Book Reviews

Behind the Mask: Thoughts on Masks

(Via Goodreads)

Masks (1958)

By Enchi Fumiko

Masks is about the family drama centered around the Togano line. Mieko Togano is the mother of Akio and Harume. Akio was the former husband of Yukio, but he died in a tragic avalanche accident. Yukio, a widower, is now taking over Akio’s scholarly research on spirit possession with the support of Mieko and two other academic scholars, Tsuneo Ibuki and Toyokoi Mikame. Ibuki and Mikame fall for Yukio, but they ended up playing into the hands of Mieko, who has secret plans for Yukio and her daughter, Harume.

The author, Enchi Fumiko, incorporates a lot of classical Japanese literary allusions. Each section’s title is based on a famous Noh mask: Ryo no Onna, Masugami, and Fukai. These Noh masks embody and represent some of the most important female characters in this book. The Ryo no Onna mask represents the vengeful spirit of an elderly woman who has well-kept secrets. Mieko Togano embodies this mask since she hid her selfish and vengeful intentions from others, and her desire for revenge is a phantomizing obsession.  Throughout the story, Ibuki and Mikame questioned why Mieko is constantly watching over and controlling Yukio. They learned later on in the story of Mieko’s grand scheme for everyone.

The Masugami mask represents a young madwoman suffering from a troubled mind. Mieko’s daughter, Harume, symbolizes the madwoman: she has a mental disability and is treated like a child. Her mother forces her into these antics that she has no control over and so, Harume ends up being a pawn in Mieko’s plans.

Lastly, the Fukai mask represents a middle-aged woman who grieves over the death of a loved one. The mask expresses emotional and deep maturity: an older woman that suffered hardship, such as losing a loved one, overcomes adversity and gains a clear understanding of the significance of death. “Fukai” can be interpreted in two ways “deep well” or “deep woman.” The deepness refers to the hidden emotions within a person.  Like the Ryo no Onna mask, the Fukai mask represents Mieko. Mieko hid the depth of her emotions and suffering from others. She kept a “straight face” when interacting with others, but internally, she felt mistreated when her former husband had an affair. As a result, Mieko created a plan for revenge where she destroys her late husband’s bloodline. At the end of the story, she loses both her children due to her own selfish desire for revenge. The clarity that Mieko received is one that we, as readers, question: was the revenge worth it at the cost of her children and loved ones?

Masks is a family melodrama. It’s a clever story about a woman achieving vengeance against an adulterous husband. Rather than being overemotional, Mieko tactically plotted her revenge in the most subtle way, destroying the bloodline. I found the revenge plan to be clever and classy, which is one of the reasons why I like this novel. The other reason why I enjoyed this story is the fact that there are so many classical Japanese literary references such as The Tale of Genji, waka poetry, urami, and etc.

5/5


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5 comments

  1. I had an exceedingly difficult time liking anything about this book, unfortunately. The characters really tested my patience (which was likely the point but it wasn’t for me). Along a similar vein (but not supernatural) I really enjoyed Junichiro’s Naomi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG. I love Naomi. It’s like Lolita, which is another book I enjoyed.

      The first time I read this book I also didn’t like it because the plot was a bit confusing. However, after reading it 3-4 more time, I found an appreciation for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh awesome, I’m glad you liked it!! I’ve never read Lolita so I definitely have to check it out some time. If you have any other recs (doesn’t matter the genre I read pretty much everything 😉 )

        And interesting. Maybe it’s one of those “grows on you” kinda books?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. LOL Alrighty. I have been reading a lot of books lately. You’ll see it on my blog.

        It is one of those “grows on you” kinda books and I learned something new each time.

        Like

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