Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) was an important, popular and influential author of modern Japanese literature. He was an extremely prolific writer. His works, written over 50 years in the early to mid twentieth century, fill thirty volumes. Tanizaki’s style can be considered somewhat classical in nature and his prose has been described as “hypnotically beautiful.” Besides this element of classicism, with the Japanese culture in the early 1900’s becoming accepting of writing “freed of the strict conventions of past centuries,” Tanizaki utilized modernistic devices and themes. Wikipedia says of Tanizaki:
Some of his works present a shocking world of sexuality and destructive erotic obsessions. Others, less sensational, subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japanese society. Frequently his stories are narrated in the context of a search for cultural identity in which constructions of “the West” and “Japanese tradition” are juxtaposed.
The Monthly Letter (ML) of The Limited Editions Club (LEC) mentions the influence Western writers had on Tanizaki:
In Tanizaki the meeting of East and West was to be particularly apparent. Strongly attracted by Poe, Oscar Wilde, and Baudelaire, he felt little sympathy with older Japanese writers at the time.
While this Western influence propelled Tanizaki beyond traditional Japanese styles and topics, his work remains distinctively Japanese. The ML goes on to say:
…from the beginning of his career Tanizaki’s concern was to capture and preserve a concept of beauty that is specifically Japanese. “Orientals find beauty,” he wrote “not only in the thing itself, but in the pattern of the shadows–the light and the darkness–which that thing produces.”
Tanizaki confessed that he was “absorbed by the themes of beauty and power, or perhaps by beauty as power.” “All beautiful things are strong,” he wrote; “ugly things are weak.” But even ugly things obsessed him: mutilation, morbidity, phobia — elements that persisted and developed in some of his later work, such as in one of his most notable stories, ‘A Portrait of Shunkin’.
In 1964 Tanizaki was elected an Honory Member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (now the American Academy of Arts and Letters). After his death in 1965, the Tanizaki Prize was set up as an annual award for a work of fiction or drama. It has become one of Japan’s most prominent literary awards.
As for A Portrait of Shunkin, the edition from the Limited Editions Club (LEC) got the full ‘Shiff’ treatment, with no expense spared in creating a beautiful book. The edition was designed by Michael and Winifred Bixler, whose involvement in so many great LEC editions (as well as many other private press works) runs to a list much longer than can be listed here! The work is illustrated with photographs from famed Japanese photographer/filmmaker Eikoh Hosoe, who has been called “the Alfred Stieglitz of Japan.” Wikipedia says that Mr. Hosoe’s work “is known for his psychologically charged images, often exploring subjects such as death, erotic obsession, and irrationality” which certainly implies an excellent match for illustrating this work from Tanizaki. To illustrate A Portrait of Shunkin, the ML informs us that:
Hosoe has taken three photographs to represent the heroine as she might perhaps appear in her varied moods at crucial episodes of the story: Sunken serene and imperious, Sunken yearning and vulnerable, Sunken in a transport of emotion. Each portrait is a work of art, a reflection of Hosoe’s feeling for his subject.
Mr. Hosoe provides a short but heartfelt afterword to this edition, calling A Portrait of Shunkin his favorite work of Tanizaki. The ML mentions that Mr. Hosoe’s work was first exhibited in America in 1969 at the Smithsonian, and has been displayed pretty much everywhere around the world since, including having works of his acquired by the Museums of Modern Art in Tokyo, New York and Paris, and the National Galleries of Australia and Canada.
Mr. Hosoe’s work is here reproduced as gravures from the original negatives by Jon Goodman, the universally acclaimed master of photogravure. The type is 16 point Centaur. Centaur was created by Bruce Rogers based on Venetian letters designed in 1470 by Nicolas Jenson. The ML says that “its rich, calligraphic character produces pages that handsomely complement both the text and the gravures.” That it certainly does. Speaking of calligraphy, there is Japanese lettering gracing the title page masterfully done by calligrapher Shunkei Yahagi. The work is printed on a heavy-weight 100% cotton-rag, mould-made paper from Arches mill in Epinal, France. The paper has a luxurious, yet substantial feel to it.
The ML says that “An art book takes on additional glamour when appropriately bound and boxed.” Hard to argue with that. For this edition of A Portrait of Shunkin, Winifred Bixler hand-bound it in full, soft-pink Japanese silk, with a recessed printed label bearing the calligraphy of Shunkei Yahagia. It is placed within a lipped, clam-shell box created by Portfolio Box Company of Providence, R.I., also with a recessed printed label bearing the calligraphy of Shunkei Yahagia.
The translation is from noted professor emeritus of Japanese literature at Harvard University, Howard Hibbett. His translations of Tanizaki helped put Tanizaki on the map in the Western world, and remain the go-to translations. The edition is limited to 300 copies, and is signed by Eikoh Hosoe and Shunkei Yahagi. Current pricing for fine copies seem to run $1750 +.
About the Edition
- Design by Michael and Winifred Bixler
- Photographs by Eikoh Hosoe
- Reproduced as gravures from the original negatives by Jon Goodman
- English translation by Howard Hibbett
- Title Page Japanese lettering by calligrapher Shunkei Yahagi
- Type is 16 point Monotype Centaur
- Heavy-weight 100% cotton-rag, mould-made paper from Arches mill in Epinal, France
- Hand-bound by Winifred Bixler in full, soft-pink Japanese silk, and protected within a lipped, clam-shell box created by Portfolio Box Company of Providence, R.I.
- Book and solander enhanced with a recessed printed label, bearing the calligraphy of Shunkei Yahagi
- 10.5″ x 14.75″, 64 pages
- Limited to 300 copies
- Signed by Eikoh Hosoe and Shunkei Yahagi
Pictures of the Edition
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