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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Devils in Daylight

Tanizaki Junichiro

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Devils in Daylight

Title: Devils in Daylight
Author: Tanizaki Junichiro
Genre: Novel
Written: 1918 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 101 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Devils in Daylight - US
Devils in Daylight - UK
Devils in Daylight - Canada
  • Japanese title: 白昼鬼語
  • Translated and with an Afterword by J.Keith Vincent

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely turned dark tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 23/9/2017 Damian Flanagan
The NY Rev. of Books . 8/6/2017 Pico Iyer
Publishers Weekly . 6/2/2017 .
TLS . 20/7/2017 Edmund Gordon

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)n Tanizakiís version, which strikingly recalls Alfred Hitchcock in plot and style, the code-cracking mystery begins in a cinema and takes us on an adventure that leads into the voyeuristic enjoyment of a staged murder. (...) Tanizaki also works with the fascinating concept of advanced "fictive imaginations" -- his characters embody the need of our imaginations to spin self-supporting fictions and fantasies, and indulge them on stage and screen, precisely because our deep-seated desires are not being fulfilled -- in a word, catharsis." - Damian Flanagan, The Japan Times

  • "Devils in Daylight, from 1918, reads like a breathless snuff film cowritten by Poe and Simenon." - Pico Iyer, The New York Review of Books

  • "The prose is cunning and compelling, evoking classic Asian folklore and elements of Don Quixote. Readers are never entirely sure what to believe -- the narrator is unreliable and often questions his own story." - Publishers Weekly

  • "It is mainly notable for its enthusiastic display of cinematic influences. (...) It is only a shame that the novelís compulsively hellish atmosphere is doused out in the final pages with a twist of exceptional lameness." - Edmund Gordon, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Devils in Daylight is recounted by Takahashi, an author who has been working through the night to meet a deadline when he receives a call from his wealthy, self-indulgent friend, Sonomura. Takahashi opens his account by noting that: "Sonomura made no secret of the fact that mental illness ran in his family", and he suspects that trait might really be starting to show through; what Sonomura tells him certainly sounds bizarre -- though Sonomura is only willing to reveal so much, over the telephone. But Sonomura's claim -- "A murder is going to be committed", later that day, and Sonomura wants to go watch -- is wild enough both for Takahashi to ask his friend: "Have you lost your mind ?" and also to agree to meet up with him when he's finished with his writing.
       By mid-afternoon, the exhausted Takahashi sets off, hoping to talk some sense into his friend who: "had become increasingly obsessed with moving pictures and crime novels". Instead, the over-excited Sonomura spins out his bizarre tale of having witnessed a man and woman plan another man's murder -- literally behind his back -- at a movie theater, with Sonomura conveniently able to pick up the coded message they had passed to each other giving some of the specifics. He has the piece of paper -- and he recognized the code, from the Edgar Allan Poe story, 'The Gold-Bug'. He's cracked it, too -- he knows when, and approximately where the murder will take place. And he wants to go, and for Takahashi to join him.
       As absurd as it all sounds, Takahashi can't dissuade him -- and feels obliged to tag along. Things don't go exactly as Sonomura had expected, and Takahashi thinks they're done with it; it seems clear: "So now we know this whole thing was in your head". But Sonomura gets a second wind -- or sudden inspiration, figuring out that he had one of the clues wrong -- and off they go again, in the dark of night. Arriving just in time to witness a grim murder .....
       Right from when he first mentioned it, when Takahashi thinks it's all some wild fantasy, Sonomura insists:

Of course I am not personally involved with the crime, so I am responsible neither for preventing it, nor for reporting it.
       Indeed, even after they witness the horrific act, the two don't go to the police, despite the fact that the perpetrators would be easy to catch, and the evidence still there -- for the moment (the killers do have an effective corpse-disposal method). Instead, Sonomura giddily tells Takahashi: "The fun has only just begun". Curious how they'll react, he plans to approach the man and woman responsible for the crime, pretending he is unaware of it; he wants to get to know and understand them. He is fascinated, in particular, by the woman:
     A cruel murderer ... Yes, that's right. And she is also a beautiful sorceress. And yet to me her wickedness seems somehow abstract. It is completely eclipsed by her beauty.
       When Takahashi finally sees Sonomura again, a week later, it turns out that he has, indeed, sought out the femme fatale -- and befriended her. She's in the house when Takahashi visits, and she and the besotted Sonomura do begin an affair -- with Sonomura pretending he doesn't know her dark secrets that he's witnessed and uncovered.
       The man and woman insinuate themselves into Sonomura's household, while Takahashi breaks with him -- only to receive a letter from his former friend months later, bidding him farewell and revealing that the same fate as that of the man they had witnessed now awaits him. Takahashi must relive the same scene -- except that it is now the man he was once so close to that is the victim.
       Devils in Daylight is a voyeuristic tale. It's no coincidence that Sonomura first learns of the plot while in a cinema, and at pivotal moments he and Takahashi are simply passive observers -- voyeurs watching not a movie but rather what they are convinced is real life, through the knotholes in the wall of the room where murder is committed, for example. (Tellingly, Takahashi assumes a similar hidden position when he first encounters the mystery woman (Eiko -- "this is what she called herself") at Sonomura's home; he does not want to be part of the scene, but he wants to witness it; he wants to be (passive) audience, not (active) participant.)
       Similarly, when they first see the woman she could pass for a geisha -- not only because of her beauty and appearance, but her studied movements: what they witness is also murder-as-performance -- as becomes even more obvious the second time Takahashi watches, the staging of his friend's death identical to the first murder .....
       Madness and fantasy -- dreamed and waking -- also play significant roles. Takahashi repeatedly questions not only Sonomura's sanity, but his own; his exhaustion also clearly affects him for much of the story.
       The question of what is real and what is not -- and how things are perceived -- turns out to be even more complex than Takahashi initially considers, cleverly hinted at throughout by Tanizaki. With his frequent allusions to and mentions of work on screen (films) and stage (of various sorts), as well as fiction (the crime novels Sonomura has become obsessed with, the Poe story) he effectively captures how popular culture -- reaching new heights at the time -- infected minds ..... It's no coincidence either that (creative) writing -- inventions of the mind -- figures so prominently in the novel as well: Takahashi actually is a writer, while even Sonomura's long letter is yet another form of story-telling.
       One does wonder why Takahashi doesn't involve the authorities, but other than that, regardless how far-fetched, one can readily go along with everything that happens in Devils in Daylight. It is very enjoyably creepy, the story very nicely twisted. Some two-thirds of the short novel covers the fateful day when Sonomura called Takahashi; the rest covers a longer period, culminating in the repeat of the scene, in slightly different arrangement. It's cleverly done, with a final scene that is as unnerving as either of the previous climaxes, even as readers find themselves confronted with rather a different scenario than they had previously imagined.
       Devils in Daylight is, appropriately enough, an exceptionally cinematic novel. It is also a novel of the games the mind can play, and the games art can play with it. It is full of deception -- even as the kind we believe ourselves to be aware of (the exhausted Takahashi, convinced Sonomura must have succumbed to madness ....) isn't actually where true deception lies. Takahashi wonders: "But where did the confusion start ?" but what makes the novel work so well is that Tanizaki's explanations do not rely on muddied waters and confused minds: it's the absolute clarity of it all that's truly unsettling.
       A triumph of artifice -- and not just of the art of murder -- Devils in Daylight is an enjoyable little work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 April 2017

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Devils in Daylight: Reviews: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō: Other books by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (谷崎 潤一郎) lived 1886 to 1965.

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© 2017-2023 the complete review

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