Part 1. Noboru, a precocious boy of thirteen, convinced of his own genius, spends much of his time in his bedroom, looking out over Yokohama Bay and listening to the sound of ships’ horns. His personal philosophy, like that of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, comprises distrust of authority and women, concentration on death and nihilism, and faith in universal order. One night he discovers a peephole in his bedroom wall through which he is able to observe his mother’s boudoir. Several days later, his mother, Fusako, who is only thirty-three years old and retains much of her beauty, invites a sailor named Ryuji to dinner, and they pass the night in lovemaking. Noboru, through his peephole, observes their most intimate moments. At first, he finds nothing objectionable, merely a verification of his philosophy of universal order. In his mind, he is encroaching on the mother, the mother on the man, the man on the sea, and the sea on the boy in a purposeful design.
Superficially, Fusako, as the wealthy proprietress of an exclusive male boutique, has nothing in common with Ryuji, the rough sailor. About her own age, he always lived as a loner, hating both the land and the sea as types of a prison. From his youth, he cherished the illusion of a special destiny leading him to glory. Becoming a sailor to escape a boring life such as his father led, Ryuji did not, like the conventional seafarer, engage in easy and frequent sex. His image of perfect love consists of idyllic courtship ending in death.
On the morning after Noboru’s spying on his mother, he tells her that he is going swimming, but instead he spends the day denouncing the insignificance of ordinary life with a band of six schoolfellows, all top students. They are ranked according to leadership; their chief is number one, and Noboru is number three. In boasting of his spying exploits, Noboru portrays the sailor as a hero, a man dominating a woman, but the chief disagrees on the grounds that such a relationship is unimportant. He inculcates as a principle that the band should remain absolutely apathetic concerning all things sexual. By means of a therapy of showing pictures that portray every physical aspect of intercourse, he makes the band completely dispassionate. Part of their ritual at this meeting consists of killing a kitten as a symbol of the emptiness of existence. Selected as executioner, Noboru bashes the kitten against a log. The boys strip off the animal’s skin and dissect its organs in order to experience the sensation of absolute nakedness. Noboru compares the nakedness of the kitten with the nakedness of his...
(The entire section is 1074 words.)