Chijin no ai (Naomi, 1924) and Nikukai (A Lump of Flesh, 1923), by Tanizaki Jun'ichirô, were seminal texts in forming the image of the “modern girl” in Japan in the 1920s. In both novels, Hollywood actresses famous for playing vamp roles are central to the construction of the modern girl character. The title Chijin no ai references the Japanese title of the US film A Fool There Was (1915), starring Theda Bara as the prototypical vamp. In a US context, the vamp character embodies not only the threat of the sexual woman but also anxieties surrounding racial mixing. In importing the vamp narrative to a Japanese context, Tanizaki reproduces this racial tension. This article examines the actresses, including Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, and others, that Tanizaki uses as models for the modern girl in these two novels. The existing narrative of the Hollywood vamp informs Tanizaki's description of the modern girl, even as that narrative is necessarily transformed in a Japanese context. Furthermore, Tanizaki in both novels also employs a narrative voice that evokes the filmic mode of seeing, including the close-up and montage. This article examines Chijin no ai and Nikukai as intersections of filmic and novelistic modes of narrative. Tanizaki's fascination with the new technology of cinema inspired him to experiment with new modes of narrative and intertextuality in prose fiction. However, his use of the cinematic mode of narrative, as well as the vamp character, also results in the highlighting of white/nonwhite racial tension and an attraction/repulsion toward racial impurity.
Deborah Shamoon; The Modern Girl and the Vamp: Hollywood Film in Tanizaki Jun'ichirô's Early Novels. positions 1 November 2012; 20 (4): 1067–1093. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-1717672
Download citation file: