Books / Reviews

‘Red Roofs and Other Stories’: Tales of restlessness by Junichiro Tanizaki

by Alyssa I. Smith

Staff Writer

Junichiro Tanizaki is best known for his novels, “Naomi” and “The Makioka Sisters,” and is widely considered one of Japan’s greatest writers of modern literature. This collection of his early stories “Red Roofs & Other Stories,” published between 1917 and 1926, begins with a novella-like story that alludes to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” as well as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Red Roofs and Other Stories, by Junichiro Tanizaki, Translated by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy.
176 pages
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS, Fiction.

In “The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga,” a famous novelist named F.K. receives a letter from a stranger whose husband, Matsunaga Gisuke, vanishes every three years, only to return to his family life later without any explanation. After looking through her husband’s satchel and finding a postcard written by a Tomoda Ginzo and addressed to F.K., the woman asks the novelist to help her solve the mystery of her husband’s alternate identity and frequent disappearances.

The following three stories of the collection — “A Night in Qinhuai,” “The Magician” and “Red Roofs” — feature similar restless characters in search of an escape to a more decadent, passion-driven life. Tanizaki’s work often focuses on Japan’s cultural identity during the 20th century, weaving in traditional ideals and Western influences, and these tales explore the lure of a Westernized modern lifestyle contrasted with Japan’s traditional way of life.

As with much of Tanizaki’s work, the stories also touch upon themes of amorality, sensuality, exoticism and debauchery.