Diary of a Mad Old Man – Junichiro Tanizaki

Diary of a Mad Old Man

I haven’t the slightest desire to cling to life, yet as long as I live, I cannot help feeling attracted to the opposite sex…..

Arousal, when the does the trickery of eroticism salvage the ironies of life? The seduction of youth stemmed from the perversion of old. The seduction of beauty leached on to the perversion of ugliness. The dichotomy of potent sexuality surpassing physical impotency cultivating a sovereign desire in pursuit of an alluring beauty. The aesthetics of romanticism nurtured by the unconventional social gestures cautiously recreated a psychological world of ambiguity. Pleasure, the prerogative of a vital stimulation, when does it stop terrifying the existing physiological banalities foreshadowing the vociferous artistic interpretations? The pleasure of eating, the pleasure of sexual stimulus, the pleasure of death and the gratification in the pervasiveness of dual worlds; Utsugi Tokusuke was man who created a spellbinding multifaceted world of stimulating beauty in the dusk of his life.

…..lately I never spend a day without thinking of my own death…….. Two or three times a day I think to myself – Maybe I’ll die today. Not that I am necessarily frightened by those thoughts. When I was young they did terrify me, but now they even give me certain pleasure……

I’m fascinated with the idea of death. Especially, the gradual disintegration of time feebly clutching the strings of a looming death. An incapable body satiated in the desirability of constructing a tombstone whereas the potency of the mind still lured by the stimulation of life. Encumbered by the agonising symptoms of neuralgia, Utsugi finds tranquillity in the thought of his death, synchronising an imaginative illustrations of his funeral service with his yearnings of an ideal Bodhisattva Stone for his cremated remains. The allure of his death brings a certain pleasure contrasting the monotony of the neck stretching Glisson’s Swing exercises applied for the betterment of Utsugi’s medical treatment, which he has no desire to pursue. The ambiguity of Utsugi’s existence exhibiting the premonitions of death and the desperation to enjoy the animated vigour of sexual stimulations signify the quintessential dichotomies of volte-face social and psychological ironies. When scrutinized through several Tanizaki’s literary sojourns, the recurring thematic design of cultural dualities prevalent in the 20th century Japanese society and the norm of pursuing beauty through the diabolical lens of eroticism become highly evident. Nonetheless, given the genius of Junichiro Tanizaki, the elemental premise is masterfully knitted into a diverse literary quilt with each thread vibrantly patterned within hemispheric socio-philosophical perceptions.

In this chronicled diary of a 77yr old man, Tanizaki maintains a sense of balance between the distortion of the old and new. The “pervert” Utsugi seems to be confused in his implementation of traditional values and his desperate sexual pursuit of the young ex-chorus girl Satsuko. Tanizaki comes in his narrative element depicting Utsugi’s pandemonium of the past and present as the universal quandary of desiring the avant-garde overshadowing the persisting traditionalism. Utsugi’s perceptive elaborations differentiating between his wife and Satsuko’s life-style choices highlight the flourishing concepts of Westernizations in the prevailing conservative core of the Japanese society. The duality of beauty v/s ugliness, cultural shock-values and illness v/s healthiness and the innate need to adhere to archaic superstitions and home grown cultural theology embodies the capricious nature of the altering society as a whole and the thriving civilians.

I intend to have a Buddha’s Footprint Stone carved on the model of your feet, Satsu. When I’m dead my ashes will lie under that stone. That will be my nirvana.

Tanizaki expertly puts the expression of ‘eroticism’ in an imperative twofold creativity exploring the dominion of sex. The focus in the meaning of sex / erotic pleasures widens the boundaries of perversion and the subsequent freedom. Utsugi’s incessant erotic fantasies about his daughter-in-law, his bizarre attraction to the cruel streak reflecting in the gorgeous feminine faces and the daintiness of the Kabuki ‘onnagata’ (men who play female roles their authentic personalities distilling in the feminine essence) , the gradual progression to his alternate versions of sexual reality, the indulgent crude act of kissing the delicate white foot of a bathing Satsuko and the haughtiness coming from his abnormal sexual urges, defines the character of Utsugi and his relationships with the surrounding manipulative collective milieu. Comparing the notion of Satusko’s sexual innuendos, it veers toward the scheming nature of creative eroticism employed by Satsuko as a path for materialistic gains and autonomy from a smothering exasperating marriage. Utsugi’s sexual enthralment in the grotesque obsession with Satsuko’s feet reveals the charade of an old man with confused societal values who uses Satsuko’s feet as a fulfilment of his erotic explorations while at the same time poetically revere them as a human model for Buddha’s footprint for his tombstone revealing the traditional cultural fidelity. Tanizaki, employs the reality of sex with the illusion of a seductive beauty that brings along greed, materialistic manipulation and concurrently profound freedom; a vague representation of the misinterpreted Western mores. The ailing artist perplexed in the erotic trance seeking the illusion of beauty from the alluring femininity of youth and the ambiguity of final deterioration is humorous and sympathetic as he is artfully perverted in his audacious pursuits and his daydreams of constructing a swimming pool for Satsuko.


#[The photographic illustrations are taken from the namesake movie}.

4/5 ****


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