“In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” is a mystical story that evokes a variety of interpretations. Published in 1947, it follows a setsuwa (anecdote) style of Japanese classical narrative literature, and depicts fantastically the city of the Heian Period. However, its themes and metafictional form are quite modern or postmodern. The narrator describes the story from the perspective of the bandit Sanzoku, who meets a beautiful woman and makes her one of his wives. Soon she becomes more brutal than the violent bandit. During the final scene, which takes place in the forest filled with the stunning beauty of cherry blossoms, the woman’s beguiling appearance changes into a horrible image of Oni, a monstrous ghost. After he kills her, both of their bodies disappear. When the bandit vanishes, the story loses the observing point, leaving interpretations to the reader.
This paper discusses the bandit’s psychological response to beauty and explores the beauty’s ambiguous power. The bandit is the powerful subject of the story as the character that is responsible for its happenings. At the same time, he is subject to the uncontrollable power of beauty. Furthermore, the power of spirits that he feels through the beauty of the cherry blossoms influences his mind and makes him observe a monstrosity in the woman. This paper analyzes the ambivalence of beauty that functions as a gateway to observing monstrosity from both historical and metaphorical viewpoints and discusses the coexistence of fear and veneration toward beauty.