Two parts of rice powder + one part of Cetaphil lotion, softening in the reluctant warmth of my palm, on a droning afternoon. Not a single Noh mask in sight. The docile wintry wind was hardening the gummy paste onto my fingers; restricting the imminent bastardization of the Kabuki splendour about to take place in front of an ignorant mirror. Two streaks on the cheeks, one pat on the nose, then the forehead and remaining three strokes on the neck. The wheatish dermal stretch steadily concealed within the ephemeral white sheath. The shiny red lacquer swiftly swept across the lips prompting the black kohl liner to smartly march beneath the eyes. With the last swipe of the palm, my face had confined itself within the gelatinous pale interiors, its fine lines disappearing among the smooth exterior. Ethereal unfamiliarity reflecting through the mirror and the pair of lonely perplexed dark brown irises turned out to be the solitary window of sincerity. What was I thinking? What was I testing? This act of frivolity. The pasty concoction plastered on my face had somehow pacified my nerves entangling them within my frenzied thoughts; the rowdy roads outside were suddenly silenced. The blood gushing through my veins seemed to have forgotten to warm up my skin, bursting it into a sea of goosebumps. Such was the captivating power this childish act.
Ryo no Onna 霊女
“Just as there is an archetype of woman as the object of man’s eternal love, so there must be an archetype of her object of his eternal fear, representing, perhaps the shadow of his own evil actions.”
The famous Rokujo Lady, the scorned lover of Prince Genji occupies a pivotal position mirroring the temperament of the Togano matriarch. As the love chronicle replays in the ‘Tale of Genji’, the Rokujo Lady after feeling betrayed and envious of Genji’s new wife Lady Aoi, the repressed soul of Rokujo lady caused the spirit to leave her body and torment Lady Aoi. Enchi’s prominence on the portrayal of Rokujo Lady conceptualizes the origin of Mieko’s facade. Mieko Togano’s affinity towards the Rokujo Lady, purely on empathetic grounds, brings forth a human aspect to one of the most devilish personality in the Japanese literary history. The nationally prized ‘Ryo no onna’ mask is chilling in its ghoulish appearance. The frosty exterior concealing a burning secret asphyxiating long nurtured desires with astound tranquillity. The act of séance, the ceaselessly floating spirit possessing another soul whilst creating a physical medium to procure communication reflects the mystical properties of a ‘mask’ possessing a physical visage fastening on to its human medium. The darkness of inhibited desires, muffled sexual prowess transmits a “shamanistic” vibe haunting the dilemma of a woman’s self-pride. The role plays interchanging between Mieko and the Aguri lady. Enchi’s inclusion of the ‘shamanistic ritual’ as a route probing the validity of an outwardly experience in a world of reality favours the depth of attraction that Mieko has toward the Rokujo Lady and the connotation of Yasuko and Mieko veiled under a inexplicable expression.
Furthermore, besides the symbolic inclusion of The Tale of Genji , Enchi makes noteworthy references to ‘Yoru no Nezame’ and ‘The Tales of Ise’ to elucidate the magnetism of sexual ecstasy that segregates realism from dreamy confusions orchestrating the incompetence of human emotions and the competence of self- ego, a weight indissoluble from a woman’s being.
“This mask forms a unique type, that of a woman in a state of frenzy.” – Toyoichiro Nogami.
The philosophical lyricism that Mieko found in the Rokujo Lady descends on Harume’s existence. The Masugami masks represents the “madwoman” or rather “a young woman in a state of frenzy”; a divine being heightened by spirit of shamanisms, the body meant for human manipulation. The worldly, newly married Mieko, the Aguri lady in the Togano family or Harume whose beauty shines with soft docility amid fireflies, who would be the true possessor of the mask, I wondered? The silent body of Harume reveals the inner eccentric world of the Togano domesticity. Enchi’s delineation of Harume borders on ghostly metaphors creating a chimera of a pure soul and an untainted body, acquiring an impenetrable emptiness. Sex is viewed as more of a corporeal act dismissing any logical reasoning, prostituting the body as a medium in trance yielding a woman’s reticent self-worth; sarcastically opposing the patriarchal institution. The Masugami mask perfectly fits Harume whose ‘bright-camellia lips’ pouring with sensuality, mask the melancholic silence that consumed her.
Her spirit alternated constantly between spells of lyricism and spirit possession making no philosophical distinction between the self alone and in relation to the other and unable to achieve the solace of a religious indifference.”
A middle-age woman with “exceedingly deep heart”, tattered by the memories of a loved one. A gloomy well where secrets buried deeply in the colourless waters are echoed through freezing solitude. The woman who is driven by her painful past, her unappeasable ambition and her swindled pride and who finds solace in poetic charms, Mieko becomes the mask and the mask anticipates the arrival of Yasuko.
The mask representing a young woman with an alluring femininity at the zenith of her beauty forms the caricature of Yasuko. Yasuko’s relationship with Mieko suggestively marginalizes cynicism of a homosexuality. Conversely to the many debatable assumptions, Yasuko’s faithful attachment to Mieko represents the unwritten rules of sisterhood and the lasting love for Akio. The quandary of hankering independence and incidental dependence calculates Yasuko as the quintessential masked host, the illusory medium. Enchi’s ‘Masks’ develops into a forbidden malicious game challenging the age-old hierarchal social institutions.
When you know the masks as well as we do, they come to seem like the faces of real women.
The ornately convoluted narrative interweaves a pandemonium of manipulation, vengeance, sexuality, androgyny, undertones of homosexuality, shamanistic procedures defining the fine line between mythical divinity and human psychology and most of all the spirituality of a woman and her body polluted by the hypocritical patriarchy. Enchi’s women are represented through their bodies residing on the periphery of a social system. The female body becomes a liberating source unifying the mind into one single entity. The body becomes the mind voicing the dilemmas of a repressed woman. The uterus then becomes the twofold weapon of fulfilment and misery. Sexuality strongly comes in play categorising body, sex and womb as significant parameters of female identity unable to find recognition through the world of thoughts. Enchi’s emphasis of bringing the female individuality through the representation of a perishable yet sexual physicality depicts the second-rate status of women in a patriarchal society. The body and the womb, which could be easily outlawed for being futile or fouled, cultivate the victimisation of a woman bordering ambivalent psyche. Mieko Togano’s brazen usage of sexual ecstasy mocks the feudal social codes turning the patriarchal system upside down. Meiko’s malevolent strategies of using men as pawns for the fulfilment of her own aspirations is downright fascinating when perceived with ironical display of men bestowing the equivalent treatment to women for decades.
Enchi‘s insatiable prose immaculately communicates between the nobility of the Noh art and the interrelated configurations illuminating the empathetic world beyond the dreamy artistry asserting the awareness and subjectivity of self-existence in societal segregation and the search for a plausible independence. The androgynous nature of Noh (male actors playing female roles) delicately unearths the unisexual nature constituting spirituality between a male and a female foetus embodying the equitable nature of the womb. Enchi further takes this particular Noh element into depicting the similarities between the divergent subsistence of Akio and Harume. Masks is Enchi’s masterwork in exploring the fundamental nature of a woman’s mentality through the realms of her body inferring the palpable scenario of the female body resonating the cry of an demoralized soul when the mouth is muted.
Are women a bunch of vengeful creatures? Are they viciously manipulative? If a woman’s naive devotion to the capricious love rapidly festers into endless flow of a rancorous “river of blood”; the power of hatred thunderously churning the vicissitudes of love, the unjust reality and the deepened longings harbouring the darkness of its remoteness. If a woman’s hatred is terrifying, if the fascination for retribution resonates the shrieks of a frenzied banshee possessing the very constitution of a wounded woman; the puppetry of the stoic masks fervently gripping the intensity of grief, its arrogance only to be momentarily washed down by a solitary soft tear. Then what would one concur about the ‘man’ who had helped to sow these fateful seeds of acrimony? Yes, what about that person? Does he not play a single part in the crime? Where would the man stand in the indicted arena of being either an accomplice or rather a culprit? Or is it that the man has always been a privileged animal of a blameless acquittal?
Men are susceptible to that sort of thing. Our society gets so worked up over it now, always siding with the woman, that no one dares examine the matter fairly, that’s the way it is.
The eastern winds had boorishly cracked the pearly smoothness. Yet, the aura of the pasty concoction withstood the repugnance of the flaky visage. Shamelessly exposed and vulnerable as my face stood amid the grainy diluted swirls, it was still caught up in the rapture of the Rokujo Lady and the women of the Togano household. The lasting traces of goosebumps could vouch for it.