Fun fact: I learned the word “mangekyo” long before I started learning Japanese, along with “tsuki ni kawatte oshioki yo” and “henshin”. So when I spotted the lovely cover of Tanizaki Mangekyo in the bookstore, my first thought was an unconscious, thrilled “Sailor Moon!” This collection of short stories has nothing to do with that pretty sailor soldier, however. And yet every time I see the title, I start singing that song to myself. (I still sing it at karaoke with J-peeps. Nothing like singing anime songs in Japanese to knock J-socks off!)
My second thought, based solely on the erotic reveal of Asumiko Nakamura’s lady on the cover, was that this was a collection of erotic/definitely R-rated stories and therefore I should refrain from reading this volume on the train. Some salarymen might be cool with reading rape-y naked lady stories during their commute, but I like to keep my public manga reading PG. So this sat around for a couple weeks, waiting for a slot in my house reading schedule. And when that slot finally opened up and I actually read the obi, I realized that this is a collection of manga adaptations of stories by famed Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki. And while he is known for his “destructive erotic obsessions” (thank you for that turn of phrase, Wikipedia editor), none of these stories is particularly dangerous to read on the train.
But that’s not to say that some of those erotic obsessions don’t pop up in the eleven tales that make up this volume. In particular, Banko Kuze takes pain to introduce us to some of them in the first story, “Tanizaki Girls”. Which is not, strictly speaking, an adaptation, but does mention a number of his heroines, while giving us a beautiful woman in a kimono playing dominatrix to schlubby men. And you know that any book that Usamaru Furuya is involved in is going to have some kind of sadomasochistic element. Furuya tackles the tale “Shonen”, in which the narrator joins little rich kid Shinichi and his henchman Senkichi in games that are mostly about torturing Shinichi’s sister Mitsuko. And like for real torturing her. They tie her up, they sit on her head, they gag her, Shinichi even gets out a knife and cuts her. Of course, this is all with the malicious glee seen in other Furuya works like Lychee Light Club.
Most of the other stories do not reach these sadomasochistic heights, though. The longest of the bunch, “Daidokoro Taiheiki” by Akira Yamaguchi is a rambling, text-heavy work that feels more like an attempt to cram some ink drawings in amongst the text of the story rather than adapt it to the medium of manga. Those ink-drawings and washes are lovely, but they didn’t come together as a visual story. And the “REMIX” of Hemingway and Tanizaki seemed like an interesting idea at the start of the story, but the elderly protagonist wandering around a ship at sea in search of a hot younger woman quickly grew tiresome, so that by the time he leapt into the ocean, suddenly young and naked, I was more than ready to start in on a different story.
Fortunately, Brain favourite Akino Kondoh is also collected in these pages. Her “Yume no Ukihashi” is a rare chance to see her doing a “Japanese” story. While her style always evokes ukiyo-e and Japanese inks for me, she generally writes about modern Japan with characters living in the present. And I do enjoy that! But she draws the more “traditional” Japan equally well, her delicate lines and stark contrasts carving out a world from the minimalist images they create. This tale of motherhood and identity also works well thematically with Kondoh’s previous work, so it’s no surprise she chose to adapt this particular story. The sons of the main character steadily increase, while the main character becomes less and less sure of how many sons she actually has. Or how many sons she should have. And so, we have a multiplication and a metamorphosis at the end that called to mind “Ladybird’s Requiem“.
Machiko Kyo, another Brain favourite, shows up with “Chijin no Ai”, a modern take on the Tanizaki tale, turning Naomi into an idol at a handshake event when she is proposed to by an ardent fan. She accepts because she feels she is empty. But as is the way of empty vessels, she is filled up, and it’s not the way her fan/husband would like. Asumiko Nakamura also turns up on the inside of the book as well as the cover, with “Zokuzoku Rado-Sensei”, her imagined follow-up to Tanizaki’s “Rado-Sensei.” The story somehow manages to be sexy as hell, despite the fact that the majority of it is two men sitting on either side of a table, talking about one of the men’s dead wives. But Nakamura comes from BL; she knows how to sell men interacting, even if they are just sitting there doing their taxes.
The winner for most WTF, though, goes to “Aotsuka-shi no Hanashi” by Shunji Enomoto. The titular Aotsuka falls in love with a movie actress, and instead of just joining her fanclub, he has the projectionist cut out frames from the reels of her films and develops them as photos so he can post them on his wall and collect all her body parts. It is the ultimate stalker story, and Enomoto’s crisp lines work to highlight the deep creepiness of everything Aotsuka is doing.
Like all anthologies, this one has a couple duds, but the gems are shiny enough that it’s worth picking up. And you can say you are reading classic Japanese literature to anyone who would dare to hassle you about reading comics when you’re supposed to be at work.