Exotic Japanese Stories: the Beautiful and the Grotesque by Ryunosuke Akutagawa; Translated by Takashi Kojima and John Mcvittie. 22 Collage Illustrations in Black & White by Masakazu Kuwata
New York : Liveright Publishing Corp. 1964. Hardcover. 431 pages ; illustrations ; 21 cm. $6.95 dust jacket. Very good + copy with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.
EXOTIC JAPANESE STORIES
The Beautiful and the Grotesque
16 UNUSUAL TALES AND UNFORGETTABLE IMAGES
by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Author of RASHOMON, JAPANESE SHORT STORIES, etc. Translated by Takashi Kojima and John McVittie With a Comprehensive Introduction by John McVittie
22 Extraordinary Collage Illustrations — 6 in Full Color, by Masakazu Kuwata
The reader should set out to read this book prepared to smoke his imaginary poppy seed throughout his reading of the Introduction, which will initiate the appropriate setting for drifting into the vivid images which the stories provoke — softly at first, absorbed by the somber serenity of "Withered Fields/' and then, to relieve his wistfulness, he might plunge into the passion and blood of "The Robbers," or give himself up to the mercy of the "Kappa" and Lunatic No. 23. By this time he should be able to walk comfortably up the wall and over the ceiling.
At such a stage of relaxation he will have no inhibitions about badgers, and might even begin to have his doubts about his friends when he has read "The Badger" once or twice. While he is in the mood, he could well scamper about with "Shiro, the Dog," just to ascertain what it feels like to be a quadruped. The facility of all manner of passions in the animal world might provide him with tolerance to meet the impact of the love affairs of "Heresy." Having read thus far, he will be sufficiently converted to understand "A Woman's Body" and "The Faith of Wei Sheng" in case they too could have a dual meaning.
Readers inclined towards controversial works will find problems enough in "The Handkerchief" and "Saigo Takamori." The former might prompt him to dream of becoming the "bridge between the East and the West," but "Saigo Takamori" will dissuade him from such an ambitious venture — for how can the reader be certain anymore that history will not mistake his bridge for a rainbow? As an antidote to such inhibiting doubts, one will find relief in "The Greeting," which is about a girl who inspired her admirer in much the same way as he was moved by the appearance of the newsstand cat.
Yet, for all this frivolity, none will leave these stories without some enlightenment, as the presence of the Merciful Buddha is to be felt in "The Garden" and "The Lady of Rokunomiya"; for some persons this spiritual awareness will be their first experience of Buddha!
In "Absorbed in Letters," the author quotes Shikitei Sama's words: "Deities, Buddha, love, heartlessness — all are visitors at the public bath." Indeed, all of them are present in the stories of Akutagawa. Yet the dreadful hand that impels us through the story, "Gratitude" is not Buddha, but Akutagawa, so thoroughly "absorbed in letters."
Akutagawa was ever-conscious of the apparent whims of destiny and of the weaknesses of human nature — an attribute of the most mature writers of all nations, but unique in a young man, and especially entertaining in Akutagawa because at times it prompts his pen to satire, though never to cynicism.
We must not, he contends, assume that the writing of mere fiction is easy to achieve. Right mind and right setting are as important to fiction writing as are knowledge and experience. Akutagawa's brush has all these advantages: at times it slips zealously down the pages, writing of itself, as though in veneration of some god.
Ryunosuke Akutagawa was born in Tokyo, in 1892. He was a literary artist — a Neo-Intellectual. He graduated from the Department of Literature of the University of Tokyo and taught at the Naval Engineering College, but at the same time was actively engaged in writing. He joined the staff of Tokyo's, "Nichi Nichi," a daily newspaper. Of the one hundred and forty pieces he left behind, most were short stories, some were haiku verse and some were essays.
Akutagawa's historical novels were not intimately connected with any impelling desire to justify his ethical standards passed on from the samurai, but rather as he himself told in his reminiscences, to, seek a rebirth into enlightenment out of the gloom of his love-affairs. Akutagawa had little faith in the realities of the past which are but a mirror of the realities of today and tomorrow become the realities of yesterday.
The extent of Akutagawa's knowledge amazed his contemporaries. He is thought to have been one of the most widely read scholars of his age. For subject matter he presents a highly diversified picture interspersed with flashes of fantasy and a marked aptitude for hard realism. He lays great store on the mental factors inherent in his works besides endowing them with a satiric sharpness and humorous flavor — an extremely clever hand at confusing the motives of men with paradoxical thrusts. The incompatibility of his strong mind, his delicate nerves and the constant friction between his unworldly desires and the annoyances arising from the actualities of his life impelled him in due course to commit suicide at the early age of thirty-five.
His work is both scholarly and thoroughly entertaining for readers of all tastes — universally popular and has a place on the shelves of libraries throughout the world. His story, RASHOMON, was the winner of the Grand Prize at the International Film Festival in Venice.
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