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“The Makioka sisters” Tanizaki’s masterpiece. It is gorgeous but sad story.

“The Makioka sisters” This worldly famous novel has been made into movies a couple of times in the past. This time I have read it in English translation.

Junichiro Tanizaki’s “The Makioka Sisters” (”Sasame yuki” in Japanese title) which has often been featured as an exemplary work of modern Japanese literature. I thought that it would be a book that we are supposed to read once especialy for those who want to be the nationally licensed interpreter guide.

So I daringly tried an English translation book this time. It was an interesting work which we could read at once. In this book, there are also abundant English expressions that depict various events in Japan. 

I borrowed an English version translated by Edward G. Seidensticker at the nearby library. In spite of thinking “Isn’t  it a little difficult?” as it is a fairly thick masterpiece.

It has been introduced overseas under the title of “The Makioka sisters”. When it comes to studying modern Japanese literature, the author Tanizaki is an important novelist along with Yukio Mishima. It seems to be very popular with many fans and researchers overseas. This novel illustrates a lot of things peculier to Japan such as “matchmaking”, “arranged marriage “and “matchmaker” or go-between. So I think it is such a quite useful book for explaining various events to international visitors in Japan.

Drawing with the background of the times just before Sino-Japanese War and Pacific War began, The site of the story is centered around Kobe, and the atmosphere of Tokyo is also depicted in detail.

It is a story of the Makiokas whose father made a fortune through the business at Senba district in Osaka during his lifetime. The story consists of four sisters of the Makiokas, Tsuruko, Sachiko, Yukiko and Taeko. Their calm days with wealth and happiness begins to decline after the death of their parents and then it collapses in the end.

The eldest sister Tsuruko lived in the head family in Osaka with a large family including lively children.  They eventually moved to Tokyo due to the transfer of her husband Tatsuo who works for a bank.

On the other hand, Sachiko’s family living in Ashiya, Kobe goes back and forth between Tokyo and Kobe during  the second half of the story. 

Ashiya district which is depicted as the main setting of this story has the image as a high-class residential area. Sachiko lives there with her husband and only daughter who goes to elementary school in addition to her younger sisters Yukiko and Taeko. Next door neighbor is a German family whose son and Sachiko’s daughter are close friends, and the many fun events exchanged between two families are also depicted in detail.

So,This is the story of an upper class family, we could appreciate a wealthy and intellectual atmosphere such as eating out at a high-class Western restaurant or a Chinese restaurant, watching Kabuki and talking about Taeko’s Nihon-buyo or Japanese dance.

They show off the luxury life that is away from that of a commoner’s daily life.  I myself, born and raised in the Tohoku region,  I couldn’t help thinking what Tohoku looked like at that time. Quoting meals such as a cooked rice mixed with radish depicted in the TV drama “Oshin” might  give the impression that it is a little too old-fashioned, but it was just the time when many young daughters were still trafficked in the countryside of Japan. People’s lives were also difficult due to The Showa Depression affected by The Great Depression in the United States.  The appearance of the family in the atmosphere of imminent war stands out compared to the commoner’s life at that time, and it seems to be unrealistic.  Honestly speaking, I don’t feel much empathy for their way of life.  It also seems to be a world far from the common sense of the time.

As I mentioned above, this novel has been made into movies a couple of  times. Most recently, it was produced by a movie company TOHO in 1983. The director was Kon Ichikawa.

The role of Tsuruko was Keiko Kishi,  Tsuruko’s husband Tatsuo was Juzo Itami, the role of Sachiko was Yoshiko Sakuma, Sachiko’s husband Teinosuke was Koji Ishizaka, the role of Yukiko was Sayuri Yoshinaga, and the role of Taeko was Yuko Kotegawa. This casting alone was gorgeous enough. It was a masterpiece movie.

The kimono scene is also glittering like a dream world. Why don’t you take a look at it?
However, If you watch it in the middle of the movie and listen to a few lines of the actors and actress, you might have the impression that “What? Is this Sugako Hashida’s drama?” .

Marriage of the third daughter, Yukiko

The third daughter Yukiko who is a little over 30 years old (at that time).  And the fourth daughter Taeko who is just over 20 years old. The second daughter Sachiko literally runs around east to west in order to get the two sisters to marry grooms who are suitable for the Makiokas. From this point of view, the main character might be Sachiko.

Yukiko has a quiet personality. everything is up to Sachiko,  and tends to leave  everything to her.  She is not sure what type of man she likes and is passive in everything. However she is not selfish.  She is a so-called gentle “good lady”. Sachiko does her best to arrange matchmaking, but it is very difficult to find a suitable man for the Makiokas. When it comes to checking the other person’s personality, various inconveniences will appear. Well of course. No one is perfect.

The first impressions of each other or both families are acceptable at the first matchmaking setting, but all the marriage proposals did not go well in the long run due to problems such as future groom’s relatives, his profession, financial circumstances. The same consequences repeat again and again. I would not be the only reader who wants to tell Yukiko “What do you wanna do?

On the other hand,in contrast to Yukiko,Taeko’s way of life is aggressive and active.She always clarifies self-assertion. She also has a clear idea of ​​what she thinks and what she wants to do. I could even call her a cheeky girl. She is a very strong girl with ambition and vitality, such as starting a small business herself and planning to study abroad in France.

However, when Taeko was her late teen, she eloped with a young boy from another wealthy family and caused a scandal that became a newspaper article, soiled the family name. For the Makiokas, she is so to speak a black sheep in English. But due to her aggressive personality, this girl would eventually leave the Makiokas and get her happiness on her own. I had had a faint expectation as a reader. I thought so while reading at least.
However, Sachiko was disappointed by this younger sister one after another.
Even after the scandal, she kept in touch with the boy.
However, eventually she started seeing the young man’s subordinate who rescued her in the flood struck the Kansai region at that time, in which I she was about to die. I had a bright expectation that this would finally make her happy, but the story suddenly changed, he suddenly died from disease.
No sooner had she begun cohabiting with a bartender than she became pregnant.

Light snowfall disappears soon. The title of this novel is “Sasameyuki”or”light snow” . However, Did the snow scene appear in this work? As far as I could remember, it has never happened.

For people, especially children who live in a snow-free region, It should be common to expect it to pile up and become a snowy landscape when it snows. Taking it into account that transportation, commuting and going to school, snowfall is not always pleasant, people should have enjoyed watching the snowy landscape at that time.

Sasameyuki might imply the happiness of the four sisters of the Makiokas, especially the third daughter Yukiko and the fourth daughter Taeko.

I expect their happy ending, but it melts and disappears in vain, and moreover it repeats again and again. Contrary to the expectations of the reader, happiness does not come to these two little sisters until the end of the story.

No evil person appears in this novel. The makiokas are all good and sensible people. Especially Tatsuo (Tsuruko’s husband) and Teinosuke (Sachiko’s husband) are good heartwarming men.

Surrounded by such a family, I read this novel with expectations that Yukiko and Taeko will be happy someday.  but it will melt without accumulating like Sasameyuki.

Tsuruko was desperate to protect the Makiokas. Sachiko and Yukiko were struggling for the happiness of Taeko. Yukiko who leaves her marriage to her older sister and is also too obedient to have her own will. On the other hand, Taeko lives at her own will, faithful to her own desires.It is a sad and lonely story woven by four sisters.

This is a work that introduces the Japanese circumstances to the world.
The story clearly depicts the “family” and morals of the people in high society through detailed depictions and conversations of the characters. Interweaving the modernism of Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region at that time in various scenes, In particular, the scenery of Arashiyama and Kyoto, which the Sachiko family visits every spring, is inspiringly beautiful.

As I expected, befitting the name of an aestheticist writer, It is definitely a masterpiece of Junichiro Tanizaki.

The English translation “The Makioka sisters” has made the world aware that such a gorgeous and elegant world certainly existed in Japan at that time. While the world recession and the war clouds were hanging down, this work helped to wipe off the false stereotypical image of the prewar so-called “faceless” Japanese, which had still remained in Western countries, as a dark group-oriented  fanatical militarist.
I will recommend this work.
This book is definitely worth reading.


That is all for this time.
Thank you for reading.

 

The Makioka sisters 細雪(英文版) [ 谷崎潤一郎 ]

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