“Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath” (novella) by Juza Unno
English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 2: Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath] (2018)
Original: Japanese (十八時の音楽浴), 1937
Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018
Receipt: Free from the translator
Synopsis: President Miluki has instituted a mandatory thirty-minute “music bath” for all citizens at the time of eighteen o’clock. Lately, the song titled “National Melody #39” reinforces 39 different ideals expected from the President’s citizens, including but not limited to “to be loyal to the president, to possess an unyielding spirit, to not want after alcohol, to not smoke, to maintain good health through four hours of sleep, and to recognize the president immediately upon seeing his beard” (10-12); however, discontent still lingers among some. This ubiquitous motivational device was created by Professor Kohak, who maintains a close relationship to the President and, seemingly, his wife.
Penn and Bara are Kohak’s assistants, who have a tense marriage, conduct the Professor’s work and experiment, which, more recently, involve the creation of androids. In the same underground district lives a shoemaker named Paul, who is the focus of rumor between the spouses. The Professor is immune to much of this, instead focusing on his science and, at her request, a visit to the President’s wife.
Once meeting with the President’s wife, she pushes herself on him, to which she comments that he feels like a cold, cold man. Then, the President and Madam Asari, the Secretary of State, burst into the room, condemn their actions, and throw them into a room in which they gas the couple; however, the gas seems to have made them explode, leaving their limbs on the ground, dissolving into ash upon touch.
With the President depressed, Madam Asari ratchets up her grand plan: increase the time everyone spends in the Music Bath, regardless of the late Professor’s advice. With perfect obedience in her sights, she doesn’t consider the human factors of free will and endurance. Out of the blue, when a true crisis looms, her plan begins to splinter and earth faces peril as a result.
Analysis: As it’s a dystopian story, there’s the obvious overarching theme of obedience in addition to motivation and individuality.
The characters talk about free will as if it’s a secondary thought, perhaps because in their underground society, a smoothly running society of one million (no more, no less) greatly desires efficiency. Having a mandatory Music Bath and subjecting the citizens to the 39 ideals, free will would already have quashed as productivity and obedience are first on their minds rather than personal tangents, pursuits, hobbies, etc. Each citizen’s four hours’ of sleep seem to oppose how they bide their time otherwise: 20 hours of labor. Historically, this wasn’t very sustainable in the 18th century when 16-hour shifts were common, giving labors only eight hours at their leisure, which was sleep, undoubtedly. One Welsh entrepreneur–Robert Owen–challenged this norm with the following motto: “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” Thus, the eight-hour workday was first heralded and later became the norm thanks to Henry Ford’s adoption of the philosophy.
Madam Asari, however, wanted more yet got less. Professor Kohak had already calculated the ratio between sleep, production, and the Music Bath, so it the society was operating at his ideal of efficiency; ignorantly, Madam Asari wanted more. As soon as she commanded more time spent in the Music Bath, the society, which she led by brandishing the sword of allegiance, began to free fall down the slope of diminishing returns. The fewer results she witnessed, the more aggressive she became in the implimentation of obedience and production until the point where militaristic precision and order were needed most, yet her society collapses, in form and in body.
In management theory, Madam Asari completely ignored the notion that people have intrinsic motivation, that people will work for pride and be loyal to a body-less entity for a greater good; instead, she viewed all motivation as extrinsic and continued to expect more. Little did she know, dissent had already been present by those with minds beyond the habits of the herd.
Perhaps production in manual labor would benefit from Music Bath the most, which creates mindless drones, loyal and motivated. The more creative types though, such as researchers and teachers, would suffocate in the steeped water of strict obedience; here, creative flexibility needs to be stretched and spontaneous lines of inquiry need to be drawn. Fact-finding isn’t a production line, so individuality would need to be granted, but the subterranean society seems bent on production, production, production.
Review: This longer piece of work by Juza Unno shows a bit more plot structure than his shorter pieces. It’s fairly standard and modular in structure; in addition, he predictably recycles all elements to establish the brief climax, but one element of the climax was deus ex machina, an element that will be familiar to readers of the first volume of stories. This inclusion greatly detracts from the flow of the story, which worked within a closed system (not only in a closed underground society, but the story had limited elements that interacted). The deus ex machina was from outside the “system,” making it implausible to the reader with absolutely no precedence. This obstacle, in the end, is overcome with the familiar plot elements.
For those who enjoy probing the themes of sexuality and gender, there’s an inclusion of these in the story, which is surprising given it’s age and origin. I had planned to include a section on sexuality and gender, but this review is long enough.