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.

Lee Eunju

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.

Yukio Mishima

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.

Friedrich Nietzsche

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.

Antonin Artaud

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.

Lee Eunju

~ by Haloed Bane on February 22, 2009.

20 Responses to “I don’t know.”

  1. I too envy such a ‘heroic’ suicide. One that when you hear about, you disregard the reasoning behind it, disregard the morals, disregard even the possible idiocy of it being suicide, and just admire how totally fucking badass that guy is. I think anyone could envy the kind of lifestyle and passion that could drive a man to cut his own stomach open.

  2. “My observation is that people who deny fearing death tend to be the ones who are most afraid when it comes to it.”

    Truth. My father had to deal with lot of people around him being told of their inevitable deaths (cancer, etc.), mostly in their 40s to 50s. He said, “they all say they don’t fear death, they don’t mind smoking/drinking/eating ‘hardcore’ Korean foods (usually very spicy, burnt, etc.) because they say they don’t have to live that long. But when they are told of their death warrant, they all fear, none of them stand brave”.

    I’ve said this before in my last reply but I really blame most of Korean suicides on the intolerant nature of Korean society. So what if you did few nude scenes here and there. The most recent suicide by Choi Jin Sil involved her saying something on the line of “why is the world making it so hard for me to live”, and “I’m sorry for my children but I really can’t bear to continue living like this”. It is in my opinion, cowardly, because they conceded defeat, and chose to surrender by leaving this world, instead of fighting against the opposing forces, and gaining what they really want out of life; joy of making music, acting, friends, etc. Perfect example is Baek Ji Young, who was first dethroned from her top star status when her sex tape was leaked, then later stood up for what she believed was right (that she had nothing to feel ashamed about, everyone has sex, so why can’t she? Someone decided to be a dick and released it and she shouldn’t suffer for it). She chose to fight it, she is a strong woman and now she enjoys great popularity as a reward.

  3. Great post as always, I’ve read up about Yukio Mishima a little and find him to be an interesting person. I believe he was born in the wrong era and ideas were radical to current political state of mind, but I think of him as an influential figure. Though with suicide I think it’s sort of like fate saying your expiration date is up and that it’s your time to go regardless if it’s cowardly or honorable.

  4. I second that, this really is a great posting and I like how you are defending suicides like this. On the other hand, I’d go further to say that both dying and living can be admirable and special. Sometimes people have to put a lot of strengh into living, and I find those people’s willingness to fight and live very admirable.

  5. gaguri – I think there’s a difference between cowards and people who kill themselves. I can’t see it as running away because people who just run away are never those brave enough to commit suicide. There are only two things that lead to suicide – hardcore mental fuckage and extreme beliefs. When a person is riven to the point of suicide emotionally, I can’t think of it as ‘giving in’ because it’s moor that suicide is progress. When your mind has been fucked to the point of overriding natural instincts, you are seriously fucked. I also believe Japanese society as a whole lends itself more easily to sad fuckage.

    However, strength of beliefs is more obvious. And I don’t think Mishima committed suicide because he couldn’t have his uprising – I think he was shooting for martyrdom and hoping he would inspire people.

  6. @21st cent boy

    There are suicides I admire, most notably those of warriors in the past but I was clearly talking about the suicides committed by Korean celebrities, and looking at all of them, they are cowardly in my eyes for the reasons already mentioned above.

  7. I don’t condemn suicide since it is not my belief that someone’s life is the most valuable thing in the world no matter what. Still, I don’t understand people who commit suicide and don’t want to achieve some change in the outside world through it. I agree with digitalboy that on such occasions people’s choices are mostly dictated by severe depression and pain – there’s not much to admire there, only to pity.

  8. Just another thought. I guess I don’t have as much issues with people trying to find inner peace away from this world. But many suicides commited by these celebs are sad because they hurt the people around them. Choi Jin Sil for example, will force her children to grow up in a world without a mother (and having a dickhead father doesn’t help). And Ahn Jae Hwan will leave his dear wife Jung Sun Hee to struggle alone (feel so, so sorry for the wife. I love the comedian, who blew all her money to pay husband’s debt, but of course he decided to kill himself).

  9. @gaguri

    These are hard issues, aren’t they.. I think it’s hard to accept suicide with the proviso that you must not leave anyone hurting behind. I mean, pretty much everyone’s got people that care for them.. In the particular case of Lee Eunju, I did initially think “oh, whatever, silly girl”. But then when I heard the particulars of the suicide itself any thought of “cowardice” left my mind. But your point about the selfishness of it still stands imo.

    @ hardy

    So you’re looking at this from a utilitarian “let’s help society” point of view. I’m curious though, what is it that’s “most valuable in the world no matter what”? Or do you think maybe there isn’t such a thing?

    @ sasa

    I agree with you, but I definitely think that the drive for self-preservation is so strong in us that dying is always harder than living on, all else being equal. Where I come from we say that “the angels help when you’re going downstairs”. Well, living on is like going downstairs. dying like going up a hill.

    @ funeral

    there’s a great book “the life and death of yukio mishima” (by a guy named stokes). what you’re saying about him being too radical is spot on: being “radical” (left, right, whatever) is more and more shunned, and it’s more and more dangerous to be radical. you’re allowed to put on a mask and pretend to be radical, but if you’re really serious you’ll end up in a bad place.

    @ digiboy

    you and sasa both concluded that i was defending suicide. i tried really hard to be neutral but maybe you guys are smarter than i. i still would argue that i don’t want to defend it, but…well, put it this way: if when i was 18 years old a fortune teller had predicted to me that i would take my own life at 24 after writing a suicide note with my own blood, or after cutting my belly open and having my boyfriend lop my head off with a sword, i would have laughed at him/her and said: Nah, you must be confusing me with someone greater than I…”

    Tough issues. and sad to boot.

  10. I tend to try and push all of these thoughts into the background through any sort of means, be they activities or anime or anything. It’s the kind of thing that I’d have place into a box and shut away in the corners of my brain, or you’d end up thinking about it too much. Great post. I hope to never speak of it again.

  11. Ah yes, I almost forgot about the thing of leaving people behind. call it a double-standard, but I can’t respect people who leave children behind. That’s a brand new possibility that you are destroying. So in those cases, yeah, fuck them. That’s why I hated the book ‘the awakening’.

  12. Thanks, I’ll have to check it out sometime. He’s definitely an interesting figure that I would want to learn more about.

  13. @ digiboy

    Mishima left an 11-year old and an 8-year old, or thereabouts. He made sure they’d be set for life, sure, but yup, he left them. You have a thing against suicides leaving children behind, how about leaving parents? They say one of the most devastating things for a parent is to lose their son/daughter..

  14. Of the recent anime that I covered, Xam’d: Lost Memories explores the issues of death and suicide among other things. (I am still taking my time to finish the review >.> ). Also consider Akahige by Kurosawa.

    Causes of suicide vary, but one the the most frequent ones is maladaptive coping.

    So is a death like Lee’s and Mishima’s better than Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s, because they happened to choose the time?

    To answer that question we have to define what good death entails. One can say that a good death means dying in peace or that it has a lasting impact on the world. I don’t think any of the people you mentioned died in peace, but I don’t know what went through their heads at the time. Except Mishima, it seems most of these people needed professional help. Mishima’s choice was based on the ideological reasons.

    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.

    Well, it depends on how terrible the circumstance is… Yes, fear of death is universal, but the question is how people will face it. The outlook depends on the circumstances and personality. I’ve been volunteering for Hospice and cancer hospitals for a while, observing a wide variety of responses while talking to patients. Facing certain death, some people are in complete despair, while others have a very strong unyielding, but calm spirit. As Gaguri pointed out, it is natural for people to fear when they hear about their fate. Kubler-Ross suggested that people tend to go through certain stages approaching death, but, of course, they are very general and each individual is unique.

    Irresistible. Remarkable. Admirable? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

    I find only suicide as self-sacrifice for a good cause admirable; as alleviation of extreme suffering or as religious act – acceptable.

  15. @kitsune

    your comment shows (and i knew this already) how different our worldviews are. 🙂 you seem to have trust in society, even if not in social structures as they function in actuality, at least in the goals of society per se. i tend to cringe at social goals (in theory) and even in practice i’m quite the hermit. to paraphrase Goring, when i hear the word “professional help”, i reach out for my gun!
    That said, i do believe that all of the world’s problems would go away if there more nice people around. you’re obviously one, i think i myself am too, we just need like a billion others and we’ll be all fine.

  16. It took me a while, but I’m responding to your question from February the 23th, ak.

    First of all, I didn’t mean to refer at all to society in general. I was just saying that I have to see either a pretty utilitarian goal in a person’s suicide (even just having a nicely prepared death) or to perceive that person as extremely depressed or in terrible physical pain. My mind is unable to reach beyond these two interpretations. Other motivations of people’s suicides (for example the resignation from the world of Goethe’s Werter) seem just madness to me.

    As for “the most valuable thing in the world no matter what”, each person can have a different view on what it is, but I’m sure it changes in extreme situations.

  17. @hardy

    i have heard of people doing themselves in purely because of ennui, and yeah, it’s pretty hard to understand that.
    on the most valuable thing in the world no matter what, i agree with you and would add more often not it IS life itself that people value as such..

  18. Value is subjective. If speaking up for yourself hurts you, then consider that killing yourself is a big “screw you” to anyone who cares about you.

  19. @Cees

    Yes. And if no one cared about you, then the “screw you” is meant for yourself..

  20. […] I don’t know. […]

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