A Cat, a Man, and Two Women

A Cat, a Man, and Two Women
Junichiro Tanizaki

After finishing The Makioka Sisters there was little doubt that Tanizaki deserves a very close look, if for nothing else but my own enjoyment. Due to some high praise I came across I chose this collection of short stories (One main and two smaller) as my next look.

The main story, and the one which gives this collection its title, is an amazing snapshot of relationships and interconnectivity. Unsurprisingly, there's a man, and a cat, but I would argue that three women should have been given credit, as the man's mother plays as important, and interesting, role in this tale.

In the beginning, there was Shozo, the man, and Lily, the cat... and somewhere in the background, the mother. Then Shinako comes along, and, almost as a beard of sorts (not to suggest anything perverse)  she is welcomed into the family as Shozo's bride. However, Shozo crosses the mother a bit too much, and maybe more importantly, she crosses Lily, unable to hide her jealousy. So, with a strong push from the mother, a new woman (who also happens to have a bit more money in hand) is pushed forward, and Shinako is pushed out. From here an interesting plan for revenge is hashed, with some expected and unexpected results.

I won't give any more plot details, even though I would suggests that the pleasure of this tale has nothing to do with such things. Instead, it is the perception and obvious character insight that Tanizaki is able to casually display, all while never needing to point things out specifically. This, to me, is maybe the hallmark of modern Japanese literature (if not even further back than that), the ability to tell you everything without ever telling you anything directly. This also is widely regarded as a staple of Japanese society, and Tanizaki uses his art to imitate life in a spectacular way. Within less than one hundred pages, we learn in many ways what it means to be a man, or a women, and even more so, a cat.

The other shorter works come across as far less important. The Little Kingdom is a 30 page examination of poverty and power within a school. I enjoyed it for the power struggle between the teacher and a very special student. The final story, Professor Rado, is an odd short work, which I found slightly confusing, and lacking in the depth of the first, or even the second story.

Overall, the cat makes this work highly recommendable and more proof of the value and importance of Tanizaki's work.

There's a movie about the cat that I hope to give a watch sometime too.

Check out all my other reviews of Tanizaki:

The Key
Diary of a Mad Old Man
In Black and White