(Vintage International, 1990)
Runaway Horses is the second book of Mishima's "Sea of Fertility" tetralogy, in which a single character, over the course of his life, is confronted with three incarnations of a dead school friend. Mishima is generally regarded as one of twentieth century Japan's greatest authors, but his legacy has been troubled. It's well known that he formed a cartoonish ultranationalist militia bent on protecting the emperor, and that he met his end committing seppuku after a failed attempt to rouse a military garrison into a rightist coup. It's also well known that he practiced kendo, lifted weights, frequented gay bars, and liked to have glamour shots of himself taken in which, among other things, he posed as St. Sebastien. When Runaway Horses was written in 1969, Mishima was increasingly viewed as an embarrassing anachronism, if not a dangerous figure of the extreme right.
Let's call a spade a spade: Mishima was a fascist author, or at least he would have liked to have been one. In this respect, Runaway Horses reads at times as Mishima's political manifesto. The context of the novel is Japan in 1931-32. The main character is a young kendoist who forms an ultrnationalist league with his schoolmates. They plot to assassinate the country's leading capitalists and then commit seppuku, in a bid to restore full legislative and executive powers to the emperor. The young men are very "pure". In fact the word "purity" appears so many times in the novel that it becomes annoying and almost meaningless (though it's interesting to note that at times it seems to mean something like Dostoevsky's Underground Man's notion of gratuitousness). In fact, purity in the hands of the league seems to pass over into pure vanity. I never realized how boring, mincing and petty fascism can be.
The novel is still somewhat interesting, however, because in the end the main character passes over from ultranationalism to nihilism. I won't ruin it for you, but anyone with an interest in Mishima's own bizarre biography can look to Runaway Horses for a clue. As I've already suggested, Mishima would have liked to have been a fascist. But one senses that when marching around in military garb he was not being honest with himself, that there's really something else going on. Though the novel is long and largely boring, it does speak to the possibility of believing in things, of purity even, in late modernity. And I think its assessment is profoundly negative.