Four newly translated stories, written between 1917 and 1926, by one of the masters of 20th-century Japanese literature (The Makioka Sisters, 1957, etc.).
The first and longest of the stories, “The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga,” mirrors in many ways Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1920, the narrator, novelist F.K., receives a letter from a stranger who has found a letter from F.K. to his drinking buddy Tomoda in a satchel belonging to her husband, Gisuke. Since early in their marriage, Gisuke has divided his time in intervals: three years of quiet life at home, three years away and incommunicado. While Tomoda and Gisuke share no characteristics—Tomoda a portly sensualist of large and exotic appetites, Gisuke a thin, sickly traditionalist—the narrator is soon caught up in unraveling the question Gisuke’s wife raises: are Gisuke and Tomoda, who dominates the tale, the same man? After a dinner out while visiting China, the narrator of the brief, seemingly straightforward “A Night In Qinhuai” goes on a search of brothels, each more “gloomy” than the last. With the narrator torn between his distaste for the surroundings and his desire for the beautiful young prostitutes they house, Tanizaki creates an atmosphere both tawdry and ripe with desire. The narrator of “The Magician” finds the park he visits one summer evening “a bizarre blend of beauty and ugliness,” a description of the worlds Tanizaki creates as well. The narrator’s lover wants to test the power of their love against the power of the park magician who performs an act he calls The Art of Human Metamorphosis. Think Kafka despite the narrator’s references to Poe. The final story, “Red Roofs,” has a more contemporary feel, told from the perspective of a film actress juggling her multiple, sometimes perverse, sometimes oddly romantic relationships with men.
Tanizaki combines understated realism with fabulism, sensuality, a fascination with the exotic (which, in a reversal of American and European literary clichés, here means things Western), and ambivalence toward traditional Japan.