I don’t know.
4 years ago today, popular Korean actress Lee Eunju slit her wrists and then hanged herself. There was a suicide note written in blood. She was 24.
I’ve read a lot of speculation on the motives behind her decision. The suicide note seems to suggest that she wanted more money than she had. Her family blamed her last movie “The Scarlet Letter”, saying that she hadn’t been able to sleep well since filming several semi-nude scenes in the movie. So it’s been argued that the meaning of the note is that she did the scenes because she wanted money, then felt bad about it.
Other people point to her dying in several movies (supposedly in one of them she dies on Feb. 22). I don’t read Korean and am not at all tuned into the pop scene over there, but I have seen “The Scarlet Letter” and the ending is very extreme and I see how it could have a big impact on someone’s psyche. I thought it was a very good movie with both main actors doing a great job, but apparently it didn’t do that well at the box office and this is yet another reason, some claim, why she killed herself.
The other day when I was translating Keiyaku no Kuroneko, I found a reference to a film that allowed me to comment briefly on Yukio Mishima. Next year in November will be the 40th anniversary of his suicide.
Mishima was a famous Japanese writer who made all of the right moves in both the business and literary worlds. Around the age of 30, he became active in the ultra-right wing of Japanese politics, and eventually built his own little private army, the Tatenokai. In 1969 Mishima debated the hardcore left-wing students of Tokyo University right there on campus grounds. He told the students that he admired their courage and if only they would accept the Emperor he would join them. They laughed him off.
In the same year Mishima went to a informal meeting between several intellectuals and a representative from Prime Minister Sato’s office. The idea was to allow the intellectuals to advise the Prime Minister on several issues in a discrete sort of way. Mishima stood up and presented a detailed plan for Mr. Sato to do a military coup, suspend Parliament and restore power to the Emperor. Everyone looked on astonished. When the presentation finished, Mishima was politely thanked and dismissed.
In 1970, finally, Mishima and a handful of Tatenokai “soldiers” sequestered a high-ranking officer in the JSDF, forced him to summon all the troops present, and made a plea for them to join him in doing a coup and restoring power to the Emperor. They laughed at him. He went back to the officer’s room and committed seppuku.
I don’t know if Lee and Mishima’s suicides can be compared. Lee seems to have sought death as an escape from troubles. Mishima seems to have been marching toward his death for at least decade. But the manner of Lee’s death tells me there was a strong will behind her decision. And as for Mishima, many argue he was simply trying to escape a modern world that he felt he didn’t belong to. I just don’t know.
The philosopher Nietzsche, whom “hardcore” people in every field tend to like, said something to the effect that “it was the thought of suicide that made his life bearable on many occasions”. Still, he didn’t do it and died paralyzed and clinically insane. Antonin Artaud, an actor and playwright, thought and wrote on suicide constantly, but died (very possibly) of intestinal cancer.
So is a death like Lee’s and Mishima’s better than Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s, because they happened to choose the time? I think Nietzsche would agree with that, but I really don’t know. Are Lee and/or Mishima cowards? I think a lot of people would say that.
If there’s one thing that is universal is the fear of death. My observation is that people who deny fearing death tend to be the ones who are most afraid when it comes to it. I’ve heard many say that what they fear is the pain and not the actual dying, but I know that 99% of the time 99% of the people will prefer to live, even under the most terrible circumstances, rather than die. Everyone’s who’s outside the prison system will say (brag?) that they’d rather be executed than serve a life sentence. Easier said than done.
So there’s definitely something really special about those human beings who choose to terminate themselves of their own free will. It might be that there’s something really terrible about them. I don’t know, I’m using the word “special” in a neutral sense. I personally find something irresistible about the way Mishima went about dying. He actually sent the completed manuscript of his final (not only last, but final as in planned final) novel to his publishers on the very morning he went out to die. And Eunju’s was truly a remarkable final act.
Irresistible. Remarkable. Admirable? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I certainly admire Mishima for a million qualities that he possessed, but then you could argue that these same qualities made him do what he did…
They say the oracle named Socrates the cleverest man in Greece. He responded to that by saying that he only knew that he didn’t know and that if that made him smarter than everybody else, then so be it. I guess I’m feeling clever today.
Today all I can do is hope that Lee Eunju may be at peace.