Tokusuke Utsugi, the seventy-seven-year-old patriarch of a well-to-do Tokyo family. Impotent, toothless, plump, and continually pained by neuralgia, backaches, and circulation problems, Utsugi is attended at home by a full-time nurse. Long fascinated by visions of his own death and funeral, he journeys to Kyoto to select a fitting burial place. He is increasingly preoccupied with masochistic fantasies involving his daughter-in-law, Satsuko. For her small and grudging favors, he pays with ever more expensive gifts. Even after a series of debilitating seizures in the winter, Utsugi looks forward to spring, the construction of a swimming pool, and walks in the garden with Satsuko.
Satsuko Utsugi, a beautiful former chorus girl. She has been married to Utsugi’s son for ten years, and they occupy the second floor of Utsugi’s Tokyo house. Although she is the mother of a six-year-old son, Satsuko devotes her days to shopping, classical flower arranging, films, boxing matches, and an adulterous affair with Utsugi’s nephew, Haruhisa. Motivated by greed or by emotional generosity, she offers her father-in-law kisses for gifts such as a car, a designer scarf, a purse, and a cat’s-eye ring. She is regarded by her sisters-in-law as spiteful, sarcastic, lying, cold, and manipulative and is disregarded by her husband.
Jokichi Utsugi, the only son of Tokusuke. A successful thirty-six-year-old businessman away from home a considerable amount of the time, he is seemingly little interested in his wife and family.
Itsuko, Utsugi’s widowed daughter. She lives in the Nanzenji district with her two grown sons, Kikutaro and Keijiro, and has never gotten along well with her father.
Kugako, Utsugi’s daughter. When the eldest of her three children wishes to marry, Kugako asks her father for a short-term loan of twenty thousand yen. He refuses her. Not long afterward, Satsuko extracts three million yen from him as the price of a kissing session. Family resentment of Satsuko escalates.
Nurse Sasaki, Utsugi’s live-in attendant. She sleeps in the bed next to him all but one or two nights a month. She tends to his incessant pains and administers his medications.