Meta Noir – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Meta Noir” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (メタノワール), 2014

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: Tsutsui is playing the part of a detective in a movie, which is about making a movie about the same detective. Sometimes he is in role as his character; other times, he is as himself, but regardless of his role, the film keeps rolling. This extends to the director, too; he takes Tsutsui to a sushi restaurant, but keeps rolling, so even the director becomes a part of the meta-movie. Upon the final parting walk-away-together shot, the monitor displays the rolling credits.

Pre-analysis: I’m not a film buff (not the chaff Hollywood typically churns out, not much Americana, and definitely not Japanese film). I don’t want to be entertained while watching a movie; I need to be engaged: implications, parallelisms, context, relevance, blah blah blah. I’ve only watched a few Woody Allen movies, but I feel that Deconstructing Harry is a film that somewhat resembles “Meta Noir”:

Harry Block is a well-regarded novelist whose tendency to thinly-veil his own experiences in his work, as well as his un-apologetic attitude and his proclivity for pills and whores, has left him with three ex-wives that hate him. As he is about to be honored for his writing by the college that expelled him, he faces writer’s block and the impending marriage of his latest flame to a writer friend. As scenes from his stories and novels pass and interact with him, Harry faces the people whose lives he has affected – wives, lovers, his son, his sister. (IMDb)

Analysis: It’d take me a long while to cross-reference in Japanese (through tedious copy-paste functions as I don’t read Japanese) all of the references made to actors and actresses in “Meta Noir” with Tsutsui’s own movie bibliography. In the story, Tsutsui only credits one actress with having worked with him, but the others are merely mentioned; however, they are real people.

As with good meta movies, the line of distinction between real and unreal is well blurred; for example, at his own house, he’s confronted by both the woman who plays his wife and, later, his actual wife, both appearances of which surprise him. In addition, while speaking lines in the movie to the other characters, he occasionally makes audible asides to his counterparts… all on film. Even when having sushi, Tsutsui assumed an off-camera moment, but all the while a crew member was filming. Tsutsui even refers to one actress’s appearance in a movie called My Grandpa, which is actually a novel and movie that was written by Tsutsui.

About 75% of Tsutsui’s Wikipedia page is about his work in fiction, for novels and short stories; non-fiction, including essays; as an actor and as a director, in both TV, film, and plays; various speeches, editorials, and translations; musical compositions; voice work; etc. Obviously, Tsutsui has covered the full range of media and, therefore, has met a plethora of personalities and people. As he’s not 83 years old, hardly a day must go by where someone from his past recognizes him, writes to him, requests his appearance, or reminiscences with him. Though the contributor page of the collection says that he “lives virtually incognito” (223) in Tokyo, Tsutsui must have an impressive collection of contacts.

Review: I’m not sure if this is a great inclusion in this collection as it heavily relies on Tsutsui’s non-literary work. I, for one, don’t have any knowledge of it and most English-language readers probably don’t have much exposure to it either; thus, all the name-dropping and Japanese media references will be lost to the majority of readers. Standing on its own merits, however, the reader can begin to clutch at the foggy density of the meta-fiction that Tsutsui pens, which provides a fun yet brief mental exercise into what he’s trying to do… which, again, may be lost of most readers, including myself.

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