Junichiro Tanizaki’s “Naomi” is a b**tch.

I suppose folks in the anime circuit would think of these two when I mention Junichiro Tanizaki and Naomi:

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Watch Bungou Stray Dogs, by the way. This series has a nice balance between thriller/mystery and silliness.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, real-life novelist Junichiro Tanizaki looks nothing like his cartoon counterpart. But his book, Naomi, was quite something.

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A quick background: Junichiro Tanizaki (1886 – 1975) is considered to be one of the pillars of modern Japanese literature. His works were crucial in reflecting a country that was learning to adjust to major shifts in modern culture. My opinion is that his works were considered revolutionary at the time because, because a lot of what he wrote was considered obscene by traiditional and conservative standards. But there’s no faulting  his ability to grasp and challenge mindsets and approach to cultural and generational shifts.

There is now a Tanizaki Prize in his honour, to award other writers with full-length works of fiction or drama. This is, in fact, the highest literary merit a professional writer can have, and the winner not only receives a commemorative plaque, but a cash prize of JPY 1 million too. Shusaku Endo’s Silence – also another must on my reading list – won this prize in 1966, one year after it was introduced. Haruki Murakami also won this award for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World in 1985.

The Tanizaki Prize, of course, isn’t the only Japanaese literary prize to win. There are others, such as the Akutagawa Prize, Dazai Osamu Prize, and Edogawa Rampo Award.

So basically, if you’re looking to be introduced to Japanese literature by authors other than Haruki Murakami, read stuff by the main characters of Bungou Stray Dogs. Rampo Edogawa’s works are amazing (especially his short stories. I love them to bits), and Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human (yes, literally Ningen Shikkaku 人間失格) is a horrific account of a man’s sad and painful decent into madness (real-life Osamu committed suicide shortly after the last part of this novel was published).

Anyway, all this reading started because I was itching for a good Japanese romance book. Something like Murakami’s short On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning or Neil Gaiman’s The Thing About Cassandra.  So as I was searching for recommended books to read, Naomi popped up as one of the choices. So I picked up Naomi at Kinokuniya last Friday.

Reading at the start was slow at first, but today it took me two hours to breeze through and finish the book.

An early apology for this spoiler – my conclusion is Naomi is a bitch.

I couldn’t call her a whore of a wife for the protagonist Joji. This couple was a cultural clash waiting to happen. Joji was 28 when he met Naomi when she was only 15. This novel was written in 1924 – not long after Japan opened its doors to Western trade and influences.

13 years is quite an age gap when you think about it. I don’t even have Snapchat, let alone understand it. The Slender Man is a man who is very slender. That’s all.

The bare summary of the story is this: Joji takes Naomi under his wings, naively thinking that because she came from a pretty sad background (poor breeding, in his words), he could mould her into a fine young woman who would later become his wife. She becomes his wife alright – but she has such loose morals she hops from man to man to satisfy her needs for socialising, popularity, luxury, and Western influences. She’s the harlot everyone would be talking about – and the scary thing is that she’s not afraid to brag about it. She’s shrewd, crude, loose, and a downright liar.

The protagonist husband, however, can’t let her go. He’s literally chained to her will and her ways and gives her what she wants.

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Chijin no Ai (A Fool’s Love), the original title of the series that became Naomi.

I think Naomi is important to Junichiro because she symoblized Japan’s changing times, which raised questions on how morales should evolve with it. And it’s probably why Naomi was one of his most famous works.

In Tanizaki’s Naomi, she was the Regina George of her time. In Bungou Stray Dogs, she’s just Tanizaki’s sister who adores him as more than a sibling. I hope she’s also nicer.

Another sidenote: To find out more about Junichiro Tanizaki and the literary works of the other novelists/characters, Crunchyroll announced in March that Kadokawa released a special series of selected titles by these authors, featuring their anime characters on the cover. It’s all in Japanese, of course. But what a way to get a new audience for these classics!

 

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