Characters Discussed

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Tokusuke Utsugi

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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

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

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

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.

The Characters

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A crux, implied by the work’s title, is whether—or to what extent—the protagonist is insane. Although Tokusuke uses or reports Satsuko’s words, such as “crazy” and “lunatic,” to refer to his infatuation no fewer than seven times, the overall clarity of his mind is confirmed by the astute analysis in his diary entries, his own anxieties about his mental health, and finally a psychiatrist’s opinion (quoted in Nurse Sasaki’s extract) that he is not mentally ill, though subject to abnormal sexual impulses. The power of sex to require an outlet, direct covertly much of human activity, and preserve or destroy life is recognized by both Tokusuke and Tanizaki. Blocked by impotence, Tokusuke is naturally attracted to the alluring former chorus girl who is constantly in his presence.

Abnormality arises in the hint of incest, analogous to that in Tanizaki’s “Yume no ukihashi” (“The Bridge of Dreams”) and emphasized by Satsuko’s reiterated term “father,” whenever addressing Tokusuke; foot fetishism (similar anatomical fetishes occur in many of Tanizaki’s other works); and the typical Tanizakian masochism, which with the preceding abnormality is symbolically blended in Tokusuke’s final choice of a burial monument having Satsuko’s footprint (in the guise of Buddha’s) placed over, as if stepping on, his remains. Also abnormal is Tokusuke’s abetting of a triangle among Satsuko, Haruhisa, and Jokichi, which has analogues in Tade kuu mushi (1928-1929; Some Prefer Nettles, 1955), Kagi (1956; The Key, 1960), and “The Bridge of Dreams.” Yet while Tokusuke claims that he would pursue the erotic even to death, it actually leads to the prolongation of his life, in contrast to its opposite result for the protagonist, the Professor, in The Key.

Also helping to create Tokusuke’s complex character, like the others in the novel a mixture of good and bad, are Tanizaki’s techniques, appropriate to the diary form, of juxtaposition of or consistency and inconsistency between entries. Both the silliness and the slyness of Tokusuke’s attempt to wrest a kiss from Satsuko by exaggerating his neuralgia and tearfully feigning a childlike entreaty (October 9 and 13) are set off against the six-year-old Keisuke’s genuine, innocent concern for his grandfather’s pain, which furthermore evokes from Tokusuke admirably authentic feelings and tears (October 19). Tokusuke’s machinations regarding Satsuko are satirized by the comical inconsistency of his plans for a trip to Kyoto, vehemently expressed in the entries of July 12 and November 10 (“There’s no need to be in a hurry!” versus “This isn’t the kind of thing you can afford to put off!”). His self-deceit and deceiving of the reader occur in the inconsistency between the entries of November 9 and 10, where in the former Tokusuke asserts that the time is ripe for the Kyoto trip because of the abeyance of his pain and the too-long protraction of delay, but in the latter that this is only another chance to flirt with Satsuko. Tokusuke does, however, show commendable steadiness in his resolve to face death, as suggested by the consistency in his accounts, in the entries of June 19 and October 22, of his feelings about his X rays appearing to yield a fatal prognosis.

Related to Tanizaki’s novelistic credo of leaving some points obscure or “in shadows,” Tokusuke’s craftiness in plotting is suggested by the meaningful reticence in certain entries. Tokusuke never explains his statement in the June 17 entry, “I had something else in mind.” The reader infers later that the “something” was his twenty-five-thousand-yen gift (or bribe) to Satsuko. The reader must infer from the July 29 entry that Tokusuke’s postponement of a trip to the resort town of Karuizawa is to enable a tete-a-tete with Satsuko; an obligatory inference from the August 19 entry is that Tokusuke’s whole detailed house-remodeling scheme is intended to incarcerate his wife, allowing him greater freedom with Satsuko.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57

Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. Vol. 1, Fiction, 1984.

Kimball, Arthur G. Crisis in Identity and Contemporary Japanese Novels, 1973.

Lippit, Noriko Mizuta. Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature, 1980.

Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.

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Critical Essays