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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 209

Masks is a novel by Fumiko Enchi that begins in Kyoto, Japan, when two men, Ibuki and Mikame, meet by chance in a café. Both are university instructors, and both have come from Tokyo to attend conferences. When they meet with a student named Yasuko, however, they find themselves in the midst of complex relationships and faced with the task of interpreting hidden meanings and learning life lessons revealed in the form of a Japanese drama known as the Nō play.

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The Nō play relies on the use of masks to convey the characters’ emotions. Ryō no Onna is the mask that represents the spirit woman, the Masugami represents the young woman, and the Fukai represents the middle-aged woman. Each mask is magnificently crafted, complex, and expressive, and the men learn that the women behind the masks are capable of using them to reveal subtle shades of emotion as well as to hide them. A mask is a symbol of deception; it conceals the truth and acts as a façade. Thus, Enchi use the idea of masks to convey the complexity and deception of women’s emotions. Ibuki and Mikame are left to decipher those emotions, as they enter into relationships with women who are alluring but duplicitous.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1951

The author of a highly praised modern translation of The Tale of Genji in addition to many novels and short stories, Fumiko Enchi is perhaps Japan’s most renowned woman author, although she is relatively unknown outside her country. Now, with Juliet Winters Carpenter’s admirable translation of Masks (published in Japan in 1958 as Omna-men), English-speaking audiences will at last have an opportunity to assess the artistry of Enchi’s fiction. They will discover that she is a dramatic, sensual, demanding, and rewarding author; that contemporary Eastern fiction has many unexpected correspondences with Western fiction; and that feminism has long been an issue in Japanese literature.

Like most Japanese art, Masks draws upon a rich, enduring tradition. Figuring most prominently are The Tale of Genji, an early eleventh century novel focusing on the civilized splendors of court life and the amorous adventures of Prince Genji, and No dramas, symbolic dramas developed during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries noted for their use of masks. Fumiko Enchi employs especially one episode from The Tale of Genji, concerning the fading love of Genji for the Rokuj lady, whose inability to surrender her spirit drives him from her. Later, her possessive jealousy compels her to murder Genji’s wife. The murder, however, is not committed by Rokuj’s person but by her evil spirit. The Rokuj lady’s violent passion struck a responsive chord in No dramatists, whose artistic aim was to depict some primary human relation or emotion such as maternal grief for a dead child, the anguish of unrequited love, or the inability of a ghost to leave the scene of its sin. In the No tradition, where characters are the embodiments of ideas and where men always act women’s roles, only female spirits wear masks. Hence, Enchi’s title refers to those masks and their emotional power. Using these and other complex cultural and aesthetic allusions, Enchi skillfully creates a dramatic portrait of a woman who, thwarted by custom and betrayed by love, exacts a cruel revenge upon apparently innocent characters.

Thirty years before the action of Masks begins, nineteen-year-old Mieko marries into the old and powerful Togan family. Generations of Togan men have enjoyed the custom of maintaining a mistress along with their wives, and Mieko’s husband Masatsugu quietly continues this practice. Out of consideration for Mieko, however, he orders his mistress Aguri to have two abortions. Outraged, Aguri repays her lover by arranging for the pregnant Mieko...

(The entire section contains 2211 words.)

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