The opening sentence of 'Doll Love' gives a conundrum for the reader to reflect upon whilst reading the first part of this short story, 'I was waiting for Tamao, Tamao is eighteen', who is Tamao and what is the relationship between him and the narrator?. Doll Love/ Ningyo ai, a short story by Takahashi Takako from 1976 takes us into the wanderings of a woman who's husband recently committed suicide, his suicide had left her in a 'confused state in which my head had become perfectly clear'. On something of a whim she decides to travel to T city, recently she had been in the habit of boarding trains without a predetermined destination, on the station she notices a strange lightness in the sky, and pondering what it's source could be, remembers that the mountain range nearby is mainly made up of granite which reflects the light. Thinking over her husband's suicide she also recalls the suicide of a previous lover she had,a fortune teller she consults offers the explanation that some people store death inside themselves, others store life, sometimes it can take years to come to the surface.Before the train reaches T city, she decides to get off a few stations before, walking around she comes across a Western style house, that was old maybe built before the war, a middle aged woman is watering the roses in the garden, and the woman can see her son in the doorway, within this paragraph there's a switch in the narrative, and for the last few lines we read the thoughts of the woman watering her roses,'This copper watering can, which has been passed down through our family for many generations, feels full and heavy' and 'In this area the sun does not set over the mountains but goes down slowly far beyond the horizon that opens to the sea....', were brought back to the wandering woman when she asks if there is a hotel nearby she can stay at, the woman in the garden suggests somewhere in T city, this confirms to the woman that she was meant to journey to the destined T city.
In the hotel that night Tamao makes his first appearance in her dreams, Tamao, a life size wax doll standing in her room,in her dream the thought presents itself to her that, 'It seemed that i had been living in this room with the young man, and in this same room I would go on living with him in the future'. She begins to caress him, the more she does the more he seems to come to life, 'there was a pulse as if his heart was beating'. The dream seems to last the entire night, in the morning, waiting at the elevator door she encounters a young man almost identical to Tamao, and without thinking she calls him 'Tamao' he doesn't disagree to this given name, over the next few pages the narrator explores her fascination with both the real life Tamao and the wax doll who she had subconsciously named Tamao,and the relationship between the two, noting about the real life Tamao 'It was as if his smile, held captive in flesh that suggested an inanimate object, radiated from deep within the innermost part of his body', and she notices the doll like qualities of the real life Tamao, 'the mode of his exsistence was devoid of expression'. Each night she dreams of the doll, caressing him more and more, slowly awakening life in him and in the day she meets with the real life Tamao, over their afternoon meetings she begins to get to know more about him, they talk about his forthcoming exams a painting by Albert Martin, and a musical score by Toru Takemitsu called 'Love',on one of their meetings her thoughts provoked by observing some plants, she asks him if there are any botanical gardens nearby, he gives her directions. She continues dreaming of the wax doll Tamao, bringing him to life by her touch, and in her dream she applies lipstick to the lips of the doll, increasing it's resemblance to a living being. The following morning seeing the real Tamao at the elevator door she thinks she detects a trace of lipstick, he runs away, this alludes to the possibility that the dream Tamao and the real life Tamao are one and the same, but later when examining her bed she finds the hollow where his head had lain and finds one of his hairs, holding it up to the light, she sees that it's exactly like that of her own, which hints that it all could be an illusion, a product of the woman's grief?, the narrative follows closely the fine line between the possibly real, and the possibly imaginary. She visits the botanical gardens and through associations of observations of the plants there the woman's narrative blends back to being the woman she saw in the house near the beginning of the story, 'I felt myself expanding in a boundless space. The antique copper watering can was heavy in my hand. Morning and evening I water the roses like this, everyday'.
This enigmatic story has many looping elements within it,this is an intricate and subtly written story which could be read as a feminist fable, maybe an exploration of grief, Doll Love is amongst stories collected in the anthology, This Kind of Woman:Ten Stories by Japanese Women Writers 1960-1976, edited by Yukiko Tanaka and Elizabeth Hanson published by Stanford University Press. Recently published by Columbia University Press is Lonely Woman.