The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot: Two Novels



5.0 out of 5 stars A perverse Samurai Lord and a nostalgic trip to a mountain village

Junichiro Tanizaki is often a complicated, perverse author. He delves into the mysterious realm of sexual fetishism and body horror, presenting grotesqueries in a uniquely straight-forward writing style that is itself neither fetishistic nor perverse, lending an air of normalcy to the bizarre figures that populate his tales. At the same time, he can write sensitive, beautiful stories without a hint of sexual exploration.

Taking a similar theme in two very different directions, “The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi/Arrowroot” showcases these two sides of Tanizaki’s talent. Both deal with “books within a book,” using this device as a launching point for the narrative. One is a dark tale of body horror and sexual perversion, and the other is a simple piece of nostalgia. The two stories were said to be the author’s favorites.

“The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi” revolves around a fictional Samurai lord, and two fictional “re-discovered texts” that detail the secret sexual life of the Lord of Musashi. From the two books, The Dream of a Night and Memiors of Doamai, the narrator pieces together the cruel pleasures of a man obsessed with nose-less severed heads. In his young boyhood, he watched the women washing the severed heads of defeated Samurai and experienced his first sexual desire while watching their beautiful fingers manipulating the grotesque objects. Unquenched bye the passing years, his fetish leads him to an affair with the passionately cruel Lady Kikyo, who’s father’s nose he severed as a boy. Finally, his own marriage is encountered, and the abuse of his servant Doamai.

The writing style, using an almost lectural tone of one giving a class on the life of the Lord of Musashi, softens the impact of the horror of using severed heads as sexual aids. It is a very interesting story, in the true Tanizaki style.

“Arrowroot” is much shorter, and is set in the hidden mountains of Yoshino, in Nara prefecture. Two friends take a trip to the mountains, under the premise of going to see a fabled drum in the possession of a small village family. The author thinks of the trip as research into a possible historical novel detailing the Southern Court, while his friend has a secret motive. The story is very beautifully written, sensitive and nostalgic. It is a complete reversal from “The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi” and yet is somehow a perfect companion.


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