The Countdown Clock – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Countdown Clock” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (近づいてくる時計), 1996

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: Finding himself in the same old clock shop time after time, sleep period after sleep period, the author begins a friendship with the shop owner, a wizened man who suggests new or interesting time-pieces to the author. The shop keeper provides insight into the real life of the author, who, perhaps, may dwell too much on death as he typically see his dead friends in his dreams; however, he also can’t remember who exactly is alive and who is dead. These dreams interfere with his reality as he often spots the same shop–albeit under different names each time–in different districts of familiar cities. With each new clock presented by the shop keeper, the author sees a different perspective on what time is though he may not appreciate each perspective for what it’s worth.

Pre-analysis: Though the author is unnamed, it can be assumed that the “author” in question is the actual author of the story–Yasutaka Tsutsui–who is writing a meta-fictional story about mystical realism… that sounds new to me (meta-mystical realism?). When the synopsis mentions “in different districts of familiar cities”, Yasutaka writes about Ginza in Tokyo and Shinsaibashi in Osaka (both places of which I’ve actually visited), which he should have ample experience with considering they are from his current residence and his hometown, respectively. If these two matters–the main character being an author and that same person being familiar with the same places as Tsutsui–parallel the story, then the reader can further assume that the magical realism element of the story also applies to the author himself… not literally, of course, perhaps he’d never do anything so acute; take it as a metaphor, as always.

Analysis: The clocks are an interesting part of this story. Though I don’t have a solid fix on my analysis, my thoughts wandered to Chinese and Japanese elements of philosophy where I found some points of reference… perhaps it’s accurate or it may just be a dead-end.

The first interesting timepiece is a clock whose minute-hand turns every 45 minutes and whose hour-hand turns every 9 hours. This is close to the rotational period of Jupiter’s equator (9h 50m), but I can’t find any other subject to which it may refer… perhaps, as Jupiter is called “big wood” in Japanese (木星), it may have some distant connection with the Chinese element of wood, whose attributes are strength and flexibility, like bamboo.

The second timepiece is a watch that, at noon, quickly protrudes a tiny needle in the wearer’s wrist; otherwise painless, when tipped with poison, it could be an assassin’s weapon, so posits the author. As noon is when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, this timepiece could represent the Chinese element of fire, whose attributes are often connected to restlessness.

The third timepiece is the Clock of Life, which is a clock embedded in a piece of bluish-black rock, which the author, at first, strokes then breaks in a fit of curiosity. If this symbolizes the Chinese element of metal, then it’s presence in the story reflects persistence and determination. When the author smashes this timepiece, he discover that it’s actually composed of many smaller clocks, each of which represents someone he knows and once knew; the clocks whose hands cease to move are known to be dead, those that still move are known to be alive, and some stop and go as the author is unsure of their state (alive or dead).

Another timepiece of the book that is actually a clock in that when the page is turned, the clock on the preceding page moves forward in time. This could represent wood again as it’s made from wood pulp, yet wouldn’t fill out the five elements of Chinese philosophy.

The last timepiece is the Countdown Clock, the descending number of which represents the amount of time the author has left in life. He’s unable to convert the numbers to any measurement of time, but is worried by the decreasing number of digits: from six to five to four. This could reflect the Japanese element of void, which, itself, represents energy, thought, or spirit… which is running out in the author.

Review: In just ten pages, Tsutsui is able to combine magical realism, portions of Chinese and Japanese elemental philosophy (perhaps), meta-fiction, the personal subject of confronting death in his old age, and the nature of dreams (a topic on which I didn’t want to spend much time). It provides plenty on which to reflect, certainly giving each reader a subjective journey through their own thoughts on dreams, death, and time. This is one of the weightier pieces in the collection – take your time to savor it.

Animated Realism – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Animated Realism” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (アニメ的リアリズム), 2015

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: Sitting at the bar, teetering to and fro, man gazes at the spectacle in front of him: humans take the shapes animals, the bartender morphs from one vegetable to another, while the bottles beyond the bar display flags and mascots while singing national anthems; even then, he believes he hasn’t had too much to drink. Once feet are on floor, the once-horizontal plane wavers up and down, the door rushes at him, the road undulates, and his car smiles. Once ensconced in his friendly and familiar car, the journey onward is filled with visions of roadside animals and ominously aggressive traffic.

Pre-analysis: Neither spirits, wine, nor beer have ever made me hallucinate. I’ve only ever tried absinthe twice–albeit not in copious amounts–but that only gave me vivid, damned bizarre nightmares–both times–but never altered visions of reality. The reader doesn’t know what the man had drunk, but it sure couldn’t have been any of the standard three mentioned above. The effects on undulating horizontal surfaces and lunging vertical surfaces may be the most familiar “hallucinations” of drunkenness, but exaggerated physical characteristics has never been an experience of mine.

Analysis: When intoxicated, passing thoughts can brandish prejudice. If you’re lucky, these prejudices won’t surface from intangible thoughts to rough-cut words; keeping them just below consciousness will increase your likelihood of survival from a lynching. The physical effects, such as moving floors and doors, however, cannot be deferred–the floor will probably kick your ass, as will the door. If you’re lucky enough to bypass the lynching by humans and beating my inanimate objects, and if you feel like you need to drive home in that state, you’re only opponent left is fate: You can’t walk but you feel you can drive? You can’t see straight but you think you can drive straight? You can’t gauge one foot for ten but you think can pass through an intersection?

Sadly, it usually aren’t the idiots who drive drunk that end up maimed, smeared on the pavement, or quadriplegic–it are the innocent people who happen to cross paths with the idiots. For our selfish protagonist here in “Animated Reality”, it’s all fun and games until he approaches the highway. The result: a familiar air to things, albeit in monochrome, so perhaps he’s destined to repeat his mistakes in perpetual agony, which is a suitable punishment in the afterlife if his death does occur.

Review: This is the last story in the collection, of which the last six stories feel detached from the other fourteen as they feel either sentimental or experimental on the fictional but not speculative realm. The last six stories are a snapshot of what else Tsutsui is capable of writing, so it may not meet expectations on par with his other translated collection: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno.

On its own accord, however, the story is heavily surreal and leans toward social parable at the end. It seems open to interpretation with the last line being “I should have come here a long time ago”, perhaps as a foreshadowing of his perpetual fate in hell or a smug affirmation of his life in heaven. Maybe it’s a bit hard to relate to, but it provides an interestingly vivid subjective picture of some state of inebriation.

The Night they Played Hide and Seek – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Night they Played Hide and Seek” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (かくれんぼをした夜), 1984

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: Late at night in a school, eight boys play hide and seek, a game which they had been told to be dangerous at night but the thrill of the seek in such an environment at such a time is too much of a draw. Years later, seven of the now-old boys–Tetsu, Gen, and Matsu among them–reminisce about that night, a conversation which stirs up nostalgia. After Matsu dies, the remaining two–Tetsu and Gen–remember one additional detail about that night in the school: a boy named Fukuda who didn’t attend the reunion; actually, they couldn’t remember him ever after that night of hide and seek, which starts them wondering: Is he still playing?

Analysis: The game of hide and seek is beautiful in its black-and-white simplicity: one seeks while others hide; there are only two sides. Life, of course, never exhibits this characteristic, this naive idea that something–anything–can be boiled down to A and B–only A and B. Serendipity is much underrated: unexpectedly finding that which was not sought.

Tetsu had been hiding in the library on that fateful evening at school when he came across a book about the cosmos that he had never known about even though he had read every book in the library; thus, without seeking, his future was set to become a physicist, during which his purposeful quest for knowledge is fulfilled. Another time, much later, Gen reads the newspaper and discovers by chance the passing of Matsu, another serendipitous event that compels Gen and Tetsu to become closer.

It’s not only fact that falls under serendipity, but also emotion. You go to a funeral almost seeking sadness just as much as going to work to seek stress–it lies in expectation. At the class reunion, the group seeks and finds nostalgia; however, Gen is over-wrought by the learning of Matsu’s passing. Later, when Gen and Tetsu meet again, their nostalgia and sadness are expected, but their decades-old discover of the eighth player is abrupt, almost epiphanic. In the end, wanting to seek what had been discovered, Gen realizes that the hunt is over and had only discovered regret.

Review: Similar to “The Agency Maid”, this is a work of sentimentality, one of nostalgia and regret rather than spousal roles and dedication. It’s a brief six pages that feels too brief. It’s not among my favorite from Yasutaka nor of the collection, but it’s a nice sentimental piece toward the end of an otherwise decent hodgepodge collection. – Toh Enjoe


“” (short story) by Toh Enjoe

English Publication History: The Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories (2017, Vertical)

Original: Japanese (, 2017

Translated by uncredited, 2017

Synopsis: After an accident involving brain trauma that makes him unable to distinguish human faces, a man is deemed suitable to be given a privilege: the facial recognition “program” of flying drones; however, his trauma also leaves him unable to communicate in human speech regardless of still being able to understand it. With laws limiting facial recognition on various devices and locations, this man sits in a powerful position unbeknownst to many, however, there are many agents–both known locally and unknown beyond the Great Firewall–in corporal and AI form that pester systems and people on a daily basis; not even children are safe from emotionally-starved AI seeking companionship, so why would a central yet non-communicable figure be beyond their attention?

Pre-analysis: I remember in high school, there was once a food fight. I wasn’t involved in the throwing, nor was I victim of receiving that so-called food ballistically vaulted toward my person. Though that was more than half a lifetime ago, I clearly remember that to this day, which I’ve reminisced before with Friend #1. However, only a few years after the incident, Friend #2 recalled and laughed at how I had gotten hit in the head by a hamburger. I begged to differ but let bygones be blahblahblah. Later, I met up with Friend #1 again, who mentioned the food fight again, but remembered me getting hit in the head with a hamburger… a detail which wasn’t pointed out in our first conversation. It turns out that he had spoken with Friend #2 and heard about the hamburger from him. Somehow, Friend #2’s false memory became Friend #1’s false memory, though they both believed it to be true.

Anaysis: This false memory is like a virus for Friend #1; it hadn’t affected him before, but after exposure to the virus, it changed part of him: his memory. If our ego is only a collection of our memories, yet memories can be shaped and shifted by others, how much of ourselves actually belong wholly to us? Without us knowing it, tiny gleaming facets of memories that are reflections of the truth are simply flaws in gem of our ego.

Do you have childhood memories? Are these memories actually yours, or just personalized reminiscences of your parents that have long been forgotten? Further, have these same memories, after being replayed countless times in your mind like a well-worn tape, been idealized, honed down, exaggerated? In most instances, you wouldn’t know as the only memory of the event is your own.

Consider the unnamed man in the story whose only vision is that of the flying drones:

Only half-listening to their dialogue, I consider all that I’ve experienced. I’m supposed to be a human being hired to administer a flock of surveillance drones. Renting out my brain to part of a system, in order to enjoy the benefits. Come to think of it, however, the scenes that I’ve been watching can’t have come from drones … They might even be false memories, created on a whim somewhere or generated according to my own desires.

In that case, who am I, or rather, what is the entity that has to be executing me? Am I really the one generating this statement? (28)

The power of suggestion is strong. It’s like an insecure port to the human mind called gullibility, suggestibility, or hypnosis. It can be a power tool in manipulating people and it used every day by politicians and advertisements. But on the more personal level, suggestibility can affect our memories, which, in the long run, may not even be our own.

Review: This is a poor start to the collection as it feels like one of the least coherent. The narrative feels sandwiched: two sides of the brain-damaged man with one slice of Public Security in the middle. The story and flow are just as compartmentalized as the said sandwich with very little traction between the two (I could use a mayo analogy here but will suffice with putting it in brackets for brevity). If the story had been sunk in the five-story collection, it may have read better, but as it stands where it is, it’s a clunky start that has limited appeal to Ghost in the Shell fans, armchair philosophers, and science fiction readers. There’s just not enough meat in the story on which gain much purchase.

The Agency Maid – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Agency Maid” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (つばくろ会からまいりました), 2014

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: An elderly man’s wife is in the hospital with a poor prognosis, and the only thing he can think about is his inconvenience: Neither can he do housekeeping nor feed himself properly. After complaining to his bedridden wife, sprightly little Maki arrives unannounced at his doorstep and eagerly does what he cannot. He continues to visit his wife but enjoys the evenings where Maki waits on him. One night, he encourages her to have some wine after which she falls asleep in his house, the idea a guilty pleasure for him; however, the next morning, he finds her gone, so he calls the agency that must have sent her.

Analysis: Nowadays, many scoff at stereotypical gender roles: the muscled jock with an inflated ego, the prissy princess with caked-on make-up, the emotionally distant workaholic father, the overweight helicopter mom, etc. The latter two also fit their spousal roles as husband and wife. In the classic idea of a husband and wife, it’s the man who works tirelessly to provide for the family while the woman toils away at home to maintain the ideals for the family: clean house, well-fed members, balanced budget, scheduled appointments, etc. We now scoff at those stereotypes, but two generations ago, those were the reality, the expectations.

The “dedicated wife” subsume ideals of love, attention, loyalty, and dedication… but it really borderlines of subservience. This would be the picturesque housewife of the 1950s in both America and Japan. Yet when both spouses fulfill their roles, the “dedicated wife” will maintain her above qualities “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death”. As adultery has been common–almost institutionalized–for Japanese men for decades, this dedication is often one-sided.

The man in “The Agency Maid” doesn’t seem too concerned for his bedridden wife at the hospital, instead, he’s entertained by the presence of the young maid. Though he visits his wife–superficial dedication–it’s his ideal thoughts at home that give him away… meanwhile, his wife looks after him in her own way.

Review: Tsutsui shows here another side of himself as an author: the sentimentalist. Yes, he does magical realism, satire, science fiction, etc–often a mixture–but here we see a soft story about a husband-wife relationship. It certainly touches on spousal role assignments but it’s an interesting portrayal that challenges our modern progressive thinking of gender roles, spousal roles, and our possibly floundering ideas of dedication. Though I feel that the conclusion can be foreseen, it neatly ties up what he was presenting.

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.

Oh! King Lear – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Oh! King Lear” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (リア王), 2014

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: Aging through his sixties and maintaining his traditional role in classical theater, Shinichiro Tatei ensures that his entire troupe is aligned to his passion for theater, including his current production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. With his daughter away, perhaps having gone due to his firm belief in keeping to true theater, he only has his troupe, most of whom truly respect him yet eventually quit to find greener pastures. During one live production of King Lear, Tatei inadvertently breaks into song–“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”–to which the audience applauds; further, this troupe love the idea of a song in the play. Grudgingly, he agrees to keep his song, only to be pelted by further requests–sometimes demands–for their own songs by each actor. As this goes against the grain of his art, he hates the idea more and more even though the popularity of his show rises more and more. He reaches his breaking point when, democratically, the troupe decides to sing “It’s a Small World” at the end of the first show in Tokyo. With his head hanging, Tatei begins the show…

Pre-analysis: Let’s take two examples: music and beer; I enjoy purity in both, such as a live orchestra and the German Provisional Beer Law (“stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany” [Wiki]). However, I also greatly appreciate contorted, warped versions of both: stuff like Aphex Twin and Crystal Method, and beers like Prairie Artisan Ales’ Birthday Bomb imperial stout and Brouwerij De Molen’s Wasabi Saison. So, I guess I’m not a purist at heart like Tatei, but I understand his roots and passion.

Analysis: This entire story seems autobiographical, albeit deflected from literature to theater. Consider Andrew Driver’s quote in the introduction to Bullseye!: “Tsutsui has already declared his novel-writing days over, and her told me that, barring the occasional magazine submission, time may be up on his short stories as well. ‘The ideas aren’t coming any more,’ he said with blunt honesty” (ix). Now, read Tatei’s thoughts in “Oh! King Lear”:

But Tatei, now in his sixties, was starting to notice a decline in his creativity … There were, after all, only so many times he could perform the same role without it becoming mechanical. Yet he had lost any ambition to change his repertoire. At his age, a single mistake could spell disaster, so he would have had to work even harder to master a new part. (174)

That’s just about his admitted creative decline; however, the story also touches on another personal note: Tsutsui’s rather frictional relationship with non-literary critics, especially special interest groups and lawyers. In the 1990s, Tsutsui had a very much public spat with the Japan Epilepsy Society. Things got so out of hand that he and his family were threatened by letters and phone calls. It seems that he became such a brash figure that publishers had to keep their distance from him to such a point as to include it in his contract (translated by Wiki):

  • If there is a protest on the terms of the work, the right and responsibility to deal with this is in the writer (Mr. Tsutsui), and the publisher is also responsible. Therefore, if the publisher receives protests on the terms, consult with the writer and deal with it with full respect.
  • In dealing with protests by Mr. Tsutsui, when a round-trip of a document or direct discussion becomes necessary, the publisher mediates with responsibility and announces its contents.

I mention this because Tsutsui has three meta-moments in this story where he addresses himself and his reader: 1) about royalties paid for quoting lyrics to JASRAC (The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers) albeit it in a cynical fashion (178), 2) asking for forgiveness from the reader for once again mentioned royalties to JASRAC (180), and 3) another admission of quoting with permission (183).

It’s an odd inclusion that simply points closer to the semi-autobiographical nature of this story, the source of which, however, is lost on me.

Review: This story may not be speculative in nature, but it is meta-fictional. It’s short and odd, but most importantly autobiographical, a story of which sheds lights on Tsutsui’s struggle as an author with tension within himself and with the public, under his own eye and under the public eye.

Heterochromia – Gakuto Mikumo

“Heterochromia” (short story) by Gakuto Mikumo

English Publication History: Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories (2017, Vertical)

Original: Japanese (金目銀目), 2017

Translated by uncredited, 2017

Synopsis: Partly cybernetic herself, after Yuki Misaki is almost killed in an assassination attempt on the person she was supposed to protect, she ends up getting saved by Motoko Kusanagi, the Major in flesh and bone, or rather, in silicon and titanium. Yuki replays her rescue time and again, fantasizing about the physique and components of her savior. When respect begets worship, only one further step can be placed: imitation. After four years, Yuki, though nefarious contacts, is able to match the Major component for component, and to show thanks to her supplier, she’s willing to do a hit.

Analysis: By being saved by the Major, Yuki reflects, “She saved my life, and at the same time trampled on it. Simply by being, a superlative concept cannot but affect other beings. My persona was smashed beyond repair by her” (64). My the Major’s godliness, Yuki takes on the image in order to give the most flattering praise of imitation. However, this imitation is only physical, one would say superficial if it weren’t for the replacements on her muscle, organs, and skeleton. The only thing that remains of Yuki is her ego, which she says, “I’ve no need for it now … I don’t recognize its value” (65). This ego-castration, all-for-nothing prostration is Yuki’s ultimate act of worship.

Review: This is a pretty cool little story wrapped in the guise of a mentally scarred yet inspired protagonist. In order to shake it up a bit, the timeline isn’t linear, but jumps back and forth between Yuki’s near-fatal accident and her reverie of idolization. Towards the end, it’s a solid action sequence a lá Ghost in the Shell, which isn’t complete without a roundhouse kick or ghost-hack. Its thirty pages present a tight, clean, fun, and momentous impact.

A Vanishing Dimension – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“A Vanishing Dimension” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (母子像), 1974

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: A history professor bides his time in libraries while his younger wife and new-born child remain at home, a dreary old mansion set among overgrown foliage and surrounded by more modern homes. On the way home from work one day, the man buys a white monkey with clapping cymbals for his young son. Though initially fearing the toy, the boy takes a strong habitual liking to it. On another day, upon returning home, the man finds his wife and son gone, yet hears the crying of the latter; when he sees apparitions of them, he runs to pull them from the ether, only to pull the clapping monkey back into his own dimension. Later, when he hears another cry from his son, the monkey pulls him toward that invisible dimension, one limb vanishing before another. Desperate to be reunited with his family, he tries to pull them both back with monkey in hand.

Analysis: With a mind for the past and willingly indulging in his studies, the professor ignores the emotional and environmental needs of his wife and son; his presence must be missed while their home isn’t suitable for a young family. When his one passing thoughtfulness takes to his son, the object, instead of bringing them closer together, divides them by dimension: his own physical reality versus their ghostly, timeless dimension. His neglect causes their separation, yet when he attempts to rectify the situation, his hasty solution creates a half-result, one where they can be there in body but not in spirit or participation.

Th albino monkey toy is the divisive ploy that creates a schism between 1) the professor’s contentment with and study of past and 2) his family’s happiness. But what allegory does this have?

The monkey could represent a trickster, perhaps a person who divides a family so that the husband/father would be ostracized by his own family. “Albino” might be important as it might represent a foreigner or a foreign idea that divides the family, where the husband/father is abandoned by his wife and child after going abroad; perhaps, upon their unwilling return, their relationship is stagnant and silent, only the timeless idea of family happiness remaining in the professor’s mind.

Review: This seems to be one of Tsutsui’s most popular stories as it can be found in a variety of Japanese collections of horror, as evidenced by the number of covers pictures above. This story pre-dates Stephen King’s short story “The Monkey” by six years and, in my opinion, offers a much creepier and less obvious horror element to the story. In addition, the conclusion leaves a further sense of lingering horror. By itself, without any allegory, the story can sit among the best horror stories with supernatural/haunted elements, but the niggling allegory makes it rise just a bit higher over the rest.

Amrita – Banana Yoshimoto

Amrita (novel) by Banana Yoshimoto

English Publication History: Amrita (1997, Faber and Faber; 1997, Grove Press; 1998, Washing Square Press)

Original: Japanese (アムリタ), 1994

Translated by Russell F. Wasden, 1997

Synopsis: Sakumi, while not a teenager any longer, certainly has trials and tribulations much like someone half a decade her junior. She scoffs at having an office job so continues her fun and flexible job at a bar, yet, in the long term, it’s a dead end. She lives at home with her kindergarten-aged brother, mother, and two family friends, but the herd of this house seems to be thinning after the death of her elder sister.

What was once an urbane existence amid the toils of divorce and death, her brother begins to exhibit odd behaviors that compels to skip school. As an older sister, she takes his side in order to understand him; however, his supernatural gift of clairvoyance and telepathy catches her off guard: he says gods speak to him; he says what Sakumi is thinking; he sees future events; he recognizes “good” auras of people. Sakumi can’t deny that he has a gift, but it’s something to which she had never been exposed.

After her sister’s suicide, Sakumi lost her memory in a tumble down the stairs, memories which come back in spurts and floods. She understands that her sister used to have a boyfriend named Ryuochiro, but that doesn’t stop her from following a romantic relationship with the same man. As time moves on, her short-term memory forms fewer gaps and her relationship evolves to the point of traveling with her beau to Saipan in the Pacific Ocean, where she more inexplicable supernatural elements of ghosts and telepathy. She’s brought herself out of her comfort zone–albeit still headstrong (oops, a pun)–and forms bonds with the off locals, as does her brother who visits and experiences the same elements.

Returning home, she finds her work closed, her brother studying away from home, and another member of the household had run away. Her spirit is buoyed, however, by suddenly receiving a flood of associated memories, none of which really shed light on her permanent state of existentialism, ennui, and mediocrity.

Analysis: Citing Wiki yet again, amrita is “repeatedly referred to as the drink of the devas which grants them immortality” and is “etymologically related to the Greek ambrosia.” There’s no literal liquid of longevity (damn alliteration) in the story, so the reader must infer what the nectar is that grants immortality in a sense. Consider that memory is a large part of Sakumi’s hardships (well, that and her Gen-X ennui), her gradual recovery of memory enthralls her, as if she were re-living her life again, as if the memories themselves were immortal and material for all to view.

According to the book’s own text, the title amrita “comes from the old Sanskrit word amrta … a divine nectar, something the gods indulged in by guzzling the stuff down.” It is said that “when you’ve let the liquid gush through you, you’ve achieved life, because what happens to the flowing water is similar to what happens to people” (445). This quote comes from Sakumi’s boyfriend, a published author who’s planning on writing his next novel with the same title; further, he says, “[D]on’t you think it will make a good title for a novel? Sure, it might not sell, but that’s beside the point” (445).

This is one point where the book goes meta. It’s not a unique twist where one character decides to write a book with the same title that the reader is reading and is, indeed, what the author and character had intended. It kind of feels like the character–Ryuochiro, the author in the book–somehow reflects Banana Yoshimoto. Ryuochiro seems like a jet-setting writer always looking for inspiration but only writing pulp, who also seems to be sunk in as deep of ennui as Sakumi; though he has a permanent address, Ryuochiro wonders through the world, through women, and through tangled emotions.

Further, the book contains quite a few printed letters from Sakumi’s family and friends, extracts from her life that peak into other’s motivations.  While this isn’t meta, the book also summarizes (according to my memory) a movie and a book, which shined light on Sakumi’s situation. The author also referred to certain reals works of fiction that, again, shined light on Sakumi, but also fictional pieces of fiction that didn’t.

Review: It’s all a strange mishmash of correspondence, bits of meta-fiction, and the ennui of a Gen X Japanese girl bent on non-conformity to social standards yet has little motivation or inspiration other than taking one day after another in a struggle to beat boredom with a decent bank account while capturing stray bits of memory that come from association. As much as my summary is very sequential and disjointed, the entire 459-page book reads like that. If this is a sample of Banana’s other works, the rest of her bibliography may not really interest me.