Runaway Horses

Author: Yukio Mishima
Translator: Michael Gallagher
U.S. publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9780671436865
Released: June 1981

After finishing Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow I knew that I was going to be continuing with the rest of his books in The Sea of Fertility tetralogy and would most likely pursue his other works as well. Runaway Horses is the second volume in the sequence and like Spring Snow was translated into English by Michael Gallagher who has once again done a great job of it. Runaway Horses captures the early years of the Shōwa period in Japan (1926-1989), particularly the rise of ultra-nationalism. The Westernization and modernization first begun during the Meiji era (1868-1912)—also important to the story of Runaway Horses—has dramatically increased and there are those who demand Japan return to itself and who are willing to resort to violence to make this happen.

In 1932, nearly twenty years after the death of his beloved friend Kiyoaki, Shigekuni Honda is now an established and respected judge at the Osaka Court of Appeals. While attending a kendo tournament he meets an intense young man by the name of Isao Iinuma, a promising and skilled athlete who also happens to be the son of Kiyoaki’s former tutor Shigeyuki Iinuma. As the book progresses, Honda becomes more and more convinced that Isao is actually the reincarnation of his friend Kiyoaki. But Isao is definitely his own man. A student at his father’s Academy of Patriotism, his ideals and fervor extend far beyond his indoctrination at school. Inspired by The League of the Divine Wind (a pamphlet recounting the Shimpūren Rebellion), Isao is determined to initiate the return of honor and purity to Japan and in doing so sacrifice his own life.

It is not absolutely necessary to have read Spring Snow before reading Runaway Horses although it will certainly enhance the experience. The books, just like Kiyoaki and Isao, are very different while somehow still retaining a sense of commonality at their core. Each book’s style captures the personalities of their respective protagonists remarkably well; where Spring Snow is rather romantic, Runaway Horses is much more aggressive in its approach. The portrayal of Isao, a passionate young man who is also a violent extremist, is exceptional—terrifying and even inspiring despite his naïveté. I certainly don’t necessarily agree with him or his methods, but the devotion to his ideals and his charismatic nature shines through and makes for quite an impact.

Runaway Horses was somewhat slow to start, but by the end of the book I was completely invested. The emotional intensity and its buildup is tremendous. Like Spring Snow the book feels ominous from the very beginning; something tragic is going to happen and there is nothing to do but watch how the story plays out. Even expecting this, Mishima is able to throw in some painful twists as peoples’ motivations and actions are made clear. Runaway Horses stands pretty well on its own although certain scenes, particularly the dream sequences, serve mostly to lead into the next book, The Temple of Dawn. It is interesting to note that while reincarnation is important to the tetralogy overall, and to Honda in particular, it isn’t central to Isao’s story who is mostly unaware of it. I was unaccountably thrilled that the son of Kiyoaki’s tutor Iinuma was the character chosen as his reincarnation—it just seems so perfectly appropriate to me. And I won’t hesitate to admit that I am very much looking forward to reading The Temple of Dawn.

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