Tanizaki's name first became widely known with the publication of the short story Shisei ("The Tattooer") in 1910. In the story, a tattoo artist inscribes a giant "prostitute spider" on the body of a beautiful young woman. Afterwards, the woman's beauty takes on a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with sado-masochism. The femme-fatale is a theme repeated in many of Tanizaki’s early works, including Kirin (1910), Shonen ("The Children", 1911), Himitsu ("The Secret," 1911), and Akuma ("Devil", 1912).
Tanizaki's other works published in the Taishō period include Shindo (1916) and Oni no men (1916), which are partly autobiographical. Tanizaki married in 1915, but it was an unhappy marriage and in time he encouraged a relationship between his first wife, Chiyoko, and his friend and fellow writer Sato Haruo. The psychological stress of this situation is reflected in some of his early works, include the stage play Aisureba koso ("Because I Love Her", 1921) and his novel Kami to hito no aida ("Between Men and the Gods", 1924). Nevertheless, even though some of Tanizaki's writings seem to have been inspired by persons and events in his life, his works are far less autobiographical than those of most of his contemporaries in Japan.
He had a brief career in Japanese silent cinema, working as a script writer for the Jun Eiga Ka, or 'pure cinema movement' where he was instrumental in bringing modernist themes to Japanese film. He wrote the scripts for the films Amateur Club (1922) and A Serpent's Lust (1923) (based on the story of the same title by Ueda Akinari, which was, in part, the inspiration for Mizoguchi Kenji's 1953 masterpiece Ugetsu monogatari).
Tanizaki's reputation really began to take off when he moved to Kyoto after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. The loss of Tokyo's historic buildings and neighborhoods in the quake triggered a change in his enthusiasms, as he redirected his youthful love for the imagined West and modernity into a renewed interest in Japanese aesthetics and culture, particularly the culture of the Kansai region comprising Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. His first novel after the earthquake, and his first truly successful novel, was Chijin no ai ("Naomi," 1924-25), which is a tragicomic exploration of class, sexual obsession, and cultural identity. Inspired by the Osaka dialect, he wrote Manji (Quicksand, 1928-1929), in which he explored lesbianism, among other themes. This was followed by the classic Tade kuu mushi (Some Prefer Nettles, 1928-29), which depicts the gradual self-discovery of a Tokyo man living near Osaka, in relation to Western-influenced modernization and Japanese tradition. Yoshinokuzu ("Arrowroot", 1931) alludes to Bunraku and kabuki theater and other traditional forms even as it adapts a European narrative-within-a-narrative technique. His experimentation with narrative styles continued with "Ashikari" ("The Reed Cutter," 1932), "Shunkinsho" ("A Portrait of Shunkin," 1933), and many other works that combine traditional aesthetics with Tanizaki's particular obsessions.
His renewed interest in classical Japanese literature culminated in his multiple translations into modern Japanese of the eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji and in his masterpiece Sasameyuki ("A Light Snowfall", published in English as The Makioka Sisters, 1943-1948), a detailed characterization of four daughters of a wealthy Osaka merchant family who see their way of life slipping away in the early years of World War II. The Makiokas live a remarkably cosmopolitan life, with European neighbours and friends without suffering the cultural-identity crises common to earlier Tanizaki characters.
His first major post-war work was Shôshō Shigemoto no haha (Captain Shigemoto's Mother, 1949-1950), with a moving restatement of the common Tanizaki theme of a son's longing for his mother. The novel also introduces the issue of sexuality in old age, which would reappear in Tanizaki’s later works, such as Kagi (The Key, 1956). Kagi is a lurid psychological novel, in which an aging professor arranges for his wife to commit adultery in order to boost his own sagging sexual desires.
Tanizaki's characters are often driven by obsessive erotic desires. In one of his last novels, Futen Rojin Nikki (Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1961-1962), the aged diarist is struck down by a stroke brought on by an excess of sexual excitement. He records both his past desires and his current efforts to bribe his daughter-in-law to provide sexual titilation in return for Western baubles.
|Year||Japanese Title||English Title||Notes|
Kin to Gin
|Gold and Silver|
Fumiko no ashi
Chijin no Ai
|Naomi||aka A Fool's Love|
Tomoda to Matsunaga no hanashi
film adaptation (1964)
film adaptation (1983)
film adaptation (2006)
Tade kuu mushi
|Some Prefer Nettles|
|The Reed Cutter|
|A Portrait of Shunkin|| Film adaptation|
|In Praise of Shadows||Essay on aesthetics|
|The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi|
Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna
|A Cat, A Man, and Two Women|
|The Makioka Sisters||Film adaptation|
Shōshō Shigemoto no haha
|Captain Shigemoto's Mother|
|The Key||Film adaptation|
|Childhood Years: A Memoir|
Fūten Rōjin Nikki
|Diary of a Mad Old Man||Film adaptation|
Vintage Press (2003). ISBN 0375719318