Characters Discussed

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Kaname

Kaname, a sinecurist in his father’s company, a quiet, unassuming man in his mid-forties. He and his wife, Misako, agree that their marriage has ended in all but name (they still live together), but neither has the necessary decisiveness to obtain a divorce. Although the basic reason for the marriage’s failure is Kaname’s lack of sexual interest in his wife, he is equally put off by her modern ways and extreme interest in the latest fads of Western culture. Kaname, though somewhat Westernized himself, becomes increasingly interested in traditional Japanese culture, as evidenced by his growing enthusiasm for the Osaka puppet theater and in the model provided for him by the apparently satisfying relationship his father-in-law has with a young but old-fashioned mistress. The concluding implication is that he will turn away from his wife and become more interested in “doll-like” women, but it is uncertain if he can overcome his indecisiveness.

Misako

Misako, Kaname’s wife. Estranged from her husband but still living with him, Misako is a woman who has turned her back on traditional culture and ideals and tries to make herself a modern, Westernized woman. She shares her husband’s indecisiveness about her marriage, partly for the sake of their ten-year-old son, and for solace has been having an affair for the past two years. It is her interest in shallow and insubstantial Western objects and fads, as much as her sexual unattractiveness, that propels Kaname toward his increasing interest in traditional Japanese culture and women. Kaname becomes aware that Misako’s lover is not permanently committed to her, which increases his anxiety about divorcing her and setting her adrift.

Hiroshi

Hiroshi, the ten-year-old son of Kaname and Misako. Hiroshi is a sensitive boy who has been living in a constant state of anxiety because his parents have concealed their marital problems from him, forcing him to guess their intentions. He thinks, for example, that his parents may be intending to abandon him and lives in a constant state of torment until he is finally informed by a relative that his parents are getting a divorce (supposedly) and that he will not be abandoned by them. This news apparently serves to calm his fears.

Misako’s father

Misako’s father, a man in his early sixties. He is a conservative, old-fashioned man interested in all aspects of traditional Japanese culture, especially the Osaka puppet theater. He has a mistress in her mid-twenties, a traditional-looking and-acting woman who resembles one of the theater puppets. Kaname grows to admire the older man and his style of living, especially his interest in traditional Japanese arts and his successful relationship with his doll-like mistress.

O-hisa

O-hisa, the mistress of Misako’s father, a woman in her mid-twenties. She is the opposite of Misako, the modern woman. O-hisa not only is young and pretty but also is old-fashioned and docile, quite content to wait hand and foot on Misako’s father. She serves as the model for the type of woman to whom Kaname may be beginning to turn; in fact, she serves as a living counterpart to the Osaka puppets to which Kaname increasingly finds himself attracted.

Hideo Takanatsu

Hideo Takanatsu, a divorced businessman who is a cousin of Kaname. While on a visit to Kaname and his wife, he tries to talk them into going ahead with the divorce and is astonished to discover that they have procrastinated and never gotten around to saying anything to their son. He takes it upon himself to inform their son, who is relieved to get some hard facts.

Louise

Louise, a Eurasian prostitute who is Kaname’s sometime lover....

(This entire section contains 642 words.)

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She is a sex object for Kaname and also satisfies his woman-worshiping tendencies and flirtation with Western erotica. He loses interest in her as he becomes more interested in Japanese culture.

The Characters

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Both this novel and Jun’ichir Tanizaki’s Futen rojin nikki (1961-1962; Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1965) open with the protagonist attending the theater (art is a pervasive motif in the majority of Tanizaki’s novels) and relating to the drama by sexual attraction to the heroine. Whereas Tokusuke Utsugi in Diary of a Mad Old Man is enticed by a male actor playing a female role, emblematic of Utsugi’s masochism in the full sense, Kaname is allured by the puppet Koharu’s appearance of classical beauty that is “withdrawn, restrained, careful not to show too much individuality”—in short, the submissive “eternal woman” of Japanese tradition. The failure of Kaname’s complete attachment to Misako in part results from her being neither the courtesan type (Koharu’s role in the play) nor, as a modern woman, a puppet deprived of human individuality.

Nearly all the novel’s characters, caught in a variety of conflicting circumstances and forces, are described with the imagery and vocabulary of theater, reflecting their adoption of or coercion into roles. Obliged to conceal their unorthodox arrangement from Misako’s father and Aso’s relatives, Kaname and Misako have “to put on their disguises and act their parts”; Misako has to “play the part of the wife” before her father; irritated by her restlessness at the Benten Theater, Kaname thinks Misako “ought to restrain herself and play the part of the wife”; and the couple are relieved that “there was no need to act in front of” Takanatsu and that they are momentarily “free not to play at being husband and wife.” From dread of their separation as well as solicitude for his parents’ burdens, Hiroshi is “perhaps acting a part as carefully as they were, hiding his troubles from them.”

Devoted to tradition, Misako’s father at the Benten Theater wears clothing “like the costumes of the puppets,” at Awaji is “appointed like a doll on the stage,” and at his house in Kyoto looks “ready for the role of a poet on the stage.” O-hisa, from her upbringing and temperament accepting her pupillary role, is recurrently compared to a beautiful, docile puppet or doll; Misako’s father ultimately acquires a real doll as well (significantly, Misako relegates the dolls her father bought her for the Doll Festival). Indeed, even Kaname’s acquaintances in the demimonde are caught up in role-playing. The ostentatious brothel owner Madame Brent, even when mourning her brother, is “striking too many poses,” while the pretentious Louise has “the manner of a melodramatic actress of the new school” and a “dramatic bill of complaints” with “straining and storming.”

Only the admirable Takanatsu, cigar-smoking and garlic-chewing (the latter habit prophylactic, derived from his contact with Chinese culture), remains outside the role-playing and in his concluding letter (chapter 13) discloses the novel’s most trenchant actions (his telling Hiroshi the truth, to spare the boy further uncertainty and inure him to the ways of the real world) and analyzes (Misako’s absolute necessity to leave Kaname; Kaname’s self-pampering that needs a serious blow).

Bibliography

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

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.

Seidensticker, Edward G. Introduction to Some Prefer Nettles, 1955.

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

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