In Praise of Shad­ows

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Ju­nichir Tanizaki Naxos Au­dio­books (DE­CEM­BER) Au­dio­book $17.98, 978-1-78198-136-8

In Praise of Shad­ows, Ju­nichiro Tanizaki’s 1933 es­say on as­pects of Ja­panese de­sign and cul­ture, finds a new di­men­sion in au­dio­book form as read by David Rin­toul. Rin­toul’s nar­ra­tion is mel­low and eru­dite, of­fer­ing a vo­cal con­ti­nu­ity to Tanizaki’s loosely struc­tured yet of­ten fas­ci­nat­ing thoughts.

Tanizaki re­lates per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences with build­ing a house at the time, and how elec­tric light and wiring were some­what dif­fi­cult ne­ces­si­ties to in­cor­po­rate into a clas­sic Ja­panese home. Ja­pan’s cities were tend­ing to­wards over-elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, Tanizaki felt, with re­lent­less ra­di­a­tions of light and neon oblit­er­at­ing an in­te­gral el­e­ment of Ja­panese life: the mys­tery, beauty, and nu­ance of shadow.

Tanizaki, one of Ja­pan’s pre­mier nov­el­ists, is an of­ten ex­quis­ite writer. This par­tic­u­lar es­say has a con­ver­sa­tional in­ti­macy, now fur­ther en­hanced by smoothly flow­ing nar­ra­tion. In Praise of Shad­ows fea­tures mus­ings on Ja­panese cui­sine, lac­quer­ware, the Noh and Kabuki the­ater, and the chang­ing stan­dards of Ja­panese fe­male beauty, in­clud­ing the cu­ri­ous by­gone prac­tice of women black­en­ing their teeth.

Tanizaki’s recipe for Per­sim­mon Leaf Sushi is read with a freshly spo­ken sa­vor. And Tanizaki’s com­plaints about the ra­dio and gramo­phone be­ing un­suited to the tones of Ja­panese speech are rather ironic, con­sid­er­ing that Ja­pan would even­tu­ally dom­i­nate the au­dio elec­tron­ics in­dus­try.

Hear­ing In Praise of Shad­ows is a uniquely re­flec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, with im­ages of smoky lus­trous jade, dark rich miso, rus­tic tea­houses, and the un­usu­ally har­mo­nious tran­quil­ity of a tra­di­tional Ja­panese toi­let. Though Tanizaki claims to be “grum­bling” and “de­mand­ing the im­pos­si­ble,” his rec­ol­lec­tions of both past and present are mem­o­rably elo­quent.

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