(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Masks opens with the chance encounter of Tsuneo Ibuki, a specialist in Heian period Japanese literature, and his friend Toyoki Mikamé in a coffee shop in Kyoto’s main train station. Mikamé is a physician who holds a doctoral degree in psychology, and he is on his way back to Tokyo from Osaka, where he attended a medical convention. Ibuki is in Kyoto to deliver special lectures at a university, and he is in the coffee shop waiting for Mieko Togan and her daughter-in-law Yasuko. They have invited him to join them in calling at the home of the famous No performer Yorihito Yakushiji. The actor’s daughter is studying the writing of poetry under Mieko, and Yakushiji has invited the Togan ladies to inspect the ancient costumes and masks in his collection. Ibuki asks Mikamé, who knows both women, to join the group.

Both Mikamé and Ibuki are in love with Yasuko Togan. Four years after the death of her husband in an avalanche on Mount Fuji, Yasuko still lives in the home of her mother-in-law. Akio Togan was Ibuki’s younger colleague; as a scholar, he was interested in the phenomenon of spirit possession as it is revealed in the literature of the Heian period. With Mieko’s encouragement, Yasuko has continued Akio’s research, attending Ibuki’s classes and bringing into the Togan home people such as Mikamé, whose interest in Japanese folklore complements her study of spirit possession. Central to a particular kind of No play is the motif of the vengeful spirit or ghost, often in the form of a beautiful woman. The visit to the Yakushiji collection suggests the relevance of these elements to the Togan family’s story.

During the train ride from Kyoto to Tokyo, Yasuko confesses to Ibuki that she would like to escape Mieko Togan’s control. It is not the fact that her mother-in-law depends on her help in editing a poetry magazine or that she actively encourages her to continue Akio’s research into the phenomenon of spirit possession that bothers Yasuko. Perhaps without knowing it, Mieko is throwing Yasuko at Mikamé and Ibuki, and at the same time she encourages Yasuko’s emotional dependence on herself. Ibuki and Mikamé have already discussed the emotional relationship of the Togan ladies, using for the purpose of comparison the example of a seance that both men had attended with Yasuko some time before the meeting in Kyoto. If Yasuko is the medium, the two men agree, Mieko is the spirit who inhabits her body and speaks through it.


(The entire section is 1015 words.)