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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Translucent Tree

Takagi Nobuko

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To purchase Translucent Tree

Title: Translucent Tree
Author: Takagi Nobuko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Translucent Tree - US
Translucent Tree - UK
Translucent Tree - Canada
  • Japanese title: 透光の樹
  • Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi
  • 透光の樹 was made into a film in 2004, directed by Negishi Kichitaro and starring Akiyoshi Kumiko and Nagashima Toshiyuki

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Our Assessment:

B- : odd take on transcendent passion

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 13/4/2008 Susan Salter Reynolds

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a romance, a love story, and nothing is lost in translation. (...) But talking, talking and making love, they figure it out. Soon, they are both consumed. (In case you are worried, the delicacy with which they parse their emotions is much more Jane Austen than The Bridges of Madison County.) (...) The cedar, the samurai and the swordsmith infuse the story's DNA like confident ancestors." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

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:

       It's pretty much on a whim that Go Imai, the head of a small TV production company, returns to Tsurugi, where he had spent a short time twenty-five years earlier. He had been an assistant director on a film, assigned to deal with a local swordsmith. The swordsmith is now a senile old man, but Go runs into his daughter, Chigiri Yamazaki -- and there's something about her that immediately grips him.
       Go lives in Tokyo, and he has a family there, a wife and two children. He barely spends any time with them, however, instead immersing himself in his work -- and now becoming obsessed by Chigiri. She's divorced, and moved back to Tsurugi with her twelve-year-old daughter to look after her father. They have little money, and since her divorce Chigiri hasn't had any time or opportunity to see any men.
       Her financial straits come up in conversation, and Go offers to help out -- which she interprets as an offer to trade sex for cash, making for a somewhat awkward foundation for a relationship, especially as both see something more in each other:

he was anxious to tell her he wasn't just interested in her body but never got around to it. He wanted her to know it wasn't his only motivation, but he did want to sleep with her after all.
       Not quite sure of the other's feelings and motives, they dance around each other for a while in the distance, but can't keep apart; a relationship of sorts develops, each obsessed by the other yet uncertain what to say and how to act:
     The matter of where a woman's emotions for a man are located is complicated, and there is no simple answer. In Chigiri's case, the feelings were a tangle of strings running through her body that were being tugged on and spun out, with an unmistakably sexual influence on her.
       A romance, of sorts, develops. They meet and practically drown in one another, but they also continue to lead their separate lives. And they know:
     "This sort of passion can't last."
     Chigiri cried because she agreed with the words, but they made her angry. She knew he was right, but wanted to argue. Every possible emotion came to the fore, spilling out as tears. But afterwards, she mumbled once in a timid voice, "That's why we feel it so."
       Conveniently, mortality intervenes, as they are forewarned when it's time to say good-bye. Sure, Go could prolong the agony a bit -- but: "no matter how well the surgery went, he'd still have trouble with both sex and urinating, and he couldn't bring himself to go through with it." So when it comes time for the final fling they both know that that's it.
       The story doesn't end there, as Takagi shows the lingering aftereffects of this one great passion. This isn't a romance in which realised-love conquers all, but the abstract version certainly does -- though that still doesn't make for your more typical type of happy ending.
       The realism in Translucent Tree is gritty for a romantic tale. Two of the central characters suffer from forms of dementia, while a third succumbs to a particularly unpleasant medical ailment -- a lot for the story (and reader) to deal with. Presumably, it's helpful to know that: "He took medicine that stopped the diarrhea and internal bleeding, but it ruined his appetite", but it doesn't make for a very delicate romance.
       The awkwardness between Go and Chigiri is fairly effectively presented, and the compounding difficulty of the ailing father Chigiri takes care of works quite well. But while there's some appeal to their strange affair, there are frustratingly blank spaces around them. Chigiri's daughter, Mayu, is just twelve when the relationship begins, but she barely even seems to figure in Chigiri's life (until the final chapter, in which she's a major presence). Far worse is Go's baffling marriage, which is barely even alluded to -- though Go still shows up at home now and again. Takagi doesn't convincingly describe how it came to such alienation here, and it makes for a very discordant note (and doesn't speak particularly well for the man who is the romantic lead, after all).
       The ailing father -- whom Go remembers from when he was still active, a quarter of a century earlier -- does add another useful layer to the story: a former swordsmith, he was master of a dying art. By the time Go meets Chigiri again he's lost most of his hold on reality as well. Takagi feels obligated to let the reader know that the annoying figure won't be here too long -- noting, when the book begins, that it's 1981, "two years before Kaho's death" -- but in a way he's an essential element in the whole romance, as, indeed, the book is decidedly nostalgic. Memories and tradition (from swordmaking to a local tree) are constants in the book -- and also come together in the final sign that Go sends to Chigiri.
       Some of the effect of Translucent Tree is no doubt lost in cultural translation. This is an odd romance, where love can bloom after exchanges such as:
     "I'd made my decision," said Chigiri.
     Go looked puzzled. "Yes ?"
     "I'm going to be your prostitute."
     Go laughed out loud, but stopped suddenly. "Chigiri, everything you do is a surprise. You sounded cheery and pleasant when you said you were poor. Nobody uses the word 'prostitute; these days, it almost makes me feel nostalgic."
       It's that last admission that's the key, of course; it's nostalgia that he's looking for, and that wins him completely over -- and while they have a perfect love for a time, they know that ultimately all that will be left for them is a form of nostalgia.
       Their arrangement at the beginning -- boiling down to money for sex -- and the awkwardness both feel about it isn't entirely implausible, but Takagi shows little subtlety here (or elsewhere), which makes it feel less convincing than it should. Indeed, her whole approach make Translucent Tree of greater cultural-sociological than literary interest.
       Passionate, but decidedly odd.

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Translucent Tree: Reviews: Toukou no ki - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Takagi Nobuko (高樹のぶ子) was born in 1946.

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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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