One… two…three….. The nimble feet glide effortlessly to the choreographed beats, smooth flowing movements inviting the grace of the translucent skin embracing the rhythmic spin, the soft camellia lips flutter in coquettish whispers,the extravagance of the feline eyes prosper in the richness of the silk delicately stretched on the supple breasts swaying the vile sensuality on the genteel dance floors of El Dorado. The music stops. The moist palm slips away from the slender waist. To the shrill of an encore, the music begins again. “There she goes……”, groaned the man hunched on a chair in a forlorn corner, “There she goes…….My Mary Pickford…..my treasured diamond…..my Nao-chan….”
“Everyone called her “Nao-chan”. When I asked about it one day, I learned that her real name was ‘Naomi’, written with three Chinese characters. A splendid name, I thought; written in Roman letters, it could be a Western name.”
The allure of the child-woman in the cafes of Ginza, pristine not yet polluted by worldly malevolence animates the humdrum existence of Kawai Joji, a twenty something engineer. For the inhibited “gentleman” brimming with social insecurities, Nao-chan was a barren canvas waiting to be painted in the Western flamboyancy. The lost young bird becomes a valued pet to a man who yearns to release his inadequacies and long-harboured dreams of acceptance in social hierarchy, a far cry from the social currency of being a discomfited country bumpkin. To say that Joji fell in love with Naomi at the very first instance is overturned by the potent magnetism of Joji being besotted by the mere Westernized ring to the name – Naomi and the recurrent comparison to his beloved Mary Pickford. The faint shades of addiction to Naomi, leisurely climb the monochromatic ladder of obsession for Western culture and to rectify personal shortcomings by moulding oneself through the physicality of a new adored maturing body overpowered by behavioural prism. Fixated on the aura of screen idols like Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford… and the gratification derived from the adhered chimera of Western lifestyles, Joji’s aspiration to create a Westernized prototype thrives on his worship of the Naomi’s lithe sexuality and adolescent psyche. The preposterous dream fostering the hedonism of Western culture sparkling with an exotic power and glamour becomes a gateway to lessen Joji’s incompetence in trying to fit in a changing world.
“My heart was a battleground for the conflicting emotions of disappointment and love.”
The naive bird flapped its wings eager to fly in the air of modernity, burgeoning desires outgrew the monotony of the modest birdcage and the avian wonder surpassed the wit of the benefactor. Naomi’s maturity evoked through the exactness of a Eurasian woman embodies the cultural vagueness perceived by the society confronted by the practise of two polarised lifestyles in a homogenous subsistence. Irrationality of love coupled with uncouth fascination and social uselessness deepens the sensibilities of love and lust encircling the predicament of chastity. Would I call Joji a “decent man”? Is he the illustrious Humbert to the seditious Lolita? The imminent answers seem to be modified under the existing challenges of Joji modifying his young love into a woman who sparkles through the lens of modernity. Joji’s loyalty to Naomi is well accounted for, yet, his fondness charts an egotistical naturalness that accompanies the reins of addiction ensnared by the collision of two different worlds encompassing two dissimilar sexes.
“The greatest weakness of Japanese women is that they lack confidence. As a result, they look timorous compared to the Western women. For, the modern beauty an. Intelligent, quick-witted expressions and attitude are more important than lovely features.”
The wide-reaching ideology of ‘modan-gaaru’ or ‘mo-ga’ highly structured within Tanizaki’s prose becomes the crucial dais depicting the bemusement over accommodating two vastly different cultures minimizing the social gap between the Eastern and Western civilizing standardizations. Tanizaki illuminates the 1920’s Japanese society booming in the modernity of the so called “Jazz age” thronged with the ‘flapper’ generation. The bourgeoisie consumerism reflected through the chic standard of living and the indispensable liberation from a traditionalist society. Joji’s predicament over Naomi’s nurtured polymorphous personality signifies the broad-spectrum chaos revolving around the exposure to Westernization and the adherence to the peripheral illusion that the Western world brings to the unacquainted. Joji’s hypocritical stance flashes through his fear of the Naomi’s “Westernised” demeanour and the lack of adherence to conservative dogmas. Joji becomes a classic case of men who desire their women to acquire the Western cultural essence prearranging the ways which still dominate the conservative home-grown cultural norms restricting the operational lifestyle to egoistical desires. The battle of sexes emerging from the volatile deliberations between emancipation of love v/s of emancipation of sexual desires, overpowers the relationship coordination of Joji and Naomi disquieting the balance of power between the societal gradation in dominance of man and the subservience of a woman. Joji’s uncertainties on losing his own individuality in the domination of Naomi’s rambunctious feral persona and reverting back to the age-old Japanese mores is plausible, however I ponder the favourable possibility of the stakes being reversed crucially legitimizing a more of an old-fashioned attitude. The irresistible appeal to the coined “Naoism” embodies cultural ambiguity unearthing the recognition of power and essence of sensuality engulfing the desire to fit in a Western lifestyle.
The precious, sacred ground of her skin had been imprinted forever with the muddy tracks of two thieves.
The stance of promiscuity lurks from the multifarious triad of sexuality, eroticism and romance. Sexual autonomy exercised by Naomi on the realization of her sexual desires embryonic within her feminine voluptuousness is labelled as the vulgar peril of the Western culture. Tanizaki cautiously cultivates the ascending nature of sexuality through vivid subtleties of eroticisms. Joji’s ritual of bathing Naomi, the foreplay imitations of horseback rides insinuating sexual prowess and the pleasure derived from shaving her body carves a narrow alley that houses fragile residential berths of sexual duplicity. The concept of sexual perversion intimately associates with sexual emancipation with vulgarity taking a high stand in the delusion of the Western vices. Satirically, the term “harlot” coagulates the sexist pigeonhole of gender specific terminology. Tanizaki , once again highlights the quandary faced in the patriarchal society where sexual freedom is viewed as a man’s prerogative , the same courtesy bestowed in gender supremacy.
The ample urge of social and not personal modification in the cultural demeanour and reception signifies the puzzlement of a society and its populace jammed in between the recklessness of half-wit sensitivity to the liberation of a foreign culture and the reluctance to the claustrophobic existence in the home grown conventional dogmas. Joji along with Naomi are Tanizaki’s treasured pictograms of a nascent mentality gripping the loose ends of two miscellaneous worlds balancing the societal dispute of rank peculiarities, gender discrepancies and cultural practices.
“There’s nothing to be done when one loses confidence in one’s self”
Tanizaki’s poised précis lay bare the vicious dominance of ‘love’ when inundated in the vigour of passionate compulsion dissolves the fragile individuality of the one who helms the reins of obsession fearing the annihilation of the everlasting love mirage. The infantilized mode discovered a twisted yet amorous sense of belonging irrespective to conjugal distortion and consensual acquiescence.
I’m in love with Naomi…….. Ms. Naomi…..foolish…George……..
**[the photographic illustrations are captured from the inspired movie ‘Chijin no ai’(A Fool’s Love, 1967)]**