Runaway Horses or Honba in Japanese is Mishima’s 1969 novel. The second in his tetralogy known as the Sea of fertility, and extremely late in his writing career. This story follows Honda as a thirty-eight year old, and Isao Iinuma who he comes to believe is the reincarnation of his childhood friend Kiyoaki twenty years after his death. Isao is a young man with a violent vitality to him, he has a dream of committing honourable suicide in reverence to the sun, and feels that he is fated towards such a violent end which will help purify Japan of its current corruption. This is his story.
Honda is now a legal judge, and is married to a judge’s daughter called Rie. They are childless. One of his superiors was meant to be going to a Kendo competition but cannot make it. Honda goes in his place and meets Isao Iinuma, who is the son of Kiyoaki’s teacher Iinuma. Who after leaving the household with his lover, the maid Mine, married her and had a son. Iinuma is now well known throughout Japan as a prominent right winger and the owner of the Academy of Patriotism, while his son Isao is only eighteen and entering the Kendo competition as an up and coming champion. Isao wins and dominates all of his competition. Hondo, who has no interest in Kendo, watches Isao and is gripped with interest at his show of sheer vitality. There is something about Isao which draws Honda’s attention.
After the competition Honda is invited to journey up a mountain with a priest, on the way down they decide to use the falls to clean themselves off. Isao Iinuma is there bathing, and Honda spots that he has a cluster of three moles on his left side, this puts him in an utter daze for days as he remembers Kiyoaki’s last words: ‘I’ll see you again. I know it. Beneath the falls.’ This leads Honda to think that Isao is Kiyoaki’s reincarnation, and when he died and how old Isao is does make it possible. He wonders if Father Iinuma had figured this out, but upon meeting him after twenty years it is clear he does not know. Honda invites Father Iinuma and Isao to his home for a meal: they both agree. While at the dinner Isao gives Honda a book he says has influenced him so much that he has read it three times already. The book is called ‘The league of the divine wind’, and is about a group of Samurai who rebelled against laws which made it impossible to be a Samurai and thus they died a glorious death for their identity and tradition. Honda reads this and sends it through the post with a letter to Isao.
In the letter Honda expresses the urge to have Isao control his youthful vitality and to remember they are no longer in the same age of the Samurai. Isao disagrees with pretty much the entire letter, but senses no corruption within it: Honda is being open and honest, and this makes him pure and worth keeping in contact with. Isao then visits Lieutenant Hori who sympathises with such rebellions. Isao is meeting him with the hope that the Lieutenant can offer him the death he desires, during the meeting he expresses this openly: he desires to kill himself honourably in front of the sun while staring at the sea on a cliff. He gives the Lieutenant the book he gave to Honda, he can use this as an excuse to visit once again to reclaim his book. After doing his training in the Academy of Patriotism Isao invites his two friends, Izutsu and Sagara into his room. There he reveals a map with purple shaded areas which is his mark of corruption. He explains the best way to rid this nation of corruption would be to bomb the whole place and use Lieutenant Hori as a trusted contact to get it done. He warns his friends to remember that they cannot rely on bombs however, the sword is what they must rely on, and their own bodies as the explosive bombs.
Isao visits the household of Lieutenant-General Kito (a famous soldier and poet) and his divorced daughter Makiko with his two friends. While they discuss what people in Japan should be the first to go, he is surprised by Makiko’s agreement on the matter that such violent actions must be taken. Isao then visits Lieutenant Hori and they have a Kendo dual, Hori is both impressed and shocked with Isao’s talent and natural vitality. Hori returns the book to Isao and says that he found it very stimulating and can now understand more about how Isao thinks and feels about the modern situation. The modern situation is not the same, it is much worse and requires even more drastic actions. Hori then tells Isao that he has been invited to meet Prince Harunori Toin who was the Prince engaged to Satoko, and that he would like Isao to come with him. He agrees to go. When Isao’s father hears about this he forbids him to meet the Prince, during the argument he takes Isao’s gift book of ‘The league of divine wind’ and throws it into a puddle of water. Isao doesn’t understand why his father is so against it, because he does not know that he blame’s Kiyoaki’s death on the Prince and his engagement to Satoko.
Isao gets his hands on another copy of the book, and lies to his father in order to get to meet the Prince. During the meeting the Prince makes it clear that many people in Japan deserve his hatred and if they were to disappear he wouldn’t complain. Isao gives him the gift and the Prince asks him what he would do if this gift offended him. Isao replies that he would cut his stomach open, and then the Prince asks what he would do if he appreciates the gift and agrees with the sentiment of the men contained within it, Isao replies he would also cut his stomach open. The Prince is taken aback from this show of loyalty, he is impressed with Isao and gives him several gifts. When leaving Hori makes it clear that the Prince was happy with Isao, and in the future if he needs him he will use him for his divine will. Isao then visits his friend and tells him to hold onto the Prince’s gifts. If he was to take them home he would be found out.
Isao and his two friends invite twenty accepted members of their group to a shrine for a meeting. When they arrive Isao explains there was no reason for the meeting, so several leave, but most stay feeling something else is going on. Isao then asks them if they are willing to make a sacrifice even if that changes nothing, does nothing and is pointless. They all state yes, and then take the vows of their group: to rid Japan of corruption, to work for no personal advancement and gain, but for the restoration of their nation. During this meeting he notices a woman is watching them, this is Makiko and he had forgotten that he had in fact told her about the location and time of the meeting in passing. She invites him and the group of men to a restaurant, having been gifted money for food from her father for the group.
When he gets home he is received by one of the men in his father’s group: Sawa. He is doing the laundry and invites him into his room for tea and rice cakes. Sawa begins telling the story of how Isao’s father had to use dirty blackmail tricks in order to make money to keep the group alive years ago, and no longer has to because times are good for him monetarily. Isao doesn’t know why he is being told this until Sawa random inserts the idea that Isao can go after whoever he wants, but do not go for Busuke Kurahara because if anything happens to him no one will suffer more than his father. If Isao does go after him from a sense of loyalty, he will be betraying his father. Isao is utter shocked by this being randomly thrown out in such a careless way, and by Sawa of all people. When Isao and his friends were discussing who deserves to be killed most out of everyone, Busuke Kurahara was the one in the number one spot.
Isao leaves in shock, but comes back to ask Sawa what he means by this. Sawa explains that he wants to join Isao’s group and kill Kurahara himself, while the youth of the group shouldn’t be wasted on such acts. Isao feigns ignorance about the purpose of the group in order to force Sawa to do one of two things: 1. Remain silent of the group’s purpose because it has been denied, 2. Go and kill Kurahara himself and not expose the group’s purpose by acting alone.
Isao, his father and Honda all go to a purification shrine and Isao goes missing after being scolded by the priest for being too energetic. Isao runs off with a hunting rifle and kills a pheasant, as he returns some red berries fall on him and create a necklace. Honda watches from a distance mesmerised by this image of him with a red necklace, rifle in hand and a dead pheasant. If there was any doubt that Isao was the reincarnation of Kiyoaki, this doubt is now truly and utterly dead. In Kiyaoki’s dream book he had described this exact image of Isao standing this way. Honda now considers it a fact that Isao is his friend’s reincarnation.
At another meeting Isao and his group discuss their plan and set a date for it: December the third, at ten o’clock at night. They have an envelope which contains several notes of one hundred yen and it is from Sawa, again this confuses Isao. It is not clear whether this money is because Sawa is about to go and assassinate Kurahara, or because he is allowing the group to carry on with its mission with his lips sealed. Isao meets Lieutenant Hiro again and is implored to give up his plan. Hiro is about to leave the country on Army duty and won’t be back for some time. Because of this he cannot help with the plan, and Isao cannot rely on the army for any help whatsoever. He makes Isao say that the plan will be put on hold, while Isao has no plans to actually stop. On the walk home he feels he is retreating and begins to weep, while remembering the words of a Kendo instructor who berated him for his retreating during a fight.
At another meeting of the group Isao explains what happened with Hiro, how the army will not help and the other Lieutenant who was going to use a plane for them to drop leaflets won’t help either. Several of the boys leave, and a few days later some more do, leaving eleven of the twenty: but these left are the best of the boys, so Isao doesn’t mind too much. One day when they meet again Isao arrives to find Sawa there, he requests to join saying that he will either join the group or have to be killed right here right now. They let him in and they draw up a new plan: instead of doing sabotage and many other things like bombings and leaflets, they should concentrate on assassinations only. Eleven boys will be sent out with eleven targets, and Sawa will take out Kurahara, making twelve targets. Isao does research for his target, Toru Shinkawa. Finding out that he is a late night reader and the last to sleep, Isao plans to strike when he is the only one awake still up studying in bed.
He visits Makiko in order to say farewell. He wants to look at her face and leave, to cherish the face as an image in his mind, so the farewell is idealised. But she invites him in, he refuses and leaves, but she follows him believing that he is angry with her. He explains that he isn’t angry and she asks him without being prompted when the event will be. He gives her the date, and she hugs his chest and looks up at him. They kiss and she says that she will visit a shrine to pray for their success. Little does she know that the flowers she gave the boys will be in their pockets as they commit suicide after their assassinations are fulfilled. As he held her in his arms he felt a feeling he had never felt before, as if holding her in his arms made her more naked than nakedness itself, as if by touching her he had never been so far away from her before. He was overwhelmed with a feeling of rapture. This feeling was like a runaway stallion breaking free of the yoke.
On December first, two days before the plot would go ahead, all twelve members of the group are arrested. Honda learns of this in the papers and offers to defend Isao for free out of a sense of loyalty towards Kiyoaki. Isao’s father accepts and takes him for a meal to show his gratitude. During this meal Isao’s father gets mildly drunk and tells Honda that he is the reason they were arrested. He didn’t want his son to waste his life, and also thinks that when Isao gets out of prison he will be considered a hero by the public, thus can live his life as a hero of their Academy without needing to die. Honda senses that the father is in fact jealous that Isao was about to achieve an honourable bloody glory and stepped in the way out of that jealously.
Honda is invited to meet the Prince as he wishes to meet the man defending Isao. Honda carefully manoeuvre the conversation in order to remove an accusation which can be made of Isao: that he has committed treason by using the Prince’s name on his leaflets. This angers the Prince so much that he cannot think clearly, but Honda, being the wise tactician, uses this anger to make the Prince order the destruction of those leaflets so that they are secretly removed from the trial. With this Honda removes the worst accusation that can be placed on Isao: treason, which would destroy his family’s reputation, Isao’s sense of honour, and would also demand his execution. While in prison Isao keeps having a dream about being bitten by a green poisonous snake, and also keeps dreaming about being a blind woman, only knowing he is a woman by touch.
Isao and the group go to trail in July, almost seven months after their arrest. During the trial the inn owner Kitazaki who owns the inn that Lieutenant Hiro was staying in is used as a witness and to give evidence. Kitazaki is very old and has terrible eye sight, so he is allowed to approach each member of the group to study their face and try to identify which young boy visited Hiro. He recognises Isao and says that he brought a girl to his inn, when pressed to answer when this was he answers twenty years ago. The entire room dismisses him as senile, but Honda remembers the fact that the inn that Kiyoaki used to go to in order to see Satoko when he was blackmailing her was Kitazaki’s. Kitazaki being so old and close to death, could see that Isao and Kiyoaki were the same consciousness, without even realising they are different people.
The trial ends in December and the verdict is given: not guilty. This is based on the condition that the group was young, their desires and aims were pure and for the good of their nation, that they didn’t actually commit a crime, and there was no proof that the plan was going to be played out. Isao returns home to a party for him. During the party everyone is drinking, and Isao’s father tells him that it was him who got the group arrested knowing that this would make him return as a hero without needing to die . He also explains that the Academy of Patriotism is funded by the very people Isao was going to assassinate. He explains that by taking money off them and taking part in this impure action, he could always purify himself by killing himself when the time comes: he explains that this is what being an adult is all about. Isao lashes out at his mother stating that it would be better if he were reborn a woman, meaning this as an insult at her weakness. He is drunk and put to bed, Honda is by his bedside making sure he is okay before he leaves. Isao mutters something in his sleep: ‘Far to the south. Very hot…in the rose sunshine of a southern land…’ Honda feels a sense of futility about the whole situation.
While speaking to Sawa he asks him who it was that informed his father of the group’s intentions. Sawa explains that before his father knew and did anything he had a phone call off Makiko and then went to meet her, so it would make sense that she is the reason he went to prison. He then explains that Makiko fears losing those she loves, so she may have done this in order to keep Isao alive. There is a ceremony and party just before the new year, in the crowd Isao manages to lose Sawa. He purchases daggers and travels to Kurahara’s holiday home by the sea. He sneaks in an assassinates him, his maid enters which leads Isao to run away after confirming his kill. He runs to the sea, finds a small area looking out at the sea, kneels down and begins to disembowel himself as the sun rises and shines through his closed eyes. This is where this story ends.
This second novel of the four has a different style of language than the first. While the first had the style and language of a doomed romantic novel with an emphasis on the oscillation between raw powerful emotions and nihilistic apathetic numbness, the second novel’s language and style is nuanced with an oscillation between the silence of unutterable ideals and the power of action. Isao is not the romantic nihilist, but a silent idealist. In this sense he is the very opposite of Kiyoaki. He is not lost in his emotions, but stern, stoic, and always willing to favour actions over talk, he is willing to make things happen, rather than be dragged into his fate like the young Kiyo. This novel ultimately can be summed up when Isao quotes the Wang Yangming school of thought during his trial: to know and not to act is not truly to know.