Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Among Tanizaki’s twenty-five or so original novels, Some Prefer Nettles falls among those that are short—the majority, with the notable exception of Sasame-yuki (1943-1948; The Makioka Sisters, 1957); set in the twentieth century (the other novels being set in the past, anytime from the Fujiwara to Tokugawa periods); and written after Tanizaki’s transforming experience of the great Tokyo-Yokohama earthquake of 1923 (referred to three times in Some Prefer Nettles) and his subsequent resettlement in the Kyoto-Osaka region (as several of the characters have also done in the novel). The novels of this period are generally considered to be his best, with Some Prefer Nettles often nominated as the leader; indeed, up to his death, Tanizaki was regarded as a leading candidate for the first Nobel Prize for Literature to be awarded to a Japanese writer. Tanizaki is reported to have written in 1948 that the novels he liked best were Some Prefer Nettles and Yoshino kuzu (1931; Arrowroot, 1982).

Some of the longest discussions of aesthetics occur in Some Prefer Nettles, in which art (drama, music, ceramics) is so often a part of the plot and the characters’ interests. On this point, the novel is closest to “Shisei” (“The Tatooer”), “Momoku monogatari” (“The Blind Man’s Tale”), and “Shunkin sho” (“A Portrait of Shunkin”). In fact, the blind samisen player from whom Misako’s father and O-hisa take lessons foreshadows the centrality of an analogous character in “The Blind Man’s Tale” and “A Portrait of Shunkin.” In the former short work, the narrator (who is the title character) receives and transmits clandestine coded messages through variations of samisen music, which leads to the climactic downfalls of himself and the noble samurai household he serves and loves; in the latter, the blind mistress Shunkin and her self-blinded servant (and lover) Sasuke devote their lives to their musical art, to the exclusion of the surrounding world. In Some Prefer Nettles, art and life are often shown interacting—comically when audience noise and public juvenile urination drown out the puppet play performance in Awaji, and when the puppeteers (possibly in retaliation) enact in one of their plays a character stepping outside to urinate before going to bed.