To have seen Nureyev or Pavarotti in their heyday, you must necessarily now be well into decrepit middle age, and I am. (Very decrepit middle age- structural problems, you know.) But I did. It all balances out.
Last night was devoted to reading the first story in Phantom Moon Tower 2. Yes, it took me three hours. I had to read it three times. I'm still convinced that Ima's narrative technique consists of writing the main plot points down on cards, throwing them up in the air, and drawing them in the order in which they come down.
The story in question begins with Young Dork, in the company of a beautiful woman, seeing Yosaburo at the door of a building embracing another beautiful woman, who seems to be a geisha, while each says Gomen nasai to the other. Being a native speaker might limit the number of possible interpretations of gomen nasai available to one, but not that much, I think. Is it a personal or impersonal gomen nasai? One only discovers this after many many pages. And meanwhile Young Dork is saying Male geisha mustn't fall in love with female geisha you know, while Yosaburo gives what I think is a distinctly misleading answer- But what if she's a woman worth falling in love with? And then it's discovered that there's blood in the room from which Yousaburou came, but no body to be found.
I tried to analyze from this how Ima puts a story together and why her stories give me such an impression of twistiness: and couldn't, simply because the story is so twisty. But thinking of it as a Judge Dee story helps, because van Gulik too usually has three plots happening simultaneously, only more easily separable one from the other.
So in this story, beginning with the dramatis personae of that first scene, we have The Case of the Infatuated Housewife (which explains why Yosaburo is where he is- and where he is, it takes a while to emerge, is not the front door of the PMT, but the tea house/ assignation house in back of it, which is also under quite separate management.) On Young Dork's side, we have The Case of the Runaway Wife, which ultimately becomes The Case of the Murdered Mother-in-law. And occupying stage centre is The Case of the Bloody Handprints, which close to the end of the story reveals itself to be in fact The Case of the Star-cross'd Lovers. There's a link, which I still don't understand, between Infatuated Housewife story and Star-cross'd lovers story; I don't understand it because AFAICS Ima doesn't tell us what the relationship is between the Infatuated Housewife who rents the tea house in order to meet the kabuki actor she has a pash for, the young master of the tea house who seems not to take much interest in the business side of it, and the IH's husband, who seems to be somehow in the young master's employ- enough to be able to burst into his house begging for his help and to discover the severed hand that's been delivered to his study.
The origin of the severed hand itself is something I still can't make sense of. I can only take comfort from reviews of later volumes of 100 Demons on amazon.jp, where readers complain that the stories are hard to understand. So it's not just my Japanese after all.