Archive for Akutagawa

After the quake

Posted in Books, Running with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2011 by xi'an

Another book I read during my trip to Bristol is Murakami’s After the Quake. I was pointed out to it thanks to a column in Le Monde that appeared after last month earthquake. After the Quake takes place after the 1995 Kôbe’s earthquake.  It is a collection of independent short stories. The final short story, Honey Pie, was first published in The New Yorker and is uniquely and outwordly beautiful. If very remotely connected to the eathquake. Landscape with Flatiron is another beautiful and subtle story about the meaning of life and the mesmerizing quality of beach bonfires. Three other short stories contain some supernatural elements, a bit in the spirit of  the fantastic Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. And maybe harder to apprehend, even though Thailand is very moving too. This was my first collection of short stories by Murakami, even though I had planned to read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for quite a while…. (Ironically, Murakami got the Akutagawa prize in 1976, named after the author of Rashômon, and mentions it as well for a self-portrait writer in Honey Pie.)


Posted in Books with tags , , , on April 9, 2011 by xi'an

On the way to Bristol, I read the short Rashômon and other stories from the Japanese writer Ryûnosuke Akutagawa. This was the first time I had read anything from this writer, which may sound surprising when considering that Kurosawa’s Rashômon is my favourite movie (much to my kids’ despair!). The movie is actually built over two short stories from the book: the one called Rashômon provides the setting for the movie, when several persons seek protection from a torrential rain under the neglected Rashô door in medieval Kyoto. The central plot of the movie is taken from another story called Into the Grove and the way it inspired Kurosawa is quite understandable, with all major characters telling contradictory versions of the rape and murder by the famous bandit Tajômaru. While I really enjoyed reading those short stories, I think Kurosawa sublimed them much further into a soul-gripping circle of death and passion, through long plans with a lot of silences and close-ups on faces and looks where the light is the message medium… (The actor playing the bandit is Kurosawa’s favourite, the fantastic Toshirô Mifune, also appearing in Seven Samourai. This helped, too.) In the introduction to the (French) book, Akutagawa is presented as a Japanese counterpoint to 19th century naturalist writers like Huysmans, but I feel this is a very inappropriate comparison. Akutagawa is much more of a tale writer, building on historical elements and incorporating, at time, fantastic events into the picture. While it is difficult for me to read Into the Bushes without translating it into scenes of the movie, I was totally entranced by the story Hell Screen as it is both terrible and superb in its depiction of a father carried away by his quest for artistic perfection, to the point of sacrificing his own daughter. A major writer, undoubtedly (he committed suicide in 1927 leaving a note about his “vague uneasiness”).