These two short novels, published in the early 1930's ranked high in Tanizaki's own estimation of his work. The contrast is stark, but in their controlled complexities of tone, both bear the unmistakable stamp of Tanizaki's hand. MUSASHI deals with the dark sexual obsessions of a sixteenth-century warlord, accidentally initiated in his youth into the morbid rites attendant upon battle. ARROWROOT too touches on the pursuit of legend, but in a totally different mode. Cast in the uniquely Japanese form of the 'essay novel', the narrative blends the stories of two friends on an expedition into the mountains south of Kyoto, one of them haunting the traces of a medieval myth, the other in search of a more recent and more private past.
Junichiro Tanizaki was born in 1886 in Tokyo, where his family owned printing establishment. He studied Japanese literature at Tokyo Imperial University, and his first published work, a one-act play, appeared in 1910 in a literary magazine he helped to found. Tanizaki lived in the cosmopolitan Tokyo area until the earthquake of 1923, when he moved to the gentler and more cultivated Kyoto-Osaka region, the scene of The Makioka Sisters. There he became absorbed in the Japanese past and all his most important works were written from this point, among them Some Prefer Nettles (1929), Arrowroot (1931), The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi (1935), several modern versions of The Tale of Genji (1941, 1954 and 1965), The Makioka Sisters (1943-48), Captain Shigemoto's Mother (1949), The Key (1956) and Diary of a Mad Old Man (1961). By 1930 he had gained such renown that an edition of his complete works was published and he was awarded an Imperial Award for Cultural Merit in 1949. In 1964 he was elected an honorary Member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the first Japanese citizen ever to recieve this honour. Tanizaki died in 1965.