Jun’ichir Tanizaki (tahn-ee-zahk-ee) explored Japanese traditionalism and the male infatuation with dominant women in a wide-ranging body of work embracing novels, novellas, short stories, plays, and essays. He was the son of the struggling owner of a printing establishment and spent his childhood growing up in the Nihonbashi section of Tokyo. His mother was quite attractive, and the young Tanizaki, as later autobiographical statements attest, was enthralled by her beauty. He was a handsome youth, often bullied by his classmates. In primary school, his precociousness was recognized by a teacher who guided him in exploring the Japanese and Chinese classics, giving him an early appreciation of traditions and literary aesthetics. At the First Municipal High School in Tokyo, he was an outstanding student and went on to study in the Japanese literature department at Tokyo Imperial University, where he joined the student literary magazine Shinshich (new thought tides). Because he could not pay his university fees, he did not finish his degree studies, choosing instead to pursue writing as a career.[Tanizaki, Junichiro]}[Tanizaki, Junichiro]}[Tanizaki, Junichiro]}
His first substantial works were two plays published in 1910, but it was “The Tattooer,” an erotic short story describing the coming to life of a spider etched on the back of a drugged courtesan and the enraptured entrapment of the tattooer in the transformed beauty of his “victim,” that launched his literary career. In 1911 this Poe-like creation and other works won for Tanizaki the praise of Nagai Kaf, a writer-critic whom Tanizaki admired and who characterized Tanizaki as a fellow struggler against the prevailing naturalist school of writing and its emphasis on describing reactions to real-life situations. Many of his early works—“Shnen” (children), “Akuma” (demon), and “Kyfu” (terror)—reflecting fin de siècle influences of Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe and his personal infatuation with the hedonistic macabre, are characterized by “diabolism” (akumashugi), his preoccupation with the perverse and deviant.
Tanizaki was married for the first time in 1915; the marriage, which ended in divorce in 1930, was complicated by a liaison between his wife and his friend the writer Haruo Sato and by Tanizaki’s fascination for his sister-in-law Seiko. The writer’s involved personal life received autobiographical treatment in Itansha no kanashimi (sorrows of a heretic), about a gifted writer and the sadistic carnal attentions of his prostitute lover, and “Longing for Mother,” published a year after his mother died, concerning the narrator’s dream quest for his departed mother. These and other stories, serialized in magazines and newspapers, developed Tanizaki’s fixation on women characters representative of the idealized mother or the domineering sexual siren ministering to the lustful desires of emotionally repressed men. Other important writings from this period include an autobiographical novel, a two-act play set in Edo, and a rare political novel, perhaps inspired by the Russian Revolution. Tanizaki also wrote plays in the early 1920’s, exploring the theme of guilt and happiness involving two men competing for the love of...
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