In this newly translated novella, written in 1918 by early-20th-century Japanese literary master Tanizaki (Red Roofs and Other Stories, 2016, etc.), two friends go in search of a murder that may or may not be about to happen.
Narrator Takahashi receives a phone call one morning from his wealthy friend Sonomura inviting him to come watch a homicide in secret. Sonomura says he doesn’t know “who’s going to kill whom” or where the murder will take place but is certain it will happen “in a certain part of Tokyo” around 1 a.m. Although Takahashi thinks Sonomura may have slipped into insanity, he agrees to accompany him on his search for the murder out of a sense of responsibility as a friend. In describing how he has come to know a murder will be committed, Sonomura says he was at a movie theater when he witnessed a man and woman plotting behind another man’s back, using a cryptogram Sonomura deciphered using his knowledge of Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” in which characters use a similar code to find a lost treasure. After much searching, Takahashi goes home but Sonomura comes for him after midnight, sure he has figured out the crime’s location. Despite Takahashi’s claim not to take Sonomura seriously, his anticipation concerning what he may get to witness is palpable. Through knotholes in a storm shutter (“as if peering through the viewfinder of a movie camera,” the translator says in an afterword), the friends watch an erotic, violent scene that mesmerizes Takahashi. In the aftermath Takahashi, himself a novelist, struggles to distinguish fact from illusion. The novella is hauntingly Hitchcock-ian—although written before Hitchcock made films—but readers not fluent in Japanese may want to read the translator's afterword beforehand to appreciate Tanizaki’s use of Chinese characters and Japanese phrases to create puns and layers of meaning English-speaking readers might miss.
Tanizaki laminates a murder mystery and psychological study onto a rumination about the nature of fiction itself.