1 He later recalled that it had been a strange, sleepless night.
Sanogawa Shinsha had fallen asleep in bed with a script propped on his chest when word arrived that his younger brother, Tojaku, had just died in a car accident.
Shinsha and his wife, Chisa, slept side by side on low matching beds placed in a bedroom decorated in a mixture of Japanese and foreign styles. Because Shinsha had a habit of reading scripts, memorizing parts, and planning roles late into the night, an antique screen painted in monochrome colors by Chobunsai Eishi stood between the two beds, deflecting the lamplight.
Shinsha had been glancing through the script of a new drama in which he was to play the lead. The incessant monsoon rain sounded to him like the gloomy, tedious complaints of an old woman, while the soft murmur of Chisa's breathing as she slept made him think of the peaceful sleep of a young girl. After reading the second act, he'd begun to gaze vacantly at the screen's standing figure of the courtesan, tucking up the hem of her robe.
The screen had been in the Sanogawa family for generations, and Shinsha had felt intimately connected to it since his childhood. For many years, it seemed to him, the beautiful courtesan had been helping him to perfect his art; sometimes, when he was having an affair, he'd felt that the courtesan understood the emotions he couldn't possibly express to his wife.
Usually when he gazed at the figure on the screen, he would begin to feel drowsy, so he would turn off the lamp and soon drift off to sleep. But that night, for some reason, exhaustion had made his body tense and he fell asleep only after much tossing and turning.
Shinsha heard the ringing of the telephone as if it were coming from somewhere far away. He heard Chisa's shrill voice calling out, "Dear, dear!" He felt her grab his shoulder, her hand trembling but strangely stiff and forceful.
"What? . . . What is it? . . . The phone?" he asked in a groggy voice.
"Dear . . . it's awful. They're saying Kiichan's dead."
As if the message were all Chisa could manage to say, she suddenly collapsed beside the bed. Kiichan was short for Kikuo, the name of Shinsha's half-brother; Kikuo's stage name in the Kabuki theater was Tojaku.
"What? . . . That's ridiculous. . . . You're kidding."
"If only it were a joke . . . "
Chisa seemed to be clinging to the bed, desperately trying to hold herself up. Her shoulders shook beneath the collar of her pink-patterned summer robe. Instantly Shinsha saw the emptiness of his words and realized two things: he must accept the fact of Tojaku's death because the horrible event had in fact occurred; and he feared that Chisa's violent agitation might well overwhelm her.
"Who was that on the phone? Is someone still on the line?"
"It's Mitsuyo . . . she said Kiichan's been in a car wreck."
After soothing his wife as well as he could by stroking her shoulders, Shinsha picked up the receiver from the floor, where it had fallen beneath the table.
"Oh, sir, it's you. It's Tsunekichi." The voice was not that of Tojaku's wife, Mitsuyo, but of a male servant.
"Is that you, Tsune? What in the world's happened? I'm in shock."
"Of course, sir. The mistress was just on the line, but someone from the hospital came to see her."
"She said it was a car accident . . . He hit something this late at night?"
"Yes. He was on his way back from the television studio and driving the car himself when he hit a truck."
"What? He was driving? Doesn't the studio always have a driver for him?"
"Yes, but for some reason he insisted on driving the car himself tonight; he refused the car they'd prepared for him."
"Oh, I see," Shinsha said, guessing that his brother, a popular young actor, must have been heading for some destination other than home.
The accident had occurred near Akasaka-mitsuke. Tojaku had been taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital, but by the time the ambulance had arrived at the hospital, he had stopped breathing. His external wounds were slight, but a strong blow to the chest apparently had stopped his heart.
"In any case, it's terrible . . . before Ma'am could reach him, the television and newspaper reporters were swarming all over."
As Shinsha listened, he thought that he should also rush over to the hospital. He hung up the phone and looked back to where, only moments ago, Chisa had lain crumpled in exhaustion. She was gone. Unraveled across the floor and leading to the doorway lay her narrow Hakata weave sash, a single length of purple and white.
"What a mess," said Shinsha, his heart pounding. He knew that his apprentice and the maid would wake up to answer his summons if he called out, but he was reluctant to have anyone around before he was able to calm Chisa.
Looking for his wife, Shinsha entered the corridor that led from the bedroom to the living room and unconsciously flicked on the lights, as if to dispel ghostly images lurking in the darkness. As he had expected, a light glimmered from the closet of the next room. An upper drawer of the dresser was open, and from it dangled Chisa's Shiozawa chemise and a small-figured silk crepe kimono. Chisa was slumped before the chest of drawers, wearing a long undergarment with pale blue swirling-water designs applied on a white background. She had apparently fainted while taking a kimono out of the drawer. To Shinsha, her plump shoulders swathed in blue and white resembled dead fish floating belly-up in a pond. His concern for her was quickly replaced by anger. Fearing, however, that he would create a scene if he didn't suppress his rising resentment, Shinsha summoned up the control appropriate to the middle-aged man that he was.
"Come on, get a hold of yourself," he said in as kind a voice as he could muster. He lightly patted his wife's shoulder, not quite stroking her. Perhaps it was the unavoidable result of his being an actor that he felt as if he were playing a role: that of a villain trying to deceive a naive character.
"The shock made you dizzy. Shall I get you some wine?" Shinsha lifted Chisa's upper body onto his lap and peered into her expressionless face. Her white, swollen lips looked like silkworms.
"I tried to put on a kimono . . . then I felt dizzy."
"I suppose this means you're going to the hospital, doesn't it? Well, I'm going too. That's all the more reason for you to have some wine: unless you get a hold of yourself, you won't even be able to ride in the car."
Insistent, Shinsha got Chisa to nod her agreement. Steadied by his hand, she drank the glass of wine he brought her from the bar in the next room.
"I'm going to call the maid. Get a hold of yourself."
"Please don't call anyone," Chisa pleaded.
"But we have to," Shinsha said, firmly grasping his wife's hand as he looked into the depths of her eyes. "First there's the car that we must have prepared and—Dear, I don't mind you going to the hospital, but you mustn't forget that we'll be among strangers. We're sure to be besieged by throngs of newspaper reporters and broadcasters, which is only natural when a popular young actor like Tojaku dies unexpectedly. I'll take care of the newsmongers; you won't have to say a word. But remember no matter how upset you feel, you mustn't lose your composure. It won't help Kikuo or his wife or our children, and it'll just create problems for everyone. Please fix that firmly into your mind, OK? Do you understand? You were born a daughter of the Hamamura house, and as my wife you need to conduct yourself with the decorum appropriate to a situation such as this."
Despite himself, Shinsha smiled grimly at the peculiar way he was talking; these were not the sort of words he characteristically used, either in everyday life or onstage. He recognized the source of the calmness that had overtaken his heart and manifested itself in his wry smile. Why, he asked himself, was Chisa so agitated by the death of her younger brother-in-law, to whom she was not related by blood?
Shinsha was more than twenty years older than his brother, Tojaku. Their father—whose stage name was also Shinsha—had had a mistress late in life who was young enough to be his granddaughter; Kikuo was their offspring. When the young woman married after the death of Kikuo's father, the boy was taken in by his father's family. Fourteen or fifteen years of age at the time, he was already quite handsome. On stage he danced well, was adept at women's roles, and, despite his inexperience, was attentive to the details of his craft. Growing up quickly, Kikuo soon had fans comparing his beauty to that of cherry blossoms at night, though he retained some of the melancholy that lingers about orphans. He was given the stage name of Tojaku—another name that had been used in the Sanogawa family—and had married Mitsuyo just three or four years ago.
Chisa was also descended from a renowned Kabuki family, the Hamamuras. Chisa's father, the senior Hamamura, had been supportive of Shinsha's career and was confident he could become a leading actor. Thus, Shinsha owed Chisa and her family a certain respect, and the couple's marital relationship was not at all bad. She stayed on good terms with people, not relying on the influence of her parents but settling matters cheerfully and promptly. Nevertheless, in keeping with his profession as an actor, Shinsha had countless affairs, which on many occasions kept him from coming home at night.
Despite his own pattern of behavior, even he was unaware for a long time that Chisa and Tojaku had developed a relationship beyond that of sister- and brother-in-law. It had begun when Tojaku was still being called Kikuo. The two of them had avoided detection because they were meticulously discreet. Eventually, however, Shinsha was informed of their relationship by Torisu Kishi, the household manager.
A wigmaker's daughter, Kishi had been raised in Shitamachi and had spent the worst part of the war years caring for her aged parents. Now past the age of marriageability, she had an uncommonly sharp feel for affairs of the heart. She had not discovered the relationship between Kikuo and Chisa by catching them red-handed. Instead, she had made carefully reasoned inferences that could almost be called scientific in their rigor. When Kishi had first told Shinsha about his wife and half-brother, Shinsha had reprimanded her for slandering the two. But when Chisa was hospitalized for a month or two after gallstone surgery, Kikuo's behavior became erratic. Something about it reminded Shinsha of how he, at Kikuo's age, had also been obsessively attracted to an older woman.
Because Shinsha himself had been involved in many affairs, he was not as upset by the revelation of this affair as a typical husband might have been. He could easily understand Chisa's love for Kikuo, younger than her by fourteen or fifteen years. And he could also understood the complex feelings that led Kikuo to respond to Chisa. Moreover, Shinsha rather appreciated the elaborate precautions the two of them had taken to avoid arousing suspicion; living in the same household, they had fooled everyone except Kishi.
Chisa had found in Kikuo—though a youth of just twenty—the ability to restrain passion and thus avoid awkward displays of emotion. Was Kikuo precocious because his striking good looks had made him the object of desire for so many women? Kikuo might be a scoundrel, but with that degree of skill he would become an actor of considerable ability, Shinsha had thought, nodding in perverse appreciation of Kikuo's cleverness.
After learning of their affair, Shinsha did not change his attitude toward Chisa. Although he and Kikuo had different mothers, Kikuo was a brother related by blood. And perhaps his feelings for Kikuo were unique because they were Kabuki actors who often played the role of lovers, embracing each other on stage.
Shinsha consulted Chisa in all matters concerning Kikuo's selection of a stage name and his marriage. And, for her part, she never did anything to obstruct Kikuo's marriage plans. Both events happened within the space of a year, after which Kikuo left Shinsha's home to live on his own. Since then, three years had passed. Tojaku's popularity had skyrocketed and Mitsuyo had borne him a son, Osamu.
When Tojaku began living away, there was no need for Chisa to continue nurturing him. Still, it was difficult for Shinsha to gauge their subsequent relationship, familiar though he was with affairs of the heart. He had let Chisa do as she pleased, thinking that she would put an end to the affair because Tojaku was beyond the age of needing to be coddled by an older woman. Kishi, however, insisted that their affair was not over. Once she took a notion into her head, Kishi was stubborn and didn't change her mind, but unlike other women, she didn't have a gossip's temperament, needing to tell the secrets of others, unable to keep things to herself. Silenced by Shinsha, Kishi could have kept the secret buried within her heart for years.
Sometime after two o'clock the night of the accident—when the entire household was in an uproar seeing Shinsha and Chisa off to the hospital—Kishi discreetly tugged at the sleeve of Shinsha's suit. "Is the mistress all right?" she asked him with a stern gaze. "It would be disastrous if it were detected by the media."
2 It was almost dawn when Tojaku's corpse was taken to his house.
During the four-day period leading up to the funeral, hordes of mourners reduced Tojaku's household to chaos, which left the suddenly widowed Mitsuyo no opportunity to dwell in peace on the loss of her husband.
The unexpected death of a young actor at the peak of his popularity aroused even in those who had no connections to the theater. Because the accident had occurred while Tojaku was driving himself home, it was impossible to find an explanation for what had happened. The preposterous suspicion that it might have been suicide was based on nothing more than the delusions of those shocked by his sudden death.
During those four days, relatives and devoted supporters of the Sanogawa family filled the house, received guests, and helped with preparations for the funeral. As the elder brother of the deceased, Shinsha was consulted in all matters. The fact that he was not involved in a play this month was, to say the least, convenient.
Mitsuyo and her son, Osamu, just sat for long hours with their heads lowered. As a result, the task of managing affairs, albeit from behind the scenes, fell on Chisa. The many visitors and acquaintances from the theater had to be fed, and a breach of etiquette could shame the entire family in the eyes of society. A man called Takagi, who acted as a type of manager to the Sanogawa family, assisted Kishi in organizing a number of matters, but when they were of two opinions, it was up to Chisa to make the final decision. The woman who had fainted with shock and sorrow at the news of Tojaku's death had somehow plucked up her courage as soon as she had arrived at the hospital and seen his body and beautiful, untouched face. She was now animated and responsive, almost lively.
Kishi, for her part, was a clever person and a meticulous worker. But knowing of Chisa's affair with Tojaku gave her no advantage over her mistress because Chisa was aware of shady transactions Kishi conducted in the Sanogawa kitchen with certain tradespeople. Kishi considered Chisa shrewd to remain silent about what she had observed there. From the moment Kishi found out about Tojaku's death—and as the household became draped in mourning colors, caught between disorder and ceremony—she took an extraordinary interest in how Shinsha and his wife would handle matters. She was curious to see what sorts of changes would visit Chisa, and how these changes would affect Shinsha.
Kishi alone knew with certainty that Chisa had had a rendezvous with Tojaku a few days before the accident. Moreover, their rendezvous had taken place in Shinsha's own bedroom. The two had arranged for the garden gate behind the bedroom to be left unlocked. In the afternoon of that day, Kishi had accompanied Shinsha to the opening of a newly constructed theater owned by a newspaper company. When she returned home ahead of Shinsha, she realized that Tojaku had been there. She was the only one who knew that the two of them sometimes used that room for their trysts. With Tojaku's death, Kishi's curiosity had intensified. But in the three days since coming to Tojaku's house with Shinsha and Chisa to assist the widow, Kishi had been disappointed because Chisa always managed to avoid her, even though they were constantly together.
When Kishi and Takagi went to Chisa for guidance in managing complicated tasks, Chisa surprised them with her expeditiousness and keen judgment. "Contrary to her outward appearance, mistress Chisa is strong inside, isn't she?" Takagi remarked with the exaggerated facial cast of someone familiar with Kabuki. "When I see these traits, she seems exactly like her mother, the wife of the former Hamamura. She's not at all the pampered young lady."
Kishi listened to this judgment with a knowing look on her face. "You're quite right, Mr. Takagi," she replied with a meaningful smile. "Our mistress is a more skillful actor than the master!"
Coursing through Chisa's white, fleshy, middle-aged body was the royal, deeply tinged blood of a family that had produced generation after generation of famous Kabuki actors. For that splendid bloodline to suddenly show itself on this occasion—how could such a metamorphosis have occurred? Perhaps Chisa had felt no genuine affection or romantic love for Tojaku after all, and had only been attracted to his youth and beauty. If that was the case, it followed that it might not be especially difficult for her—though she might have felt some pang of sorrow—to maintain a bearing appropriate to her position as Shinsha's wife.
Constantly maneuvering through the chaotic household with its crush of people, Kishi brooded endlessly on such questions, the answers to which lay hidden in the tangled workings of Chisa's heart.
3 Thus preoccupied, Kishi was intensely curious when a young woman named Yukiko discreetly came calling at the back door. Yukiko, who worked at a concession stand at S Theater, had recently aroused Tojaku's passion. He had concealed the affair with her, but the secret nature of it had only fanned the flames of his desire. On the night of the accident, he had been on his way to an apartment near Shibuya to visit her. Yukiko had no intermediary who might introduce her into the house where Tojaku's wife and child lived, but she felt responsible for his unfortunate death and was spurred by the thought that she could not go on without seeing her lover's face once more.
"There's no way I can speak about this to the widowed mistress of this house," Takagi responded when Kishi raised the matter with him. "And if word of this affair got out, I can imagine how upset it would make her. I think the proper course of action would be to have the young woman meet with the members of the main house." Kishi agreed that this was the best approach. At that moment, Shinsha and Chisa were resting together in the living room during a recess in the wake, so Kishi went in and, in a hushed voice, told them the story.
"We can't let Mitsuyo get word of this, " said Shinsha, dressed in a silk haori and matching hakama. The haori was embroidered with the family crest. "I had been thinking that something like this might have been going on." Sitting bolt upright in the posture of an actor, Shinsha flicked ashes from his cigarette into the ashtray. His gaze was directed at Chisa, who wore an informal mourning robe of dull purple and sat beside him drinking green tea.
Because Shinsha had witnessed how agitated Chisa had been at hearing the news of Tojaku's death, he had been even more surprised than Kishi at her subsequent steadiness and energy. To him, she seemed as if she might be possessed by some spirit. How, after that extreme agitation, had Chisa been able to bring her emotions so deftly under control in such a short time? Observing her at close range as she flawlessly received mourners as the wife of the elder brother of the deceased, Shinsha found himself strangely moved. He felt as though he were watching the brilliant performance of a fellow actor.
If this is an act, he thought, it is quite an accomplishment. And if it is not, then Chisa is an audacious woman who had used Tojaku as a plaything.
From the time Shinsha began to believe Kishi's report of the affair until recently, he had been more impressed with his brother's degree of circumspection than his wife's. And in the present situation, it made Shinsha more comfortable with himself to conclude that, in reaction to his own philandering, Chisa had only been toying with the young Kikuo.
But Shinsha had seen her complete loss of composure when she first learned of Tojaku's death, and he was forced to interpret it as unconcealable evidence of love. He had to swallow the misery of that evidence as if a square object were being forced down his throat. That's why he had talked to Chisa so clumsily, with an air of warning that he had never before used with her.
On the other hand, Chisa had recovered from the shock too suddenly. After coming to Tojaku's house, she had comforted the tearful Mitsuyo and shed just the right amount of tears as she stroked the head of the innocent Osamu. Then, as if putting on the brave front that was required of her in this sad situation, she had decorously shown her reddened, tear-stained eyes while receiving various guests and family members. Chisa behaved in a truly flawless style, befitting the wife of the deceased's elder brother, and displayed even greater dignity and propriety as the wife of the current head of the Sanogawa family. If this is an act, Shinsha thought, then Chisa's father—for all his theatrical expertise—had been a truly dull-witted parent not to have trained his daughter as an actress. Instantly, with that mixture of perversity and calculation that characterizes those in the dramatic arts, Shinsha thought that he would like to see Chisa's skill tested against the young woman, Yukiko.
He had Kishi bring Yukiko to a small, second-floor room where he and Chisa sat side by side. Amid the confusion in the rest of the household, the room was a sanctuary. "I'm sorry it's so stuffy in here," Chisa apologized, "but there was nowhere else we could talk." Reluctant to speak, Yukiko sat with her head bent low. She stared at her knees, which protruded from a short, tight, black skirt. Seeing Yukiko's ample breasts almost burst the seams of her thin summer blouse, Shinsha felt he understood Tojaku's attraction for this petite young woman.
"I believe that on that night Kikuo was killed he was on his way to visit you—is that right?" For every ten questions posed in this manner by Shinsha, there were only four or five awkward answers. Shinsha could sense, beneath Yukiko's hesitation, the infatuation that Tojaku had felt during the affair's three or four months' duration. Clearly, Tojaku had been extremely fearful that the world would learn of it.
"Um . . . he was always saying that he'd be in more trouble if his elder brother scolded him than if his wife were to find out . . . and he often spoke of you. I, today, . . . it occurred to me that I might rely on his elder brother and wife . . . and if the two of you were to understand, then surely, I thought, I might be allowed to view Kikuo's body."
Having said this much, the young woman was suddenly overcome by emotion and began sobbing. She covered her face with her hands, and streams of tears flowed through her fingers.
"I wonder what we can do. Of course we can't discuss this with Mitsuyo or her parents . . ." Shinsha folded his arms. Rather than watch Yukiko, he kept his eyes riveted on Chisa, so as not to miss the slightest change in her facial expression as the young woman discussed the circumstances of her love affair with Tojaku.
"It's so sad," said Chisa. "Let's allow her to see him." Returning her husband's gaze, she continued, "I know we'd be in a mess if Mitsuyo's father or someone else were to find out about it later and complain, so you can feign ignorance of the matter, dear. What if we were to say that it was just our own handling of the matter—Kishi's and mine alone? In just a little while, the priest will be completing the second chanting of the sutras, so the guests will probably be moving to the second floor. There are flowers everywhere, so if we circle discreetly around the back and open the lid of the casket, no one will be the wiser. We'll have the undertaker tell anyone who asks that we are changing the dry ice."
Chisa's words were so smooth and unhalting, Shinsha felt only hatred toward her. "Would you do that for me?" he asked. "I'd be grateful to be able to feign ignorance of the entire matter."
"Yes, that would be fine," Chisa said to her husband before turning to the young woman. "We'll be able to see you again at leisure after the funeral, Yukiko, but for now, for Kikuo's sake, please do exactly as we ask and don't say anything to anyone. We must be careful. Because he was such a popular actor, the media will be keeping a strict watch."
Amid her tears, Yukiko nodded her understanding.
About thirty minutes later, after ascertaining that the number of mourners had decreased, Kishi and Chisa took Yukiko—under the pretense of helping the undertaker's assistant replenish the dry ice—to the rear of the platform on which the casket was placed.
The assistant carefully moved aside the square piece of glass from the head of the casket and stepped down from the low platform. Yukiko, following Chisa, stepped up onto the platform, and looked at Tojaku's composed face in the casket packed tightly with bags of dry ice. He was lightly made-up and looked like a wax doll.
"Ahhh." A moan escaped from Yukiko's lips.
"Be quiet. Don't cry," Chisa commanded in a voice so cold that it sounded cruel. Then, without hesitating, she took Yukiko's hand and thrust it surreptitiously beneath the glass. Together the two women touched Tojaku's cheek with their fingers.
"See, it's this cold. It's even colder than ice. You must accept his death—is that clear?"
Yukiko had surrendered her hands to Chisa as if she were in a trance. When she stepped off the platform, she staggered and fell against her.
"Bear up! You must never forget the feel of Kikuo's cold cheek," Chisa whispered in Yukiko's ear as she held the young woman against her chest.
As the backs of the two women merged for a few moments, Kishi watched with the same earnest concentration she would have given splendid stage performances. Unexpectedly, she found Shinsha standing near the shoji screen, staring intently at the two women locked in an embrace. Though he had said that he wanted to feign ignorance of the entire matter, he looked as if he were about to approach them.
Kishi was startled, but before she could say anything, Chisa became aware of her husband's presence and glared at him. Shinsha returned her glare and, for a moment, the eyes of the two challenged each other in a manner that would have sent sparks flying through the air.
"I know what I said a little while ago, but I also wanted to see Kikuo's face one more time," he said to Chisa.
In the next instant, his facial expression changed so swiftly that there was no time for a response. Making a rustling sound with his silk hakama, Shinsha stepped briskly up to the platform as if he were trying to create a space between Chisa and Yukiko. Intently he gazed down at the innocent, sleeping face of his younger brother beneath the square-cut glass frame. In death it was the same unmistakably beautiful face that he remembered from the stage: when he played Kumagae to Tojaku's Atsumori or Jirozaemon to Tojaku's Yatsuhashi. He was unable to determine which face—this one in death or the one on stage—was the illusion.
When his wife casually and unexpectedly touched Tojaku's face in the casket while holding Yukiko's hand, Shinsha had felt as if he were about to enter a bewitching, metamorphic world.
"Cut it out!" Shinsha admonished himself. "You're a fifty-year-old actor! How can you not observe your own performance as objectively as you observe those of others?" Quietly stepping down from the platform, he at once assumed an expression of respectful deference and affection.
Yukiko and Kishi, who were watching Shinsha from behind, only saw a man struggling to hold back tears as he looked at the dead face of his younger brother.
As Shinsha stepped sorrowfully down from the platform, Chisa alone saw through him, her eyes filled with hatred. "Actors are disgusting; it's a detestable occupation," she muttered to herself, seething inside. And yet, using this house of mourning as a stage, she was now giving a masterful performance in a role quite at odds from her true self. She had vowed to carry it through successfully to the end because she believed that if she failed, what had occurred between Kikuo and her would have meant nothing. Intangible beauty, like flowers blooming and scattering in the void . . . Compared to the splendid deception, how crass this young woman with large breasts seemed! Chisa wanted to laugh out loud at her husband's inept attempt, he who had tried to humiliate her by pitting her against such a woman. Instead, she bowed her head piously and wiped tears from the inner corner of her eyes.