for one to demonstrate his or her enduring loyalty and nationalism to the Imperial system. Death in both Mishima and Riefenstahl’s works surpass life’s merriest events—birth, marriage, love—at times besting even life itself.

Mishima writes, “All around, vastly and untidily, stretched the country for which he grieved. He was to give his life for it. But would that great country, which he was prepared to remonstrate to the extent of destroying himself take the slightest heed of his death? He did not know; and not matter (par. 63).” Takeyama’s examination of self not only mirrors the authors suggestions of his own death wish, it also echoes the sentiments of those under the spell of a fascist ideology—their so-called patriotism—that converts their idea of nationhood as something not only territorial, but equally and incredibly spiritual.

The young lieutenant and his bride chose their own death by seppuku, which may be seen as either an honorable and extremely devout approach, or as a self-destructive and deadly consequence of their fanaticism. Mishima unintentionally diverts the reader’s attention from this concept with his alluring illustrations of fascist ideals and concepts, again reminiscent of Riefenstahl’s imagery in her Nazi films. Sontag would consider it an absolute expression of fascist art, in the sense that it “glorifies surrender, exalts mindlessness, and glamorizes death (par. 36).” Above everything, Mishima verifies in his work and own life the burden that comes with the duty to abide by cultural tradition—duty can be all in one beautiful or ugly, life or death.

Works Cited

Evans, Mark. Movement Training for the Modern Actor. London, UK: Taylor and Francis,        2008.

Mishima, Yushio. “Patriotism.” Trans. Geoffrey W. Sargent. Mutantfrog Travelogue. 27            June 2009. <http://www.mutantfrog.com/patriotism-by-yukio-mishima/>

Sontag, Susan. “Fascinating Fascism. “ University of California Santa Barbara. 27 June 2009.             <http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/33d/33dTexts/SontagFascinFas    cism75.htm>

Trimborn, Jurgen & McCown, Edna. Leni Riefenstahl: A Life. New York: MacMillan, 2007.


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