Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ozu, an aging Japanese businessman entering his senior years. Ozu is a humble clerk, preoccupied with memories of his youth and greatly troubled by his increasing fear of the different moral vision animating the youth of postwar Japan, as exemplified in the unadorned avarice and ambition of his son, Eiichi. Nostalgic for an older, more disciplined, and even militaristic Japan, he finds in the present a predatory industrial power immune to simple human compassion and idealism. His mental search recalls Nada Middle School and his impish friend Flatfish, who whiled away his youth with Ozu, longing for female companionship. Both had sought the affection of the nubile, beautiful Aiko. Ozu’s flashbacks and reveries of his youth and postadolescent contacts with Flatfish come crashing to a halt when he learns of Flatfish’s death from a battlefield disease. He determines to search for Aiko to report this bad news. Finding her accidentally, as one of his son’s terminal cancer patients, Ozu sees Aiko as merely one laboratory rat, prey to medical science’s preoccupation with advanced objective knowledge at the expense of nurturing care and concern for individual persons. While locating Aiko’s childhood home, now bulldozed in the name of progress, Ozu sinks into despair as his generation fades into the bleak sunset of Japan’s moral resignation in the midst of its economic and technological triumphs.


Flatfish, Ozu’s childhood friend and constant companion in the idyllic days before World War II. Flatfish is an undisciplined, unintellectual parody of Japanese manhood, always in trouble at the Nada Middle School, where he and Ozu met, and unconcerned about career advancement in his chosen employment. Irrepressible,...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

When I Whistle reveals a key aspect of End’s talent, the ability to create contemporary characters with realism and subtlety, while avoiding excessive sentimentality. Effectively using flashbacks from prewar and postwar Japan, End ironically juxtaposes the “new” Japan with the old in his novel’s main characters and finds modern Japan, though presumably more open to the West, in its own way even less congenial to the Christian values and simple human kindness the novelist seeks to inculcate.

Ozu, the protagonist, is a humble businessman; his contempt for the ethos of modern Japan and his general nostalgia for the older Japan is slowly revealed in his conversations with acquaintances on trains and with his family. Everywhere he turns he finds evidence of disintegrating respect for life, but especially in his enterprising son; Eiichi’s professional success and worldly sophistication are vivid contrasts to his father’s simple concerns for trust and commitment among his fellows. Ozu is increasingly drawn to a world of shadows and dreams, wherein he can revisit Flatfish and the lovely teenage Aiko. While these memories are vividly drawn, the characters of Flatfish and Aiko are evoked more than developed.

Eiichi, desperate to rise within his profession, identifies himself with a grim, work-oriented Japan: driven, technological, spiritually barren, the culture of Western imperialism his father had fought to defeat. Eiichi finds his father’s basic humanism backward and unpleasant, a needless sentimentality that impedes his career goals. When father and son are united by the illness of Aiko, their differing values are highlighted; for Eiichi and his colleagues, Aiko is not a person with dignity, deserving of care, special attention, or love, but a convenient subject for experimental cancer treatments.

Ozu parts from his son in muffled despair, confronting a predatory Japan, conquering no longer with bayonets or aircraft but with sheer economic and technological prowess, devoid of a spiritual center.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Allen, Louis. “Rastignac of Tokyo,” in The Listener. CI (April 12, 1979), pp. 530-531.

Cunningham, Valerie. “Death in the Afternoon,” in New Statesman. XCVII (April 13, 1979), p. 527.

King, Francis. “Experiments,” in The Spectator. CCXLII (April 14, 1979), pp. 23-24.

Mathy, Francis. “Shsaku End: Japanese Catholic Novelist,” in Thought. XLII (Winter, 1967), pp. 585-614.

Rimer, J. Thomas. Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions, 1978.

Updike, John. “From Fumie to Sony,” in The New Yorker. LV (January 14, 1980), pp. 94-102.