“Four-Dimensional Man” (short story) by Juza Unno
English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)
Original: Japanese (第四次元の男), 1940
Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018
Receipt: Free from the translator
Synopsis: Late at night in Tokyo, a man walks alone without a car for time, passers-by, or intention. His meanderings lead him to Toyama fields where he hears an approaching couple; as their mutual course takes them to certain collision, the man assumes they can move around him, only they shoulder in to him and remark what a strange thing had happened. The man can’t believe what happened and sulks not only in his loneliness but invisibility… but it happens again in the same pattern. He soon convinces himself that he be invisible at times. His friend offers little advice or sympathy while his neighbor conducts a “face reading”, from which he purports that the man isn’t who he seems to be: not a three-dimensional, but something more.
Analysis: Most the narration of this story is done in straight-forward first-person perspective, but it’s the first 20% of it is directed at the reader. The narrator delays the start of the story in order to weed out those who would consider it absurd, thus only wanting to keep those who could understand or sympathize. Thereon, the narrator doesn’t refer back to the reader until the last paragraph where he offers advice to those who may experience something like the couples did in the Toyama fields: that bump you experience while walking could be another invisible person.
Framed this way, the narrator deserves our sympathy. First, he sulks while narrow-minded readers disbelieve and abandon him all the while buying time for a true circle of friends to hear his sob story. Second, he eventually seeks professional help for his loneliness and feeling of invisibility. Lastly, he offers advice to the that same circle of friends so that they may sympathize with whomever they accidentally run into. The narrator only wants to be understood, for pity to be thrown at him, and for people to consider others like him: invisible, lonely, and seeking.
Review: I cast the story in a better light than as it unfolds. There are two major hang-ups that really detract from the plight of sympathy: The first is the narrator’s vaguely vindictive attitude toward his invisibility. After he bumps into the first couple, he purposely sets about bumping into others. Why bumping and not another action, it’s not said. It seems a tad childish to test one’s invisibility this way. Secondly, there’s an info dump (a familiar theme from “The Theory of Planetary Colonization” and “The World in One Thousand Years”) from the doctor who laments on why the narrator is invisible at times. This culminates with the narrator emoting, “Wow, you’re a pretty amazing scientist,” which is another shade of scientist/professor worship from Golden Age science fiction.