Toshio Oki, a fifty-four-year-old novelist. He is a sentimental man, in the ascetic and reserved manner of the Japanese aesthetic. When Toshio was thirty years old and newly married, he had an affair with a fifteen-year-old girl. He later fictionalized this affair, and the resulting book became his best, most acclaimed, and most enduring novel. He sets the present-time action of the novel going with an impulsive action: He arranges to meet his former mistress and to listen with her to the tolling of temple bells at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Instead of resulting in the hoped-for insight and perspective, the meeting brings more involvement; Toshio finds himself starting a romance, parallel to his first affair, with his former mistress’s young protegée, meeting the same dilemmas and making the same flawed choices.
Otoko Ueno, a traditional Japanese painter who, at the age of fifteen, was Toshio’s mistress. A reflective woman, she spends much of her time reminiscing, musing about her life and the poignant, never-to-be-spoken feelings that became the subjects of her paintings. Although she has a firmly established career and a new lover, her affair with Toshio, their love, the stillborn baby they conceived, and her eventual mental breakdown and hospitalization are still the foremost events in her life. Otoko wonders whether she should attribute the hold that the affair has over her to the power of art rather than to an enduring grand passion. Toshio’s novel, although idealized, has kept their affair alive in the memory of the public. Otoko herself has forged an attachment to her lost baby by working on an idealized portrait, a picture of a child she never...
(The entire section is 708 words.)