Monday, 22 February 2016

a cat, a man & two women by Tanizaki Junichiro

Reissued by New Directions, a cat, a man and two women was originally published by Kodansha International, translated by Paul McCarthy, this new edition also includes his original Preface, this translation received the Japan - U.S Friendship Commission Prize. New Directions have done a great job with this edition with a striking new jacket including art from Tsuguhara Foujita, and also of note is the mention on the reverse that two more novels yet to have been translated into English are on the way, which is news to look forward to. Recently they've also given attractive new covers to Mishima's Confessions of a Mask and also Death in Midsummer.

a cat, a man and two women collects three of Tanizaki's short fictions, the last Professor Rado is in two parts as it was originally published in two installments, as was the title story. The second story is The Little Kingdom/Chiisana okoku, which when you discover that it first appeared in 1918, the same year as Akutagawa's Hell Screen, makes you wonder agape again at the span of Tanizaki's writing career, which takes in three era's of modern Japanese history. The Little Kingdom follows the fortunes or misfortunes of a provincial teacher caught in a power game within the children of his class which he himself becomes entangled with. As Paul McCarthy mentions in his informative Preface themes of domination and submission appear in the story, themes that preoccupied Tanizaki throughout his writing.

It's been sometime since I've read Tanizaki, but reading a cat, a man and two women brought the realization of how Tanizaki incorporates the epistolary into his writing as all though I've not checked, a number of his pieces seem to either open or feature letters written by or between his central characters, it seems that this is a perfect vehicle to open scenarios and windows into his character's consciousness and psyches. In the title story this is done to great affect in Shinako whose letter at the opening of the story requesting the handing over of the cat that Shozo is so enamoured with sets the shifting of the story. Essentially the story is a menagerie a trois with the additional central character of Lily, the cat, who becomes the pivotal factor in the relationships between Shozo and the two women in his life, his divorced wife, Shinako and new wife, Fukuko. Tanizaki's usage of Lily in Shinako's care and the shifting of her empowerment within affairs is masterly conveyed. Another aspect of the story of note is that of it being set firmly in the Kansai area, rather than that of Tokyo, Tanizaki famously moved to the area. Envisioning the stories here, it's quite easy to picture them as early black and white films, it comes as little surprise to know that early in his career Tanizaki was a script writer for Taishō Katsuei, or literary consultant as it's Wikipedia page mentions. Although coming from a background of reasonable comfort, Shozo appears as a rather feckless character who eventual succumbs to the encroaching web of conflicting affections between the three.

The last story out of the three is Professor Rado which seems to display the hallmarks usually associated with Tanizaki - masochism and off beat sexualities, the story was originally published in two parts, the first in Kaizo in 1925 and the second in Shincho in 1928. In a way it could be said that it displays some early aspects of the Ero guro. The story is conveyed by a journalist assigned to interview the Professor who when they meet displays an affected appearance and strange mannerisms and conversational manner, question marks and rumours emerge over the Professor's household. In the second part the journalist catches up with the Professor again at a variety performance where the Professor begins to show an extra special interest in one particular performer who is rumoured to suffer from the symptoms of syphilis, the journalist agrees to gain more information about the performer who appears to always remain quizzically silent during performances and has a mysterious past. The story has a certain voyeuristic quality to it as the revealing scenarios of the plot are relayed by the journalist in a clandestine manner. a cat, a man and two women offers an interesting showcase of Tanizaki's styles and themes, and it's great that New Directions have rescued it from lapsing into being out of print, very much looking forward to the two forthcoming novels.

a cat, a man and two women at ndp  



Parrish Lantern said...

Tanizaki is a writer I've loved & yet have seemed to have neglected will need to address that concern sometime soon.

me. said...

Enjoyed this, it's always astonishing to contemplate the breadth of Tanizaki's written output, very much looking forward to the two new translations from new directions publishing in the new year, and also 'Red Roofs and Other Stories', forthcoming this month - (review on the way!) -

all the best.