The Ink Stick
Everything in this world is viewed and calculated as a comparison to the things which surround it. As we meet our "aging" (37) dancer Haruko., we find her at a low point. Undeniably she is the greatest dancer, but the thickness of her makeup grows year upon year and the beauty of the less skillful dancers makes it difficult to meet them fresh from bed in the morning.
And then she is introduced to Kokichi, the old man who has for many years painted the designs on her kimono.
Ariyoshi gives us two characters that need each other to survive. The old man at 70 lives only to paint and the Haruko needs these kimono even more than she needs her makeup.
But, there is even more to it than just that. Haruko needs this elderly artist to stand beside and be able to exclaim inside her heart that she is still youthful. And the old man needs this young lady, without which, his painting doesn't shine.
At a point of lingering importance, Kokichi explains: "when this ink stink (the rare one he uses to paint) is gone, my life will be extinguished".
Haruko takes this as a point of contention. Surely, even if true, this predicament can be defeated. Age can be fought.
And so, on a trip to China she takes the time and effort to search out a replacement for the nearly irreplaceable ink stick, and upon arriving home has it sent to Kokichi. "Here you are" she seems to proclaim, "no need to die just yet".
So touched is the man by this gift of renewed life that as a thank you to his dancing muse he straightaway sets about using his new gift and within a short period, works himself to death.
A good deal of beauty resides within this short work. At times it worked like an old fairytale where our hero tries to defeat the hands of time, first with her makeup and then by purchasing her magic stick. But time was not to be played like such a simple fool and took the old man just at the time long prescribed.
This piece also works as a bit of an Ode to the artisan. Ariyoshi, a huge fan of drama and classic Japanese theatre paints the portrait of our painter, more practitioner than artist. So Confucius is he that one may be reminded of Jiro who dreamt of sushi, or any other perfectionist in Japanese drama, literature, or real life.
Hard to find, but worth searching out if you can get ahold of old Japan Quarterly at a library or online.