The Stuff that Nightmares Are Made of – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Stuff that Nightmares Are Made of” (novelette) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2011, Alma)

Original: Japanese (悪夢の真相), 1967

Translated by David Karashima, 2011

Synopsis: Masako doesn’t understand her fear of Prajna masks and heights. While the latter dear is commonplace, the former is one that baffles her. When she sees her younger brother’s fears rooted in threats by their parents, Masako begins to understand that all fears have an unconscious and irrational root. Facing her fears, she and her boy friend Bunichi climb up high, yet she realizes that without spindles, she’s not afraid; however, the presence spindles, especially tall ones, ceases her up. In order to better understand the connection between the spindles and the mask, the two return to Masako’s hometown, where coincidence strikes and revelation springs.

Analysis: As straight forward as the synopsis points out, the entire story revolves around the teen-aged duo discovering Masako’s seemingly irrational fears. As Masako realizes through two of her brother’s fears, all fears are rooted in experience somehow; the most difficult part of this rooting out is digging down into words and histories to find the point where something tragic happened. They also begin to understand that when these fears are faced, they can overcome them. There’s very little revelation in the story as it’s easy for the reader to predict that her two fears have a similar root; in addition, I feel that the story was very superficial, without any deeper layers of allegory.

Review: Again, as mentioned in the analysis, the story is very straightforward. It’s linear and open to the reader, who’s also able to put two (fear of the mask) and two (fear of banisters) together to understand that they somehow equate to a fear-inducing sum. This conclusion–a revelation of sorts for Masako but a mere point of understanding for the reader–passes with very little interest in the reader as there was very little in which to immerse oneself. Like “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, this story feels very much like YA-lit without much appeal to an adult audience.

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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – Yasutaka Tsutsui

 

“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” (novella) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2011, Alma)

Original: Japanese (時をかける少女), 1967

Translated by David Karashima, 2011

Synopsis: Kazuko was tending to the cleaning of the high school’s chemistry lab one evening after school with her two male friends, Kazuo and Goro. While he two boys were away, Kauko herself returned to the room to discover someone else in the room. As she confronts the shadowy stranger, they dash away only to leave a broken vial smelling of lavender, from which she passes out. When she goes to bed that night, she experiences an earthquake and a fire near Goro’s home, a sequence of events that she finds ruining her entire night; regardless, the next day she awakes late to meet Goro, who’s also late, to cross the road to school… where a truck is sure to hit and kill them.

Kazuko awakens yet again displaced. At school, she finds that she knows the same math problem on the board and that she doesn’t have her notes from the previous days as she she seems to have skipped back in time somehow. She tells her two friend of her bizarre experience in addition to predicting the earthquake and fire. When both occur, the trust crystallizes in Kazuko, but the reason and implications of the newfound power they entrust to one of their teachers. Through a brief trial, Kazuko begins to learn of the power, extent, and origins of her power to transport herself though time and space.

Analysis: To start this analysis like a mediocre high-school essay: Regret can be defined as “a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors” (Wiki). Stop and think about your own regrets of what could have been, of what you didn’t do but could have realistically done…

…errrrrr, this may take a while for some…

Now, consider one of your earliest regrets…

…again, this may take some time…

You may find yourself back in the position of your high-school self. What were those regrets? Was a specific guy or gal? Do you now wish that you had professed your love instead of being too shy? Do you wish you had said “yes” rather than than “no”?

Here, in terms of grammar, we enter the realm of unreal past, or the third conditional, which can be stated, again, in typical high-school prose: The third conditional can be defined [here, using passive voice, which can peeve writing teachers] as a “pattern used to refer to hypothetical situations in a past time frame”. Such as conditional could be: If I had asked her to the prom, she may have said yes; or, If I had gone to that party, I would have met Susie So-and-so.

Originally, this story was serialized in 1965 but only published in its full form in 1967; thus, when he first published the story when we was about 31 years old. So, the story was written just after the author passed his own thirtieth birthday. It’s possible he may have had his own regrets when writing “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”: What if he could have professed his love to that girl? What if he had known of the impending disaster? What if he had stopped his crossing of the street at that exact moment? The list of what-ifs is endless when speculating upon speculation.

In the end, the story feels like a flight of imagination based on the pangs of regret from “What if I could…” or “What if I had…” tied in teenage love.

Review: With a few exceptions, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is one of Yasutaka’s earliest published works (aside from the untranslated “4.8 Billion Delusions” (1965; translation: Google) and “Tokaido War” (1965; translation: Google); thus, it seems that “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” solidified Yasutaka’s career in field of writing. Here, I hesitate to use path into the realm of literature only because the story doesn’t have much of a literary ring to it, as if it’s a wooden bell. I would hate to dog on YA-lit, but this story has short blocky sentences in both narration and dialogue, especially the dialogue, which is either dumped in brief spurts (albeit, more naturally) or profuse expositions (á la so-called infodumps). In the end, it may have a lasting cultural significance or teenage relevance to it in Japan, but the translated version of which remains wooden and stereotypically YA: blocky text, high-school focus, and puppy love.

Sleepy Summer Afternoon – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Sleepy Summer Afternoon” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (睡魔のいる夏), 1979

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: A factory worker exits his work alongside the factory supervisor, both of whom join the crowds at the beer hall where most of the munition factory workers conjoin after their labor. In the sky, they see a single white cloud. Once inside, they begin to realize that they both feel sleepy, that people are cold to the touch, and that others have already nodded off at the table, where they sit, or on the very ground. Again realizing that they’ve been attacked by “that new bomb” (117), they part ways. The nameless factory worker continues to survey the hall until sleep overcomes him.

Analysis: In terms of cause and result, the story is straightforward: the little fluffy cloud results in ubiquitous lethargy as a sign of attack. Considering the munitions factories of the story’s location, it can be assumed that it occurs during WWII in an area such as Tokyo, Nagoya, or Osaka. As the worker mentions his wife but not his children, we could further assume that he’s young. This sets the scene for the story.

What are some historical parallels to the story? Nearly three years passed between America’s first air raid of Tokyo (April 1942) to the first aerial reconnaissance of Tokyo (November 1944) to the bombing of Hiroshima the Nagasaki (August 1945). This isn’t a brief span of time by any means, but perhaps the onset was an indicator of a greater loss to come, as if any attack on the mainland was the beginning of defeat. That first initial raid was called the Doolittle Raid. Could the author be having a play on words here (Doolittle = do little = lethargy)?

When it becomes obvious that the ubiquitous symptoms of everyone in and around the beer hall stems from the attack, the lethargy spreads, affecting the workers, children, and both genders alike. Even while the nameless factory worker decides to curl up on a cot, the only other person left unaffected is an old man who only complains of the heat rather than his lassitude. As sleep (or death) overcomes the factory worker, his mind shunts from the present (his wife) to the past (his dead mother) and back to the present (his wife again). To his mind and in the state in he finds himself, the past is just that: history. To the old man, however, he remains stalwart to any change, as stubborn as ever in order to recapture the future of the past that’s been lost.

The fatal lassitude of the attack can be seen as a severe strike to morale on the actual post-war population of Japan, perhaps as a complete loss of trust in the government and the emperor or as a complete separation from sovereign destiny.

Review: Only six pages long, the story feels trite without any reflection: There’s an unseen explosion and everyone sleeps. The end. I couldn’t appreciate the story until I began to put some of its pieces together for myself, as is the case with most of the author’s stories. So, this story may not stir the interest of many on the first reading, but, again, like most of Yasutaka’s stories, it is imbued with history and significance.

Running Man – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Running Man” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (走る男), 1973

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: With only a few other foreign runners in the Olympic race, one man feels that he has victory sealed. The objective: Run to a cigarette vending machine and back while winding through the city without a pre-determined course. Losing his way due to a road closure, the man takes to an underground sewer by advice, only to be attracted by a woman who lives in a house in the same sewer. He stops for a shower, chat, love-making, marriage, work, and child-rearing. Nearing the autumn of his age, he begins to reflect on his Olympic non-glory.

Analysis: Yasutaka Tsutsui is known to be an advocate of the acceptance of public smoking in Japan. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that he’s a life-long smoker, but I can’t find the source anywhere in English. In Japanese, however, “As being a smoker, he criticized the recent ‘smoking fascism’ and has participated in a smoker group ‘Go smoking‘”. How about for a platform! Smoking Fascism? Anyway, the author has also written an absurdist story titled “The Last Smoker” (1987/2006 by Andrew Driver in Salmonella Man on Planet Porno [2006], also 1987/1995 by Andrew Rankin in Kyoto Journal, November 1995). The story is summarized in my previous review:

A well-respected and widely-published writer is irked by a reporter’s business card that reads “Thank You For Not Smoking”. As a chain smoker himself, he denies them the literary interviews and becomes the butt of growing scorn over everyone who smokes. Tobacco smokers become persecuted, then ostracized and, finally, they are lynched and burned. The writer remains one of the last smokers still standing in a smoker’s haven.

Yasutaka has a penchant for tobacco and it’s odd that it plays such a small role in “Running Man”; actually, it plays such a small, mundane role that it piqued my curiosity: What if the story were viewed in reverse polarity? In my opinion, the reverse-polarity perspective of the story quickly took it from an absurdist story to a possibly autobiographical one, a inkling of which I cannot confirm even after Google translating the Japanese Wikipedia page for the author. So, it might be biographical of someone the author knowns, but again, this is just speculation on top of absurdity.

For a side-by-side comparison, the “real” biographical story is in bold while the fictional story above is in italics. Spoiler alert, to boot.

The setting: The biographical story would go something like this: In 1972, the Winter Olympics was held in Sapporo, Japan. (In the story, the Olympics are an unheard of event, unknown to nearly everyone). The hype around the hosting of events caused a social push for smoking reforms in order to better reflect the international opinion on the matter. (No one cares about the Olympic participant in the story). With the proactive prosecution of smoking, smokers felt under the strain of fascism. (The runner feels the opposite: totally abandoned).

The character: He meets a girl, stops running, gets married and has a child. (In the biography, perhaps the man divorces his wife). Regretting his long absence from the sport, he returns to complete his race. (After a long divorce and absence from smoking, he again gets married only to return to smoking). He finds that he’s the only runner left and, therefore, claims the Olympic prize. (In reality, he finds that all of his smoking friends had died and his prize is solely loneliness). Happiness after regret. (Sadness after abstinence). Life (Death).

Review: It’s easier to appreciate this story when considering “The Last Smoker” as I feel that they diverge from the same source of motivation: the author’s habit and advocation of smoking. It’s absurdity not the point of pushing the extreme like “The Last Smoker”, but taking a biographical or fictional portrayal to the obverse of the situation: in the story, substitute the Olympics with smoking and vice-versa. It’s clever in this way, but it can also make you appreciate the opposing view (if anti-public-smoking is your stance).

The Good Old Days – Yasutaka Tsutsui

 

“The Good Old Days” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (団欒の危機), 1973

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: With the old TV having been pawed off and the arrival of the new TV delayed, an awkward situation with a family that’s accustomed to basking in the screen’s glow at dinnertime and in the evening. With nothing else to do amid the bickering of her family, Grandma Chie chimes up with the suggestion of an oral story, which is taken up by grandpa Masato. What begins as a urbane story of restrained youthful romance soon morphs into a tale of love and espionage, only to transcend into a narrative of disappointing marriage, which has yet another odd turn of plot when the next family member takes over.

Analysis: As in 1973, as in 2017… as in Japan, as in the US. Who says technology is progress? What exactly does it progress? Technology and innovation for the same of technology and innovation? With the advent of TV, family time turned away from the radio. Prior, the advent of radio turned families away from books (not that I’m demonizing books, good lord). And before that, books took attention away from what mattered – the oral tradition among family members. What if that oral tradition were fast-forwarded to the modern era? What tale would evolve?

As the story begins from grandpa’s perspective, his bias boils from the tale in which the youthful romance is between degenerate youth; however, the listening children are bored. As the father takes over, the urbane romance soon slides into lustful predation; however, the wife interrupts to spare the children’s virgin ears. As she takes over, the narration takes on a regal tone that descends into familial angst, again, much to the disappointment of the children. When the grandmohter finally aims to complete the story, emotions flare.

With each turn of story comes the repressed emotions of the narrator. Even though the audience is intended to be the children, the frothing angst among the family members spills forth into the narration. The personally embittered ideas of relationships are injected into the characters’ own relationships. Instead of the story running smooth as water, it merely treads in blood, the froth of which choking the very family who kicks to survive.

Unknowingly, the TV had held more than just their attention; it also held at bay the very emotions under their skins. With the repressive glow of the cathode ray tube removed, repressed angst percolates from the boredom, the victims of which are the children rather than the intended recipients.

Review: It’s funny yet relevant even though it was written more than 40 years ago. It’s interesting that each character in the story is characterized through the words through the story, a kind of meta-fictional mirror. The children, the intended audience of the round-robin story, are quickly smothered by the smoldering animosity. As their generation is nearly entirely reliant upon technology, what can be said for the children’s future in which they may face only the company of people… what hostility will bold forth?

Having a Laugh – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Having a Laugh” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (世界はゴ冗談), 2015

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: The sun’s magnetic field affects the sunspots, which in turn affects the solar wind which, on earth, jams phone signals, misdirects whales, frazzles satellites, and cripples electronic navigation; however, none of this has a direct human effect, unless you count that one errant plane in Dubai. One office worker, upon waking up with a headache of their own and a work-related headache, proceeds with their average day, only to be perpetually frustrated by all their faltering gadgets and the respective yet mis-assigned voices for each; labor-saving devices aren’t so user-friendly after all.

Analysis: The sun is about 4.6 billion years old yet it keeps on ticking. For all it’s worth to us, it will continue ticking as it does for another 4.6 billions years or so. It takes what it had been given–its currency of hydrogen–and toils relentlessly toward its retirement as a red giant. It knows nothing of holidays or family, only of dedication to its process. It works. Work is its life. It doesn’t burn out because it’s dedicated. It’s the salaryman of the solar system.

Now, with humanity progressing beyond the cave and farm for the so-called modern lifestyle, we are living during the sun’s middle-ages–it has gone over the hill. The grand old sun appears to be churning out its production, spending its salary of hydrogen, and continuing to live on; however, beyond that luminescent and roiling boil of flame, could there lie a troubled soul? Though this salaryman shows no external signs of wear, is his could crushing beneath of weight of his toil? Humans take yet never give in return.

On our homely planet of Earth, though technological progress has been swift, it has also been merciless to the same species who produced it. We are held by the fluttering whims of technological innovation; what is invented is thus produced, sold, and pawed off only to be used and cast aside for the next cycle of consumption. We abuse progress, take it for granted much as we pay little heed to Earth’s gasps of pain in its patient rearing of its prized genetic spawn; regardless, we never heed what needs to be heeded; we take from progress what we want and, rather than return the favor, simply chuck it aside for what’s bigger, better, etc.

As the sun begins its middle-aged revolt, sunspots flare. As humans use and disuse technology, its own temper flares. From where does the golden watch of retirement come from and, in its giving, to where does it lead?

Review: Though only thirteen pages, it’s not a very linear story. The first five pages feel like three somewhat connected events to the solar flares but run together without a break, making it read oddly. The overall story abruptly transitions to short dinner party and a dream sequence about a prince for two pages. The last section–the remaining eight pages–is a descent into frustration from faltering electronic devices experienced by an office worker.

It doesn’t present itself tidily enough. That dream sequence really throws the story for a loop after the awkward seams at the start. The longer conclusion about failing technology is fun and ties together somewhat with what was presented at the beginning–what the effects of the solar flares–but, overall, it’s oddly disjointed and requires a bit of subjective mental gymnastics to piece it together. So, what I’ve presented myself in the analysis is the result of my own mental gymnastics.

Zarathustra on Mars: A Story for All and None – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Zarathustra on Mars: A Story for All and None” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (火星のツァラトゥストラ), 1973

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: On Mars, a professor discovers a fragment of a text in 21st century Earthspeak. It’s informal style seems watered down from Nietzche’s original novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, but the professor didn’t know that, didn’t much care, and also thought that if he translated it to Marsspeak, it would sell superbly well. The result is a colloquial dialogue reminiscent of 20th century surfer lexicon with sixth-grade-level vocabulary and sentence structure. Immediately, the translation becomes an instant hit with the professor maintaining that Zarathustra actually exists back on Earth, so far as to concoct stories about him and his appearance. When one passenger with similar name arrives on Mars, everyone, including the professor, treat him as the real thing. Soon, he’s on all the talk-shows, movies, series, music, etc. His popularity could know no end. Ever the philosopher, the so-called Zarathustra tells his modern-day flock, “If some guy smacks you, you gotta smack the guy back. That’s the only way, I’m tellin’ ya. ‘Cos, y’see, it’s more humaner to get your own back than not do nothin’ at all” (57).

Analysis: According to Wikipedia, Nietzche’s novel Thus Spake Zarathustra has been translated into English about eight times. With each new translation, the translator offers their opinion about Nietzche’s intentions and style along with the faults of previous translations. Certainly, nuance is something that will be lost from one language to another, so an artistic license must be brandished to bridge the gap. The common idiomatic phrase “lost in translation” can easily be wielded here; not every single idea, nuance, or conception is make it from one language to another, be it from German to English or, as in “Zarathustra on Mars”, from German to a possible second language to 21st century Earthspeak to, in the end, 22nd century Marsspeak.

Some things that are lost in translation are unintentional, or intentional to the point that it’s impossible to convey whatever it may be with the language at hand. Anyway, other things that are lost in translation can be intentional, like a sort of dumbing down. Here, “lost in translation” doesn’t have to mean from one language to another, but it can also imply a means conveyance from the original, such as a summary, CliffNotes, or a populist portrayal.

The translation that the professor on Mars had done went through a number linguistic meat grinders: through at least three languages, each of which  also seemed to have dumbed down the content, resulting in a translated edition that borders on sacrilege:

Hi, guys!

Name’s Zarathustra, that’s Zara-too-stra, but you can call be Zaz.

I’m gonna tell you a cool story now.

When I was thirty, I felt the place where I was living. I worked for a soft drink outfit, but they gave me the book. So I went into the mountains and started living there. I did as i pleased and wandered about for a bit. Ten years, actually.

What’s that? I must’ve got bored? No way. But after ten years, I did have a bit of change of heart. One morning, I woke up early, which was unusual for me, and went outside. Just then, the sun was coming up over the horizon, and I was like, Wow! You know? See, on Planet Earth the sun rises in the east and looks all red. Not like it does on Mars, or somewhere. (49-50)

Obviously, the future Yasutaka envisions–both on Mars and Earth–isn’t a very intellectual one. From 18th century philosophical German to 22nd century regressed Marsspeak, it sounds like much of civilization has declined; though ships still travel between planets, the level of intelligence seems to have regressed to the point of idiocy. This decline may be a facet of Yasutaka’s opinion about the modern world (“modern” in 1973 but what must also be true for 2017).

Are history’s poignant creations of music, art, and literature falling on the deaf, blind, and dumb of the modern era? At what point can something important from the past be made relevant and understood by the present? Does it actually require dumbing down in order to capture the essence of the message, but is the “essence” the same as the “wholeness”? No, because as stated before, nuances are lost… Michelangelo’s statue David is just a rock with the nuances of contour (ok, it’s not exactly “nuances”, but you get the drift).

Back to Mars, when this watered down version of philosophy is made public, it becomes hugely popular without anyone really knowing where it came from or what it’s about. Regardless, like sheep to the shepherd or cattle to the stockyard, the regressed minds of Mars plunge heedlessly head-first into the popularity of Zarathustra, a book without a message for minds without thought.

Review: I’ve never read Nietzche’s novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, so many of the parallelisms from that book are lost on me if not expressed in the Wikipedia entry. For what it is, the story is as zany as the rest of the collection. It takes on a bizarre tact with stylish whims, resulting in a fun read but also one what reflects on society (especially here in Thailand with its obsessive and regressive idolatry of superstars and pretty faces). Have you seen the movie Idiocracy (2006)? Yea, it’s like that a bit but on Mars. So, here with “Zarathustra”, we find Yasutaka in his most light-hearted state with the delivery but the content of which steeped with his own intellectualism – fun yet smart.

It’s My Baby – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“It’s My Baby” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (産気), 1980

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: To the amazement to everyone in the office, a man among them, named Masada, has become pregnant. Much amusement ensues, followed by disbelief, but as the pregnancy progresses, it becomes apparent that, however it ever came it be, the man is, in fact, quite pregnant. Immediately upon breaking the news, the man’s behaviors begin to change; for example: no coffee because for the baby and the need for a women’s magazine because of it’s baby articles, in addition to sudden craving, hormonal swings, and anatomical prides. One of Masada’s male colleagues bears the brunt of this progress, but slowly shifts from annoyance to acceptance and beyond.

Analysis: While there are five stages of grief, there must also be a limited number of stages for accepting new rules (e.g. a new dress code policy at work), a change of environment (e.g. moving to foreign country), or bizarre news (e.g. Trump becoming president): denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is probably applicable only is it directly affects you. But move the “change” to something that only indirectly affects you, and you can most likely rid yourself of three of those stages: namely, anger, bargaining, depression. That leaves us with a wide chasm between 1) denial and 2) acceptance.

No doubt, these are not stages to pass but ends of spectrum likes the ends of a bridge; you start at densely black point of denial and make a perilous journey across the grey paved path toward the warmly welcoming point of white. Through these shades of grey lie a perplexing range of emotions, observations, and minuscule degrees of acceptance, as if each step across the bridge is one further so-called stage of acceptance.

Through Masada’s colleague’s eyes, the reader witnesses the spanning transition from denial (Masada, you’re not pregnant–that’s impossible) to the heroic rescue of Masada’s later stages of pregnancy. Even with the degree of impossibility that Masada’s colleague mist face, he still manages to cross that vast, multi-toned bridge of acceptance.

Review: Like many of the author’s stories, there’s a running theme of open misogyny. This rears its head within this story by imbuing Masada with all stereotypes of an expecting mother: her complaints, her aches, her concerns, etc. With most stories, this theme is an expectation and often a tongue-in-cheek delight for it remaining true to the author’s rebellious attitude toward socially acceptable norms, but in “It’s My Baby”, the effect is blatant and, therefore, watered down. His style is usually subtly callous, but, here, it feels all too laid out with a flimsy idea. Summary: so far, my least favorite Yasutaka Tsutsui story of both collections… or have I missed something?

The Onlooker – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Onlooker” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (傍観者), 2006

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: A woman walks through the door with a man in tow, who seems rather disheveled but eager to be in the presence of the woman. Together, they head toward the bedroom. Soon, another man knocks and enters the front door, causing the first man to crouch behind the sofa with in clothes in hand. The woman leads the second man to the bedroom where she had just been with the previous man. In the second man’s jacket sits a letter from another woman. Observing all of this is the onlooker on the sofa who thinks of three things: metaphysics, new challenges, and food.

Analysis: Simple lives can be reflective lives… take a look at Buddhist monks (well, not Thai Buddhist monks as some members of the sangha seem to be embroiled in fraud, lechery, or both). Anyway, there are 227 precepts for monks to follow, which are called the patimokkha. Though many of the precepts outdated and terrible specific (i.e. monks may not  raw wool for more than 48 kilometers), many create discipline in the monastic order so that time can better spent learning and preaching the dhamma.

A good life can be had through this simplicity if mindfulness is present; however, sometimes simplicity is forced upon us, be it because of age or location. In this so-called downtime, the mind isn’t occupied by the everyday distractions of social media, routine, or work; rather, the mind begins to spin like a flywheel. In this free state, epiphanies can occur, reflection can be sought, and introspection can effervesce.

Compare this state of being with the life of the average adult: embroiled in daily work, petty personal dramas, all-consuming routine, time-killing “hobbies”, and general lethargy. When can the mind reflect on proper diet and exercise or treating others in a neighborly fashion? This requires mindfulness and mindfulness isn’t gained through busyness, but by quiet reflection.

In the story, the onlooker waxes lyrical before observing the chaotic scene of lewd adult behavior. In this drama (much like that of a soap opera), the onlooker loses focus on high-minded ideas in order to understand the unfolding drama. Ripped from reverie, the onlooker’s mind transitions from metaphysics to adult drama to food… from high thought to circuses then to bread.

Review: Aside from the reflection of innocence and corruption of the mind, there’s a further parallelism in the function of the woman and her body parts in the story. I can’t divulge too much without ruining the ending, but upon completing the story, consider what she could have used with the two men and how she could use it with the onlooker. If corruption extends past the acts committed, the use of her body in the story is a further spoiling of innocence upon the onlooker. The story is short but well paced while offering candy for the mind in more ways than one.

Call for the Devil! – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Call for the Devil!” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (悪魔を呼ぶ連中), 1980

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

 

Synopsis: The president, the finance director, and the marketing director for a large company have gathered together to decide the fate of their company by attempting to sell their souls to the devil; otherwise, scores of employees and many subcontractors would suffer under the company’s collapse. With the tables and candles placed in a pentangle, they begin to burn ingredients in the middle fire so that the devil may be drawn out, but Benkei—a folklore Japanese character—greets them. Shocked yet disappointed, they cast different variations in the fire only to summon a variety of characters, including Jesus, Popeye, and Beethoven. Undeterred by their failure, the marketing director takes the first shift to draw the devil out.

Analysis: Good Corporate Governance isn’t a very exciting topic of conversation. Big Business is an easy target of attack as its a bodiless entity without a soul and whose main purpose for existence if the generation of profit. Naturally, human bodies that actually embody the profit-seeking nature of their respective business is, of course, its board of directors, president, CEO, etc. Like the bodiless entity of the business, these heads of governance are also easy targets as they tend to be just as disembodied as the “entity”, what with their lofty offices, exorbitant salaries, and daily distance from the lowest rungs of operations.

Rather than facing the problem head-on—perhaps with line graphs, Gantt charts, or multivariate tables—the now-embodied governors of fate for the company take to the supernatural to rectify their errors in leading the company to profit or success. As they begin to summon the devil himself, they first accidentally evoke Benkei and then Jesus, neither of which have they any interest in assistance. The former entity can be seen as a long-winding tie to the past, a reminder that many of today’s hardships can be overcome with the advice of our elders; the latter entity represents altruism, an all-loving entity that can overcome hardships with understanding and love… yet as, as the president says, “God has no place in commerce!”

Review: When I say like bizarro fiction, I usually have a hard time just defining what exactly that is; however, “I know it when I see it,”as Potter Stewart had said. In “Call for the Devil!”, merges elements of the bizarre, a tenuous parallelism to the plot, and my favorite topic of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s stories: the effects on Salarymen. Granted, this effect isn’t as direct as “Rumours About Me” (1972/2006), “Commuter Army” (1973/2006), or “Hello, Hello, Hello!” (1974/2006), but the story still has salarymen in its scope. I’m not sure if there’s a numerological significance to this story (Benkei’s so-called seven famous weapons and the later Seven Gods of Fortune), but this notions adds another layer of analysis to a story that’s already steeped in a good looking-at.