Sunday, August 25, 2019

Early novels and stories by Inoue Yasushi

BullfightBullfight by Yasushi Inoue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inoue found the subject for Bullfight in the chaotic postwar Japanese society. It depicts the frenzied activities of an enterprising newspaper executive, Tsugami, who is promoting a bullfight in Osaka, the success or failure of which will determine the fate of his firm. For months this great gamble consumes him, making him as wary and combative as if he was in a ring himself. And, as he becomes ever more distant, his lover Sakiko is unsure if she would like to see him succeed or be destroyed.

Established Inoue Yasushi as one of Japan's most acclaimed authors and earned the Akutagawa prize in 1949.

Note that this concerns a traditional, Japanese-style bullfight, i.e. between bull and bull and not with a matador. In Japanese bullfights, usually no blood flows

Hunting Gun (Pushkin Collection)The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella (Inoue's first) follows the consequences of a tragic love affair. Told from the viewpoints of three different women, this is a story of the psychological impact of such an affair. Three lovers give their view of the hunter and reconstitute his multidimensional nature. First viewed through the eyes of Shoko, who learns of the affair through reading her mother's diary, then through the eyes of Midori, who had long known about the affair of her husband with Saiko, and finally through the eyes of Saiko herself. The Hunting Gun is like Akutagawa's “In a Grove,” a love story with multiple narrators where each narrative reshapes the reader's understanding of the rest.

Life of a CounterfeiterLife of a Counterfeiter by Yasushi Inoue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A writer is commissioned to write the biography of a famous painter but becomes fascinated by his shadow, a man who produced forgeries of the artist's work - the master forger lives in obscurity and disappointment, oppressed by the reality of the artist whose work he copies.

Schwarze FlutSchwarze Flut by Yasushi Inoue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short novel ("Schwarze Flut" in the German translation, in English this would be "Black Flood"), which inexplicably has not been translated into English, forms as it were a trilogy with Inoue's novellas The Hunting Gun and The Bullfight. Like Bull Fight, it is set in the world of newspaper reporters Inoue himself worked in for more than a decade. Moreover, by using a real life event as part of the plot, Inoue initiated the genre of "novels about contemporary events," that became quite popular and was followed for example Mishima Yukio (starting with The Blue Age from 1950, and including The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and After the Banquet).

The president of Japan National Railways, who has just effected a massive lay-off of 100,000 and is struggling with the unions, is found dismembered on a railway embankment. Was it murder? Or suicide? Inoue's protagonist is the editor Hayami, who maintains a neutral stance in his paper, while the other newspapers jump on the case and portray it as a murder sensation. Hayami has strong reasons to avoid speculation: a few years ago, his wife died in a double suicide with a popular singer and Hayami was shocked by the groundless speculations in the media at that time. He felt it destroyed the dignity of those who died and made him loose sovereignty over his own life.

While his own job as a newspaperman is only "black and white," Hayami has befriended his former drawing teacher, who now does research into old methods to dye fabric, a world of subtle colors. There is also the possibility of a renewed marriage with Keiko, the daughter of this teacher. A sharp novel about a chaotic time, emphasizing the importance of truthfulness.

Die EiswandDie Eiswand by Yasushi Inoue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Ice Wall" is another novel by Inoue Yasushi about contemporary affairs that has not been translated into English. It is based on a real-life mountaineering accident and the resulting scandal involving an important company’s controversial new product, nylon rope, but it is also an intense double love triangle. Two friends are in love with the same married woman. Both are enthusiastic mountaineers and when on New Year's Day they try to scale the difficult north side of the Hodaka, their nylon rope breaks and one friend falls to his death. Was it murder, suicide, or was the rope faulty?

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan

Set in an alternative reality in which Britain has just lost the Falklands War and the population is just as politically divided as today, McEwan addresses the problem of consciousness through a story about a humanoid robot. Thanks to the fact that Alan Thuring (who in reality died in 1954) is still alive in the novel, in the 1980s there has already been a series of big breakthroughs in AI and computer research. The protagonist, Charlie, a 32-year old who lives by playing the stock market from his home computer, has bought one of the Adams (the Eves have already been sold out) thanks to an inheritance. He lives in a small flat with in the apartment above him the 10 year younger Miranda with whom he is embarking on a relationship. Charlie decides to share Adam with her, but soon regrets his decision as he listens in to a bout of sex between her and the well-endowed, muscular humanoid who declares that he loves Miranda... Adam even starts writing haiku for her! This black humor is typical of McEwan.

Both Charlie and Miranda are morally ambiguous: Charlie has barely avoided prison for cheating the tax office (and is again cheating, for he hides his stock market profits), and Miranda has an even darker secret in her recent past which is only gradually divulged.

The deeper subject of the novel is therefore moral choice (or universalism versus particularism: should rules and laws always be applied regardless of persons and circumstances, or do we make an exception for our friends or for special circumstances?). Adam has been manufactured with a clear set of moral rules in his humanoid conscience, and he shows eventually which way his two owners have to go - although this ends in disaster for himself.

A morally complex and mischievous book, with Adam mysteriously both human and not-human (which makes us consider the nature of consciousness), a return to the best in McEwan.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What do a super-smart teenage girl (Paloma Josse) and a middle-aged concierge (Renée Michel) have in common? That they are both interested in higher things (art, literature, classical music, philosophy) but hide their light under a bushel in order not to raise the suspicion of their environment. Secondly, they both like Japanese culture, the girl manga, the concierge films by Ozu. Thirdly, they hate rich people, the teenager because she finds them superficial and uncultured (like her parents and elder sister) and the concierge - as will appear later - because her sister died after she was discarded by a rich man. But both set aside their aversion to the rich when a wealthy Japanese, very coincidentally also called Ozu, buys an apartment in the building. His Eastern wisdom, however, does not go further than that he treats both Paloma and Renee as human beings instead of taking no notice of them. I can't see the wisdom of having sliding doors in a Western-style apartment (Japanese houses have only sliding doors in Japanese-style rooms with tatami), or a toilet that plays Mozart's Requiem when flushed (some Japanese toilets do make noise or play music, however not when flushed, but when being used, so that ladies don't have to worry that others can hear the sounds they make).

The by other critics much praised philosophy in the novel does not rise above a few unrelated snippets, and finally comes down to the common sense life lesson that one should enjoy the beauty of the world. The novel begins nicely by introducing the two quirky characters of Paloma (who says she will commit suicide in the near future) and Renee, but towards the end the quirkiness turns into sentimentality. And although I like the idea of an almost plot-less novel incorporating small essays on various topics, the essays remain too much on the surface. The (socialist? communist?) harping on rich people gets rather irritating, especially as in the context of the novel it is not demonstrated how or why rich persons are bad. Of course, this is all very French, although France is not a basic class society like England; the division in French society is rather caused by the education system, which nurtures a small elite of specialists.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Convenience Store WomanConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Japanese convenience store is a great invention. Found on every street corner in the cities, it not only acts as a small supermarket but also sells fresh food (bento boxes, sandwiches, rice balls etc) which can be warmed in the store; it has a huge array of refrigerated drinks and also sells fresh coffee; it accepts mail and parcels; enables customers to pay utility bills, etc. The staff has been well-trained and everyone in every shop everywhere in Japan acts in the same fashion according to a detailed manual.

The author, Murata Sayaka, has herself worked for many years in such a convenience store and the novel is based on her experiences. The protagonist of the novel has problems to behave like an "ordinary person" and interact with others. She is therefore happy to work in a convenience store as the store manual with its structured tasks and fixed ways of speaking to customers helps her cope. She also takes care to copy the speech and dress of her colleagues in order not to stand out.

However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life, but is aware that she is not living up to society's expectations. Friends and colleagues begin to prod her - why doesn't she marry and have children? Then a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, and upsets her contented stasis, even moving in with her... will it be for the better? This novella is a plea for non-conformity in the language of the convenience store, ironically the most conformist institution in Japan.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Hersenschimmen (Out of Mind), by J. Bernlef

Out of Mind is a story of encroaching senility, seen through the eyes of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is described from the inside, as readers we sit inside a mind that becomes smaller and smaller, which has a suffocating effect. J. Bernlef (1937-2012, pseudonym of Hendrik Jan Marsman) was a poet, novelist, essayist and translator of Scandinavian poetry. He also edited several literary magazines. He was seen as an intellectual author, removed from the general public, until the publication of Out of Mind in 1984.

[Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Mass.]

Maarten Klein is a Dutchman who has worked as secretary for the Boston office of the International Maritime Consultative organization, part of the United Nations. After retirement, he and his wife have stayed on in their coastal house in Gloucester in Massachusetts, although Maarten dislikes the severe winters. During one hopelessly long winter, Maarten quickly loses his memory. Just as the snow falls outside and covers all traces, so the snow also falls on Maarten’s mind.

Maarten starts as a logical I-narrator, who outlines his current existence and brings back memories, but soon incidents start to happen, becoming more and more serious. Maarten forgets things, confuses names, and does not notice that himself. The symptoms get worse, his wife Vera becomes worried. Maarten, however, stubbornly refuses to face the decline in his clear moments. He remains a passive victim, who only registers the utterances of decay (incidentally often in a strange manner), but does not really make the problem explicit. He suffers from an increasing disorientation in time and space, as a result of which he loses control over his world. This process ultimately leads to physical and psychological decline, because he loses control over his physical functioning, his ability to remember and use language.

Past and present, appearance and reality become one. He confuses his wife Vera with his first love, Karen, then with a whore he once had a fling with, and then with his mother. While out for a walk he breaks into a deserted building thinking it is his office where he has to join a meeting of the IMCO. Slowly but surely he loses grip on his final mainstay: his language ability. His sentences become shorter, he can no longer come up with the right words and finally even the voice in his head falls silent.

The novel by J. Bernlef is a phenomenon. The book saw 50 printings between 1984 and 2010, and literary critics reacted very positively. Popularity and quality of the novel were related to the accurate and nuanced description of this case of dementia.

Translated by Adrienne Dixon (1988)

Photo: ThePlatypusofDoom, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa JapanThe Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan by Adam Clulow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is often thought that the Europeans in the 17th c. were so superior with their naval power that by using violence they could set the whole world to their hand and impose their will around the globe. This may have been true of, for example, South America in the century before that, but the European experience in Asia was dramatically different. In Asia the Europeans found old and well-established cultures (India, S.E. Asia, China, Japan) which had their own legal systems and ways of doing things.

[Dutch trade-post Dejima in Nagasaki]

This book focuses on the story of the Dutch East Asia Company (VOC, a hybrid organization combining the characteristics of both corporation and state) and its relationship with the Tokugawa shogunate. Over time, there were various clashes over diplomacy, sovereignty and violence - the Dutch attempts to use violence in waters ruled by Japan were systematically blocked. The author focuses on a handful of flashpoints where both came into conflict. In each such encounter, the Dutch had to retreat, abandon their claims and remake themselves - from aggressive pirates to meek merchants, and from defenders of colonial sovereignty to loyal subjects of the shogun. The Dutch were entirely encapsulated into the Japanese legal system and ended up as formal subordinates of the Tokugawa state. They had to assume an inferior position in the feudal hierarchy of Japan and were forced to behave according to Japanese laws and rules (the most normal thing of the world, we would say today, but in the colonial discourse this was seen differently).

There is however one black page in Dutch history in Japan where the VOC is somewhat exculpated by Clulow's revisionist (and undoubtedly correct) vision: the 1637 Shimabara Rebellion, when the protestant Dutch sent a ship to use its firepower to batter the walls of a sea-side castle where 40,000 Christian (catholic) rebels were desperately defending themselves from government troops (the castle fell after the Dutch had left - their canons were not very effective, apparently- , after which the rebels were exterminated by the shogunate). This assistance is often presented as an act of base mercantile duplicity ("the Dutch just wanted to trade, no matter at what moral cost"), but in Clulow's new perspective this act now rather appears as the fulfillment of their oath as subordinates of the shogun (as a sort of "Dutch samurai"). In other words: in the Japanese system of which they had been forced to become part, they simply could not refuse.

A fascinating book, thanks to its new and extremely interesting perspective on the unexpected form European expansion did take.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Tooth and Nail (Huid en Haar) by Arnon Grunberg (review)

Mit Haut und HaarenMit Haut und Haaren by Arnon Grunberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Arnon Grunberg is the best living Dutch author. Period. The English translation of this novel is "Tooth and Nail," but I'm afraid Grunberg is too European for an American audience (by the way, I happened to read this novel in German and not in the original Dutch, not only because German books are easier to obtain from Japan than Dutch books, but also because I like to read German). This novel is so soaked in black humor that it literally drips off the pages and the protagonist is not an all-conquering American-type hero, but an abject failure. Roland Oberstein is an economics lecturer and researcher (typically not yet professor) who studies economic bubbles. He also regards love as an economic market and has as much empathy for other people as for the products on the shelves of a supermarket. Despite his repeated statements that he is only interested in his studies, he spends a lot of time playing around with women and we gradually realize he is not at all the great economics researcher he gives himself out to be.

He has an ex-wife Sylvie, a dentist, who lives in Amsterdam with their young son, a Nintendo freak. He has a girlfriend, Violet, also living in Amsterdam, who is a designer of ladies' handbags (Roland started this relation to make clear to his ex-wife that all was over between them). At a conference Roland meets the New Yorker Lea, biographer of a Nazi camp commander, and their shared interest in the academic study of genocide forms the basis for an intense friendship. Roland works in Fairfax, but his ex-wife convinces him to return a semester per year to the Netherlands where he can teach in Leiden (the negative description of the academic environment in the Netherlands is one of the highlights of the novel). He soon finds a new girlfriend, Gwendolyne, one of his students and a fanatic horseback rider, and this relation will become fatal for both of them when it reaches the front page of Holland's largest newspaper (Gwendolyne has carefully documented their contacts on her Facebook account).

We do not only read about Roland and his relations, but also about the relations of his relations, like an expanding universe. Violet starts something with Wytze, a salesman of satellite telephones, but is driven to despair when Roland remains indifferent to her unfaithfulness. She therefore buys a whip so that Roland can punish her. The husband of Lea, Jason, a local politician in Brooklyn, discovers his great love for a UPS delivery man from Guatamala, who is illegal in the U.S. so he can be blackmailed. Lea herself starts a relation with a taxi driver from Pakistan, after also having slept with one of Roland's colleagues - one the rare events which makes Roland angry because he regards the colleague professionally as a nitwit. And so on and so forth. What becomes clear is that the market of love has nothing to do with love, but that its only currency is power and manipulation (as can already be seen in Choderlos De Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons of  1782).

If this is the level of humanity, there is indeed not much hope left. But the novel is not negative, on the contrary, it is somehow uplifting thanks to Grunberg's strong sense of humor.

Author's website:

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Japanese No Plays in Translation

For those who want to enjoy No plays in English translations, there are three collections, plus a number of plays in a general anthology, Shirane's Traditional Japanese Literature Vol I.

1. Japanese No Dramas translated by Royall Tyler (Penguin Classics). 
This is not only an excellent translation, but also a good selection, which above all contains the best introductions and notes with cultural background information to the 24 plays included. The plays have been arranged in alphabetical order. It still seems to be available as a back list item, so if you want to read only one book with translations of No plays, it should be this one. The only negative point is that as usual with Penguin books, low-grade paper has been used so that my copy, published in 1992, now is deep brown in color, and the spine is cracked from the first time I read it in the past.

2. Twenty Plays of the No Theatre edited by Donald Keene (Columbia U.P.). 
These 20 No plays were (mostly) not translated by the productive Donald Keene himself, but by his students and then numerous times revised, by Keene, by Royall Tyler and even two poets. There is a good, concise introduction to the book, and also to each individual play, but the cultural background is less detailed than in Tyler's book and the notes are mainly dedicated to identifying quotations of older poetry. The plays have been arranged by author: Kan'ami, Zeami, Zenchiku and 'anonymous,'; the last five plays have been arranged as a program of plays from the first to fifth categories. The collection was originally published in 1970. There are only five overlaps with the other important No play collection, by Royall Tyler in Penguin Classics, so those interested in the No theater should read both books. In contrast to Penguin Books, Columbia U.P. uses first rate paper and my copy of the book, although at least as old, looks still almost pristine.

3. No Plays of Japan translated by Arthur Waley.
Considering that this book was first published in 1921, it is quite an achievement as both Japanese and Western scholarship was much less developed 100 years ago and translators didn't have the large number of tools at their disposal we have today. However, the selection of 19 plays by Waley is not very representative - only a few of the plays which today are most famous have been included. The introduction is outdated, and contains errors - in his note on Buddhism, Waley confuses Amidism with Nichiren Buddhism, although the two schools are opponents. So, although this book is available from Gutenberg for free, I would only read it after having exhausted the above two collections.

4. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600 by Haruo Shirane (Columbia). 
This is of course an anthology of the whole of classical literature, not only No plays, but the eight plays it contains form a well balanced and representative selection, and the translations (by Royall Tyler and others) are excellent. The book contains: Aoi no ue ("Lady Aoi"), Sotoba Komachi ("Stupa Komachi"), Matsukaze ("Pining Wind"), Takasago, Atsumori, Sumidagawa ("Sumida River"), Nonomiya ("Shrine in the Fields"), and Ataka.

Finally, here is an overview of the 54 plays translated in the above four collections (out of a repertoire of about 240 plays that are still regularly performed, and a total of about 2,000 ever written). I have also indicated the categories of the plays (1st = deity plays (waki-no or kami-no), 2nd = warrior plays (shura-no), 3rd = woman plays (kazura-mono), 4th = miscellaneous plays (yonbanme-mono or zo mono; also includes shunen-no, plays about mad persons) and 5th = demon plays or ending plays (oni-no or kiri-no).

Ama (The Diver) [Tyler] - 5th cat.
Aoi no Ue (Lady Aoi) [Shirane, Waley] - 4th cat.
Ashikari (The Reed Cutter) [Keene] - 4th cat.
Ataka [Shirane] - 4th cat.
Atsumori [Tyler, Shirane, Waley] 2nd cat.
Aya no Tsuzumi (The Damask Drum) [Tyler, Waley] - 4th cat.
Chikubushima [Tyler] - 1st cat.
Dojoji [Keene] - 4th cat.
Eboshi-ori [Waley] - 4th cat.
Eguchi [Tyler] - 3rd cat.
Funa Benkei (Benkei Aboard Ship) [Tyler] - 4th or 5th cat.
Hachi no Ki [Waley] - 4th cat.
Hagoromo (The Feather Mantle) [Tyler, Waley] - 3rd cat.
Haku Rakuten (Bai Letian) [Waley] - 1st cat.
Hanjo (Lady Han) [Keene, Tyler] - 4th cat.
Hashi Benkei (Benkei on the Bridge) [Waley] - 4th cat.
Hatsuyuki (Early Snow) [Waley] - 3rd cat.
Hokazo (the Hoka Priests) [Waley] - 4th cat.
Ikeniye (The Pool-Sacrifice) [Waley] - 4th cat.
Ikuta [Waley] - 2nd cat.
Izutsu (The Well-Cradle) [Tyler] - 3rd cat.
Kagekiyo [Waley] - 4th cat.
Kanawa (The Iron Crown) [Keene] - 4th cat.
Kanehira [Keene] - 2nd cat.
Kantan [Tyler, Waley] - 4th cat.
Kasuga Ryujin (The Kasuga Dragon God) [Tyler] - 5th cat.
Kayoi Komachi (Komachi and the Hundred Nights [Keene] - 4th cat.
Kinuta (The Fulling Block) [Tyler] - 4th cat.
Kumasaka  [Waley] - 5th cat.
Kureha [Tyler] - 1st cat.
Matsukaze (Pining Wind) [Keene, Tyler, Shirane] - 3rd cat.
Motomezuka (The Sought-for Grave) [Keene] - 4th cat.
Nishikigi (The Brocade Tree) [Keene] - 4th cat.
Nonomiya (The Shrine in the Fields) [Keene, Tyler, Shirane] - 3rd cat.
Obasute (The Deserted Crone) [Keene] - 3rd cat.
Ohara Goko (The Imperial Visit to Ohara) [Keene] - 3rd cat.
Saigyo-zakura (Sagyo’s Cherry Tree) [Tyler] - 4th cat.
Seiobo (The Queen Mother of the West) [Keene] - 1st cat.
Sekidera Komachi (Komachi at Sekidera) [Keene, Tyler] - 3rd cat.
Semimaru [Keene, Tyler] - 4th cat.
Shokun [Keene] - 5th cat.
Sotoba Komachi (Stupa Komachi) [Waley, Shirane] - 4th cat.
Sumida-gawa (The Sumida River) [Tyler, Shirane] - 4th cat.
Tadanori [Tyler] - 2nd cat.
Takasago [Tyler, Shirane] - 1st cat.
Taniko (The Valley Rite) [Keene, Waley] - 5th cat.
Tatsuta [Tyler] - 3rd or 4th cat.
Torioi-bune (The Bird-scaring Boat) [Keene] - 4th cat.
Tsunemasa [Waley] - 2nd cat.
Ukai (The Cormorant-Fisher) [Waley] - 5th cat.
Yamamba (The Mountain Crone) [Tyler] - 5th cat.
Yashima [Tyler] - 2nd cat.
Yokihi [Keene] - 3rd cat.
Yugyo Yanagi (The Priest and the Willow) [Keene] - 3rd cat.

Finally, here is an excellent website about the No theater, with summaries of the plays, photos of the masks etc.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Mishima on Stage (review)

Mishima on Stage: The Black Lizard and Other PlaysMishima on Stage: The Black Lizard and Other Plays by Yukio Mishima
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Few people realize that Mishima Yukio was one of the greatest 20th c. Japanese playwrights. He wrote a total of 62 plays in such diverse genres as "shingeki" (Western-style psychological drama), kabuki and no. He wrote tragedies, comedies and dance drama, his language ranging from classical Japanese to the modern vernacular. In a 1995 poll, scholars and theater critics selected Mishima's Madame de Sade as the greatest postwar Japanese play.

Between 1953 and 1968, nine Mishima plays were translated into English (mostly by Donald Keene), but after that, for more than 30 years, no new translations were made. Why? Sometimes Mishima’s suicide in 1970 is mentioned, which fascinated people so much that attention was diverted from his serious work to his public image. Another reason was that the writers of biographies about Mishima ignored or misrepresented his theatrical activities. And finally, perhaps, the fact that Mishima wrote traditional theater and didn't dabble in the among critics in the 1960s and 1970s so popular avant garde theater.

Finally, in 2002 Hiroaki Sato translated five new plays for Columbia U.P. and in 2007 the present book was published with another nine translations. So now we have 23 translations of Mishima plays in English, allowing non-Japanese readers to judge the merits of his dramatic work.

The present volume includes the following plays:

1. “To the Lighthouse”
A shingeki play that brings the incest theme of Phaedra to the modern stage. The second play written by Mishima (1949) - despite its darker undertones, with its sibling rivalry it is actually a very lively and interesting play.
2. “Hell Screen”
A kabuki play (1953) based on a famous short story of Akutagawa Ryunosuke. A battle of wills between a cruel minister and a headstrong painter result in the fiery death of the painter’s daughter, while the father is forced to paint her agony. A wonderful first effort in kabuki for Mishima, employing traditional music, lyrical narration and the classical language.
3. “The Sardine Seller’s Net of Love”
Mishima’s second kabuki play (1954) and his most popular with audiences. Mishima wrote an original story (using some elements from medieval tales) that is both charming and improbable. A comedy written in an upbeat mode, the play is stylish and elegant, and – contrary to the famous plays by Chikamatsu and most other Mishima-plays – ends in laughter and good cheer.
4. “The Blush on the White Hibiscus Blossom: Lady Fuyo and the True Account of the Ouchi Clan”
A kabuki play (1955) based on Racine’s Phaedra and Euripides’ Hippolytes. The forbidden love of Lady Fuyo for her stepson (who refuses her advances) leads through her lies to disaster for both of them.
5. “Steeplechase”
A modern play (1956) written for the famous actress Sugimura Haruko (of the prestigious Bungaku-za company, which worked with Mishima in the 1950s and early 1960s, until a falling out over politics in 1963). A woman is obsessed by the memory of her son who died in a steeplechase accident. At the base of this modern psychological drama lies hidden a shamanic ritual of invocation, visitation, exorcism and banishment – as in the No theater.
6. “Busu”
An adaptation of a classical kyogen play (1957). Mishima’s only kyogen was written with the assistance of Donald Keene for performance in English – when Mishima was in New York hoping to get his modern No plays performed at Broadway and he wanted to offer a full program of two modern No plays with a kyogen in-between. The play is in fact an adaptation of a very popular kyogen about two servants who out-trick their trickster of a master.
7. “Sash Stealing Pond”
A kabuki spectacle (1958) in the style of Mokuami, without sung narration (only classical prose). Kabuki conventions are turned on their head as a mother keeps her liaison with a bandit secret so that her daughter and daughter’s lover can travel around the country as husband and wife pretending to be on a revenge quest (the bandit supposedly has killed the mother; the daughter can't marry her lover as he is too low in status, this is the solution the mother finds so that they can live together).
8. “Yuya”
A modern No play (1959), based on the classical play Yuya (which Mishima earlier on had turned into a kabuki dance drama as well). As in his other modern No plays, Mishima writes a new, modern play: he turns Yuya into the kept mistress of a business tycoon, who wants to take her cherry blossom viewing in a park he owns; she refuses, as she has to travel immediately to Hokkaido to see her dying mother. In reality, she wants to go away to meet a younger lover.
9. “The Black Lizard”
A modern play (1961) based on the eponymous novel by Edogawa Ranpo (1934), a nonsensical ("ero-guro nansensu") detective story. A famous female thief and Queen of the Underworld, the Black Lizard (in several theater versions as well as the film mentioned below played by drag queen Maruyama Akihiro) kidnaps the daughter of a jeweler in order to obtain a famous diamond. Detective Akechi Kogoro follows the trail to the lair of the thief on a remote island, where she keeps an eerie collection of naked life-size dolls. Screen adaption made in 1968 by Fukasaku Kinji with Mishima playing an interesting cameo as the statue of a Greek wrestler.

P.S. The cover is this paperback is too thin (it easily creases), but the paper is of good quality.

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