The Decay of the Angel or Tennin no Gosui in Japanese is Mishima’s 1970 novel. The forth and final in his tetralogy known as the Sea of fertility, and extremely late in his writing career, this is his last book before his suicide. This story follows Honda in his old age, and Toru who is a sixteen year old who bears the mark of being the reincarnation of Honda’s childhood friend Kiyoaki. This is his story and the end of Honda’s and Satoko’s. It also concentrates on the five signs of decay of an Angel in Buddhist scriptures. These five signs are: the crown withers, sweat pours from the armpits, clothing is soiled, being dissatisfied with one’s position in life, and the body losing its shining light.
Honda is now seventy six and spends his time travelling around, while Rie, his wife has died. He is often with Keiko, who compliment each other in their old age and ways. Toru is a sixteen year old boy who works at a lookout, being a watchman for incoming ships. He has a young female friend called Kinue who seems to be mentally ill. She lives with the delusion that everyone wants her body and that she is extremely beautiful, while the local people think that she is ugly and an easy lay. When he returns from work and takes a bath, it is revealed to the reader that on his left side he has a set of three moles which indicates that he is the third reincarnation of Kiyoaki, Isao being the first and Ying Chan being the second. Honda has kept his bad habits and so has Keiko: she will pick up girls and sleep with them while Honda watches.
Honda and Keiko travel around and find themselves outside of a lookout tower, being curious they invite themselves in. This is where they meet Toru. Keiko begins looking around the room after they are invited in by Toru, and asks about some flags which are in a high place. Toru goes onto his tiptoes in order to reach it and Honda catches a view of the set of three moles on his left side. Honda gives him his business contact card and takes Toru’s in return, saying he will send a card and gift to thank him for showing them around. When Keiko and Honda get to a hotel, Honda states that he will take a bath. Then he abruptly says he will adopt that boy, referring to Toru. She assumes that Honda wants to adopt him because he has secretly been a homosexual and she is offended that she didn’t know after over eighteen years of knowing him. Honda explains that it is not about that, he is identical to Ying Chan. This results in him explaining Kiyoaki and the reincarnations. Keiko is amazed by this and agrees to not tell Toru about this until he is twenty and ready to die, as all three: Kiyoaki, Isao and Ying Chan did.
Keiko makes a joke about dreaming of examinations like at school, he has never had a dream about this but that night he does for the first time. He is confused if Keiko had given him the dream, or he had given the dream to himself. Is Honda the one who is the gifted angel who is able to see divinity be reincarnated again and again, while being powerless to prevent its demise each time? In this sense Honda is living a rather depressing role in this world. He is destined to watch the angel die, and decay each time until it is no longer reborn an angel.
Kinue tells Toru that he is being followed because of her and because they are friends. Turns out it is an investigation agent for Honda, he delivers the information about Toru to Honda and then he sends his adoption offer. Honda is also annoyed that he doesn’t know the exact date of Ying Chan’s death, only the season and year, because Toru’s birthday is not in this season, meaning he may not be the reincarnation of Kiyoaki. He pushes the thought aside and just guesses the season is slightly wrong, or his birthday is wrong because he is an orphan. Toru is offered to be adopted by Honda through an officer, and Toru accepts. Honda begins to teach Toru how to be polite and socialise in a western way, and lays out plans for him such as higher education and studying.
Honda has set up several teachers for Toru, but after a conversation with one of the teachers, Furusawa, Toru instigates his sacking just to disappoint Honda and make him question his own judgement. He wants to isolate Honda so that he has no one to blame but himself. He bides his time in order to hurt him again, he goes into his second year of schooling and gets his chance again. A proposal for marriage keeps coming to Honda for Toru, he ignores it, but then it comes again under a name that is too well connected and powerful to ignore. He puts the idea forward to Toru, and he thinks to himself that this is his next chance to hurt Honda so he accepts. He meets the family and the girl he would be marrying, her name is Momoko and he acts calmly around her which is intimidating. They both go missing, they have gone out for a walk and the family and Honda are watching them through a window. She gets her hair trapped in a tree’s branches, but Toru pretends to be helping her, while in reality he is making the knots of hair in the tree worse. The parents state that they are in love, while Honda can see that Toru is taking his time and being deliberate: something is wrong.
Toru goes out to find another woman for his plans. He meets and sleeps with a woman called Nagisa. She finds young boys and sleeps with them, and then moves on. She gives him a necklace with a N symbol on it, which he gets Momoko to notice and ask about. He then gets Nagisa to watch them talk, when he takes the necklace out and begins biting it, Nagisa introduces herself to Momoko and tells him to stop, and that she will see him later. Momoko is upset and tells him he must end the relationship, he says he will but he needs her help. So she writes a letter to Nagisa which says that she needs to stop seeing Toru or she will murder her. She also explains in the letter that she is only with Toru for his money and inheritance from Honda, Toru told her to say this because Nagisa doesn’t care about love, only money. Toru then goes to Nagisa’s house, snatches the letter off her and shows it to Honda, pretending to be heartbroken that Momoko only wants him for his money. This shows Toru to be calculating and sadistic who is able to create elaborate and manipulative plans in order to get what he likes: to hurt people, and to make them blame themselves for that hurt. In this sense Toru is a sadistic mirror image of Kiyoaki. While Kiyoaki was rather nihilistic and swayed with the wind in his romanticism and idealism, Toru is the one who does the swaying by making people the victims of his faked romanticism and idealism.
Two years pass and Toru is now twenty and Honda is eighty. Toru has sacked all of Honda’s maids, and replaced them with his own who report on Honda and regularly sleep with Toru. They obey all of his orders, and none of Honda’s. The ugly girl who believes herself to be beautiful, Kinue, has moved into a cottage just outside of the household. Honda spends almost all of his time on walks, or in his room, just bidding his time. He believes that Toru will die while twenty, as all of the other reincarnations did, and Toru is now twenty. It is six months until he is twenty one, so Honda assumes he has a maximum of six months to wait for Toru to die. As an old man he looks forward to this as Toru has been mistreating him. He hit him with a fire poker to shut him up, and since then Honda has been terrified of him.
Honda goes to his peeking park and runs into the man who recognised him over twenty years ago from another peeking spot. A man and woman are kissing, but the man pulls out a knife and stabs her in the thigh. When the police come Honda is arrested as the potential stabber. He clears this up and the woman explains it wasn’t him. A few days later Toru comes into Honda’s room and throws a newspaper in front of him smiling. The article in the paper tells the story of a respected judge now turned pervert voyeur. This is Honda and he is named in full in the paper. He assumes the man who recognised him was the one who told the papers this. Toru then hires a lawyer who was a rival of Honda’s, in order to try and pry the rights off him. Arguing that Honda is old and senile, and that is why he is now a pervert, this can be used to argue that he doesn’t know what he is doing anymore and cannot control himself or his estate. This will mean that all of Honda’s power will be transferred to Toru, but instead of being an inheritance which suggests Honda is a moral and respectable person, this will instead show Honda to be a complete mess who would be better to be forgotten by history.
Toru receives a letter from Keiko inviting him to a party instead of Honda. When he arrives she reveals she has only invited him in order to talk to him. She tells him about Kiyaoki, Isao and Ying Chan and the idea that they are all reincarnations of the same consciousness which both Keiko and Honda believe. She mentions Kiyoaki’s dream diary as evidence, so Toru asks Honda for the book so he can read it. Keiko attacked Toru as an empty version of the three previous reincarnations. She makes it clear that she isn’t sure he is the reincarnation because he seems to be an empty shell of a person with no destiny unlike the other three. Maybe the three moles, and the three reincarnations symbolises that the fourth reincarnation is a decayed form and thus not a fourth reincarnation of the destiny of the three before him. Toru is the decayed angel who falls outside of divinity by his decay.
Honda gives Toru the dream diary, and a few days later a maid is heard screaming because Toru has drank poison. He enters a coma, and when he comes out of it he will live and be okay, but he has lost his sight. From this point on he acts like a dead person. He just sits there wearing the same clothes over and over again. He only speaks to Kinue when no one else is around. He is now subdued and calm. Honda can no longer see any inner workings from him, and for the first time he has no idea what is going on inside Toru’s head. He used to be able to read him as if he was Honda’s mirror image. When asked why he drank the poison and tried to kill himself, he replied that it was because he cannot dream and has never had one. Honda has been suffering from stomach and chest pains for a while, and finds out that he has cancer. He is told it is benign, but he doesn’t feel he will live much longer.
Honda writes a letter to Satoko’s shrine sayings that he will be arriving soon. He makes the journey, guessing that this is a one way trip and he will not return. This journey is to the grave. When he arrives at the gate, he decides to make the journey on foot as Kiyoaki did which caused his illness and death. Honda being eighty now, struggles all the way there.
He is invited in and gets to see Satoko. He hasn’t seen her for sixty years, and they are both in their eighties. When she walks in he cannot look up and look at her, his eyes fill with tears, but she puts him at ease with the way she welcomes him. He mentions Kiyoaki when the journey to the shrine is brought up, but she replies who might that be. Honda knew that she heard him, so she is being dishonest. He becomes angry and explains. After the story she states that maybe from the start, from the beginning there never was a Kiyoaki. In his frustration he states that if there never was a Kiyoaki, then there never was an Isao, a Ying Chan and that perhaps there has been no I. She smiles and says that that is how it is in each heart. Honda doesn’t know what to say so remains silent, he is then invited to the garden and while there he feels it is a place with nothing and no memories at all. The noontide sun of summer flows over the the still garden, and that is where the book ends.
With this book the Sea of Fertility tetralogy is ended. It is an interesting ending for several reasons. First of all it is relatively disappointing as a narrative ending because the ending and conclusion seem to contradict the entire series. We as readers thought we were going to find out some profound truth about reincarnation and Honda’s and his reincarnated friend’s place within it, we do receive a profound truth by journeying through these four novels, but the conclusion, while profound, is unpleasant and something which we as readers, as I’s, do not want to believe: that the I which is the reader doesn’t exist in a way which we believe at every living and breathing moment of our life.
It is also curious that Mishima uses the title Sea of Fertility to refer to his tetralogy, when the heart is biologically a tetra-logical organ, and is the exact thing that Satoko refers to when she affirms Honda’s statement that the I may not be, when she says it is so in each of our hearts. It is also curious that he used a four part novel series which centres around a set of three moles. It is as if Honda gets to take part in a three mole reincarnation of three people, while the fourth is a disappointment and is as empty and non-existent as the fourth mole. Honda himself is also the fourth mole: he does not exist and this whole experience may be him projecting and manifesting his I on the world. This conclusion and ending results in a sense of confusion and thinking that makes you want to go back and study the four books again. It is profound on an experiential, existential and religious level, and was quite the interesting journey.