Jun'ichirō Tanizaki 1886–1965
Japanese novelist, short story writer, translator, essayist, and dramatist.
Tanizaki ranks among the greatest Japanese writers of the twentieth century. He began his long career in the Meiji period (1868–1912) with the magazine publication of several short stories; he continued to write throughout the Taishō period (1912–1926) and into the modern Shōwa period. His novels and short fiction are marked by their combination of Western and classical Japanese literary influences and by their sensuous, almost pornographic subject matter.
The most significant of the Western writers by whom Tanizaki was influenced were Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. Like these authors, Tanizaki displayed an interest in the relation of the grotesque to the beautiful. He also shared their emphasis on plot and the creation of a fictional world based on fantasy and subconscious obsessions. Tanizaki's works differed from the Japanese literature of his time, which was dominated by naturalism and the confessional "I-novels." Nearly all of his fiction explores the sexual obsessions and perversions of the protagonist. The typical male hero is obsessed by the beauty of an unattainable woman and he suffers acutely because of this obsession. For Tanizaki, beauty is never far from pain; humiliation, rejection, and masochism often form the base of the protagonist's erotic pleasure. The theme of the yearning for unattainable beauty is developed through the hero's quest for the ideal mother-figure, as in Arrowroot (1932), a recently translated novella.
Sasameyuki (1948; The Makioka Sisters) explores the theme of beauty through the lives of four sisters and has been called Tanizaki's greatest contribution to literature. When Tanizaki tried to publish this novel during World War II, he encountered resistance because the novel neither mentions nor offers support for the Japanese war effort.
In his later years Tanizaki began to reject much of the Western influence on Japanese culture. In the novel Inei raisan (1934; In Praise of Shadows), for example, he bemoans the loss of purity and the subtle, suggestive beauty characteristic of traditional Japan. His respect for and sensitivity to the Japanese language is reflected in his modern rendition of the eleventh-century classic, The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki.
(See also CLC, Vols. 8, 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 93-96, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed. [obituary].)