Powerplay

Through strength in deception and meticulously planned mind games, characters in Tanizaki’s Quicksand push and pull one another to attain supreme authority, and find that the most dangerous foe of all is the powerful strength of seduction.

Characters in Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s Manji (Quicksand) possess both great power and fatal weakness. His story is a mysterious game of seduction and lies between the players, each desperately grasping for control. Through strength in deception and meticulously planned mind games, the four characters push and pull one another to attain supreme authority, though perhaps the most dangerous foe of all are the powers of beauty and seduction.

Events are recounted by Mrs. Sonoko Kakiuchi, whose societal status serves as the base from which stubbornness, confidence and defiance stem. Her well-to-do standing produces a fearless attitude toward authority, allowing her strength to best others in debate and to uproot herself from undesirable situations. She knowingly flexes her stubbornness with pride and feels elated to be granted the prize of winning an argument and her freedom. Through threats and irrational behavior Sonoko stands up to her husband to gain control over their relationship, “’you’re no real man, you only married me for money. Spineless coward!’” (54). Sonoko’s power swells, forcing Kakiuchi to resign to her lurid affair with the stunning Mitsuko.

Kakiuchi’s own power arises through obtaining knowledge. While he continuously prods his wife to confess her indiscretions, he already knows the truth. “’Don’t try to lie your way out of it: I’ve already heard all about it from Kiyo.’ And he added that he knew I wasn’t just painting—he wanted me to confess what I was up to” (52). When Sonoko finally admits to her lustful sins, her husband gains the upper hand and seizes the opportunity to domesticate his wife as he sees fit. Engrossed in Mitsuko’s god-like beauty, the two endlessly struggle to assert their individual dominance.

Mitsuko couples her unmatched beauty with endless lies in a game of human chess, using those who worship her as pawns. Wielding these powerful weapons, Mitsuko easily molds her surrounding admirers to her will. Sonoko is blinded by crazed obsession in her beauty, to the point of willingly being deceived. “I’m sure you understand very well what was going on. The fact is, I had deliberately walked into the trap that Mitsuko set up before my very eyes” (95). Sonoko is so addicted to this great admiration that she plays along with every game Mitsuko presents.

Even Watanuki’s calculating plots fail when competing with Mitsuko’s seductive ways. His androgynous good looks and persuasive charms grant him fleeting sovereignty over each character, but his calculated attempts in building power ultimately make him the first to lose in the gang of four. After attempting to force Mitsuko into marriage, entrapping Sonoko through a blood pact, and blackmailing Mr. Kakiuchi, his plan begins to falter. Mitsuko’s beauty strengthens and unites the other two against Watanuki and his power fizzles into nothing. No longer are they are not afraid of the rumors and stained reputations he threatens them with. Even when tortured by Mitsuko to the point of decrepitude, the two are helpless under her glory, “For us, Mitsuko seemed to shine like the sun: no matter how exhausted we felt, the sight of her face brought us back to life; it was our sole remaining pleasure” (217). Mr. and Mrs. Kakiuchi resign to live only as slaves under Mitsuko’s power.

Each of Tanizaki’s characters aggressively battle the others to obtain what they most desire. Sonoko’s stubborn defiance is a formidable match to her husband’s strength in knowledge and when these strengths combine, Watanuki’s carefully planned blackmail is foiled, but all are helpless under the power of Mitsuko’s seduction. Her radiance commands complete control over her victims, making her beauty the most dangerous weapon of all.


Works Cited

  • Tanizaki, Jun. Quicksand. New York: Alfred A. Knopf :, 1994. Print.
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