Yukio Mishima and The Evil Within

Friday 16 October 2020

Some other time in this blog, I mentioned how the backstories of the characters in video games give us a rich insight concerning the research that the developers went through while shaping them. Sometimes, said backstories involve details that may be offered randomly and thus pass unnoticed, until you get a clue to put them together: then it is like puzzle pieces that are placed in the right spots to form an image, thanks to which the character that they concern is set under a new, revealing light.

In The Assignment, one of the extra episodes of The Evil Within, where we get to play as Juli Kidman, we have the chance to view parts of the main game's story through her eyes. While literally floating in a state between reality and nightmare, Juli comes across some particularly nasty surprises in her way. The most revealing of them is having to fight Joseph Oda, who appears before her as a Haunted, determined to kill her. In her attempt to distract him so as to perform her attacks against him, Juli can resort to several diversions, one of them being turning on a film in a small cinema, which depicts Joseph as a Samurai, yielding a katana.

It is interesting that, although we are already aware from the main game that Joseph is the descendant of a historical family of Samurais, this is the first and only time that we see him literally paying homage to his heritage, and it is through an indirect means, in the distorted reality created by Ruvik in STEM. As Ruvik is exploiting the memories of his victims, blending them with his own so as to be able to control them, it becomes clear that the appearance of this specific film comes straight from Joseph's memory stash, serving as a way to confuse him at that point (because he is a Haunted, therefore not himself), while offering Juli the chance to stealthily attack him.

Joseph is described as a considerate and composed man, but it is hinted that he is constantly suppressing himself in order to comply to the norms and stereotypes of society. Coming from a strict upbringing, he feels forced - partly by his environment and partly by his own self - to keep his sensitivities and weaknesses hidden. This is something rather typical of the Samurai upbringing, so it is natural that Joseph, due to his family's historical past, had it too, to some degree at least. The film that we have the chance to see in The Assignment shows that he had been through Samurai training as part of his celebrated family's tradition.

Mostly known for his ritualistic suicide via "seppuku" (or harakiri), Yukio Mishima was nonetheless a multi-talented writer, considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century. Both as an artist and a personality, he was obsessed with beauty, eroticism and death, as well as their becoming one. Mishima was a homosexual, but growing up in the extremely strict Japanese society of the 1930ties made it particularly tough for him to accept and express himself as far as his sexuality was concerned. In 1949, he wrote his now considered iconic novel "Confessions of a Mask" which, although not entirely autobiographical, narrates episodes and memories of its protagonist that are greatly connected to the author himself. Written in first person, the novel explores a young man's continuous agony as he struggles with his ever-growing and forbidden sexual desires while evolving in a society and a family environment that are not only particularly strict, but moreover guide their members towards very specific, predesignated paths from which it is quite hard - if not impossible - to divert.

The young narrator starts his confessions going back to his childhood and early teens, during which time he had his first sexual awakenings triggered by random visual experiences. Although not the very first, the strongest, most memorable and critical one was an image of Saint Sebastian that he saw in a book, a painting by Guido Reni which depicted the saint during his torture, tied on a tree with his body pierced with arrows. The hero describes with both precision and subtlety all the emotions that rushed through him while looking at that painting, resulting in a rather intense first experience of culmination which defined his subsequent view of people and the world and made him more than conscious of his sexual identity. However, living in a society that condemned such deviations from the accepted norms, he knew that he would be forced to live his life in disguise, always putting on a mask that would hide his true self from the rest of the world.

Joseph of The Evil Within has grown up in a similar environment - probably not so strict, but still the values and beliefs that characterized old-time Japan should have been ever present in the life of his family and surrounding environment. Apparently he took some important education, then trained to become a detective. We can see from his attitude and approach that he likes to dig into things, examine them deeper and he also has a notable combinatorial mind. He has a small notebook where he writes down everything that he sees or thinks that can be related to a crime case. He got married at a relatively young age and made his own family, but he still seems to be quite vulnerbale socially, despite his smartness and the choice that he made to follow a dangerous line of work. But maybe he chose the specific line of work for this reason: so as to give him inner strength and help him overcome his fears and anxieties.

Teaming up with Sebastian was a turning point in both his professional and personal/social life, as Sebastian was quite different as a person, and came from an equally different environment and background. Although he was not too open as a character either, he was much more free sentimentally and spiritually and, unlike Joseph, obviously not hunted by strict rules and norms. The two partners formed a close bond and became good friends, always caring for and helping each other. From a symbolic aspect, Sebastian was for Joseph what Saint Sebastian was for Mishima, a new force in his life which brought forward a mental strength that he always had but kept suppressed and maybe woke up in him some darker and forbidden desires (maybe towards Sebastian as well). Sebastian, aptly named after the saint, was in a similar way tortured - not literally like him, but psychologically broken - but he was also a hot-blooded, passionate man who would always show his feelings and never suppress himself. Although he too was positively affected by Joseph's presence in his life - the calmness and love for order that were due to Joseph's upbringing helped Sebastian have better control - the biggest influence was the one that he had on Joseph, something that the latter obviously came to realize while being trapped in STEM, during which time his subconscious took over and brought him face to face with new revelations about himself.

There are several instances in the game, where we can see a progression of this newfound self-awareness, albeit they all occur in the dream-like sequences that STEM creates. What triggers the initiation of this development is his succumbing to Ruvik's power and becoming a Haunted for the first time. This transition could very well symbolize the awakening of his darker side and all those elements that he kept hidden in the real, "civilized" world. During the sequences when Joseph is a Haunted, he seems to possess an insane power which makes him become extremely violent and lethal. Unlike any other random Haunted, however, he is totally aware of this transformation and seems to be able to control it, as he can go back to normal and vice-versa. In a most revealing scene at the start of Chapter 7, after he and Sebastian found refuge in an abandoned church, he acknowledges that he does like it when he turns, since this transforms him into someone that he cannot be in real life. Although it scares him, it also fascinates him, and this is one more reason why, in the previous chapter, he tried to put an end to his life. Embracing his dark side would mean accepting all that would come along, and this is something that can also be applied to his normal, real life. Just like Mishima, Joseph is in a constant struggle between faithfully following the rules with which he grew up and freeing himself from everything that keeps him enslaved

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