Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thousand Cranes

I can see it clearly now: a Noh play with sparse set, masked actors and actress in colourful Kimonos of the different seasons. The sound of nature, rain, thunder and wind, befit musical accompaniment. We have a tea ceremony taking central stage, a three hundred years old tea bowl as a cursed object, a meddlesome sorceress in a sexless Miss Kurimoto and star-crossed lovers in the young master, Kikuji and Fumiko, the daughter of his died father's last lover Mrs. Ota, who is perhaps the vengeful spirit.

Association between people and objects is a recurring craft in the script as in Haikus. In a tea ceremony, everything has a meaning. And they exist even in the smallest details and gestures, like the kerchief with thousand cranes.

The voluptuous figure of a white Shino (Japanese water jar used in a traditional tea ceremony), in the eyes of Kikuji, turns into the seductive Mrs. Ota, who has a fleeting liaison with him - mistaking him for the father – before dying of guilt. And if guilt is deadly venom, Miss Kurimoto’s words are potions, pestering Kikuji into marriage, to drive away Fumiko. Before that fateful day, all of them have not met for a long time, only to be associated in a tea ceremony - as a central grand affair everything revolves around - like his father before them. And in a strange way, tea ceremony spells the beginning and end of tryst and portends death.

Kikuji, for large part of the novel, seems bewitched, resents the birthmark of Miss Kurimoto – which he sees as a child – as her source of power. Fumiko, the sorrowful child, is a more complex character by far. In a way she is cursed by guilt herself, yet exists partly on behalf of her mother to haunt Kikuji in remembrance. A young love is wasted thus.

At the last tea ceremony in the cottage, Mrs. Ota’s daily tea bowl, like her trapped soul being appeased in a ritual, is put beside that of Kikuji’s father, before Fumiko breaks it like a curse. Yet, one more life is to be claimed, as at the following morning, Kikuji picks up and stores away the broken pieces – an incomplete exorcism.

The venom strikes again, with which Kikuji walks away, breaking out in cold sweat at the vicariousness of death and perhaps, at the potency of the curse. With that, the actor retreats into the shadow.

Afterthoughts: I still could not figure out why Fumiko could have committed suicide after rooming in with her friend, away from her maternal house and having a new job, except that, as the reader was led to believe, she is cursed! So now we know where the “The Ring” draws its inspiration from. This one has a drinking bowl; “The Ring” has a videotape – both inconspicuous everyday items. But God knows how many victims a three hundred years bowl has claimed.

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