In Black and White



In Black and White
Junichiro Tanizaki
Phyllis I Lyons
232pp

In Black and White is a reasonably early work of the 20th century Japanese literary master, Junichiro Tanizaki. Written concurrently with both Quicksand and Some Prefer Nettles, this work received much less attention and has only been available in English since January 2018, and not easily obtainable even in the original Japanese.

Is there a reason for this? Possibly a few. Although it certainly holds importance, much of that importance is connected to literary theory of that moment, which might go right over many readers heads. (The explanatory essay included at the end of this work will help a lot, and in some ways I wish there was a more vague non-spoiler essay at the beginning to help a bit more). However, if you are widely read, not even specifically in Japanese, it should be no trouble to pick up on the fact that this book is Tanizaki's argument for and against certain literary styles and criticisms.

So, we have the story, (which is a bit of a whirlwind and often simply an excuse for pondering the main theories of our writer, both the character of Mizuno and Tanizaki himself) where Mizuno, a sad sack of a magazine writer, divorced, alone and poor, awakens to realize that he has made a serious typo.

His latest work, a tale of perfect murder, was sent to the publishers with the name of the victim misspelled a few times. No big deal surely, except that the misspelling was a slip on Mizuno's part, where he wrote the name of a real man in place of the murder victim.

 OK, so what does that mean? Well, since the murderer was a writer, and the victim based on a real person, that might come up the next time they meet. Embarrassing surely, but Mizuno takes it immediately further by assuming that surely, now, someone will kill the model for his victim character and of course that will mean he will hang for the murder he will not commit.

This sends on a tale of fear, paranoia, sex, blurred reality and pure noir. I couldn't help but picture Mizuno living in black and white (the title helps), every room must be smokey, dirty, and every person suspicious.

The rest of the plot is not worth giving away, only to say that Tanizaki uses everything to emphasis his points of view on writing and criticism and that the final essay included paints a beautiful and sad explanation of the days leading up to the suicide of Ryunosuke Atukagawa (whose wonderful Kappa will be reviewed here someday).


So, this is an interesting work, for the genius of Tanizaki's writing and thinking, as well as for the amazing fact that it is quite different from so much of his other writing. Recommended for anyone with a bit of literary background, Japanese or otherwise.

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