2012年7月31日 星期二

Tale of Genji 源氏物語



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源氏物語

It takes long, hard slog, but 'Genji' reveals a hidden story

BY MARIKO NAKAMURA STAFF WRITER
2011/06/12

photoAn elegant folding panel from the Edo Period which features scenes from the Tale of Genji became a key exhibit at a recent exhibition at the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Kita-Kyushu last month. (The Asahi Shimbun)


photoThe Tale of Genji was the motif for this giant hina doll display in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, in February. (The Asahi Shimbun)
"The Tale of Genji," written in the early 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu, is a beloved classic of Japanese literature and often called the world's first novel.
Yet, no matter which translation of the book, which in its original form is the equivalent of 2,300 pages of 400-character manuscript paper, one tries to read, it appears few managed to finish.
The tale follows the life of Hikaru Genji, a Heien Period (794-1185) prince with a romantic tendency to fall in love with just about every woman he meets, including Lady Fujitsubo, Utsusemi, Yugao, Murasaki and Oborozukiyo.
Their relationships are complicated. The characters also take on different names when they rise to higher ranks in the court hierarchy, which makes the story even more difficult to follow.
Many readers give up in the middle. They tend to lose track of the narrative somewhere around the 12th chapter, "Suma." Some go back to reread from the first chapter, "Kiritsubo."
That happens so often that literary enthusiasts have coined a term for it, meaning "readers' block": "Suma gaeri" (Suma returning).
But those who manage to read through the entire novel soon notice the characters are rich in personality and complexity.
Waki Yamato, who has penned a manga version of the novel, titled "Asakiyumemishi," says she pictured the faces of real people in her mind while she was drawing the graphic novel.
Yamato used Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo as the source of inspiration for her Lady Rokujo. When he is dressed in his stage geisha costume, she says, he looks "more beautiful than a real woman."
Rokujo, Genji's longtime mistress, becomes so jealous of his other lovers that she is described as a wandering spirit.
Yamato drew Suetsumuhana, another of Genji's mistresses, with a long, red nose, keeping true to the original description. She was thinking of male comedian Norihei Miki when drawing the character.
"I can get into the flow of the story when I empathize with someone. I'd feel like, 'What's going to happen to this princess?'" said Yamato. "It makes the story development really exciting."
"The Tale of Genji" recounts many gorgeous and dramatic romances. But surprisingly, few characters are granted happy endings.
"Hikaru Genji is forced to live until he is 52 years old and is depicted as an ugly old man," essayist Hikari Otsuka said. She points out that the good-looking protagonist turns into a mean middle-aged man during his midlife crisis, which begins from around the "Wakana: Ge" chapter.
Genji learns that his wife Onna San no Miya, who is younger than Genji, betrayed him. Genji takes good care of her in public. But when they are alone, Genji berates her bitterly.
However, he panics when she becomes a nun.
"It's just ungraceful. He seems more decrepit than he was after his previous wife Murasaki died," Otsuka said.
It almost seems as if the female author Shikibu wanted to described her characters' unhappiness more vividly than she did their happiness.
"The story has both elegance and crudeness, which boggles the minds of readers," Otsuka added. "It keeps asking the question of how to be happy."
How Genji dies remains a mystery. All the novel contains is a title for the last, missing chapter, "Kumogakure" (vanishing into the clouds).
The deaths of all the other characters are described in great detail with carefully chosen words. Why then is there no description of the death of the protagonist?
"In many cases, 'The Tale of Genji' uses the technique of 'writing by not writing,'" Junko Yamamoto, a professor at Kyoto Gakuen University who specializes in literature from the Heian Period (794-1185), said.
The first chapter, "Kiritsubo," offers no explanation or reason as to how Emperor Kiritsubo--Genji's father--assumed the throne.
Scholars have penned many research papers discussing the days prior to the emperor's rule.
And another mystery awaits at the end.
"As you keep reading it, you'll see the novel has no ending," Yamamoto said.
"The Uji Chapters," a 10-chapter section that falls in the last third of the story, is steeped in gloom.
Wooed by Kaoru and Prince Nio, two young men of noble blood, Ukifune is torn. She attempts to commit suicide by drowning. She fails and becomes a nun.
However, the story ends with Ukifune believing that Kaoru has come to visit. He can't see her and thinks that another man must be hiding her.
Readers likely feel completely lost at this point. Some people say the novel is unfinished. There is even a "sequel" to the story, apparently written after Murasaki Shikibu died.
Whatever the author intended, readers have let their imaginations run free to interpret this ending since the novel appeared 1,000 years ago.

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