Most of us English-speaking folks know the word “Rashōmon”, if only as a synonym for “conflicting points of view” and not as the title of a classic work of Japanese short fiction. A fair number of us know Akira Kurosawa, he who took the short story by that name, plus another by the same author, and fashioned one of the most famous Japanese films. But too few know Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the author of the stories in question and a great deal besides. A fair part of that has been the way his work has been translated into English: in a scattershot fashion, with most of that material out of print for decades at a time.
Jay Rubin’s new translations of “Rashōmon” and seventeen other stories from throughout Akutagawa’s short but fiery career goes a long way towards fixing that problem. It compiles several of Akutagawa’s most important works — including, of course, “Rashōmon” and “In a Grove”, but also key stories from the end of his career (“Spinning Gears”, “The Life of a Stupid Man”), freshly-translated work that shows off his affinity for cheeky interplay (“Green Onions”, “Horse Legs”), and at least one of his other masterworks (“Hell Screen”). And the whole thing sports a manga-esque Yoshihiro Tatsumi cover — great by itself, but next time around, maybe they can get him to do illustrations within, too? Read more
Readers of Roger Ebert’s reviews columns will probably remember his discussions of the “hyperlink genre”, a variety of movie where multiple plot threads intertwine, overlap, lead into and out of each other, and sometimes strap on crash helmets and collide. Two Days in the Valley, Traffic, Syriana, Babel and (in my opinion the vastly overrated) Crash typically get tagged with this label.
I don’t think Hideo Okuda was consciously paying homage to any of these movies when he wrote Lala Pipo, but I suspect few people are going to make that connection anyway if they read it. They’re going to be laughing too hard, and gaping at how many boundaries of taste are cheerfully violated, to make any connections. I read most of the book while sitting on my bed with my cats nearby, and kept scaring the poor beasts half to death with my guffawing. You laugh at the book, and then you laugh at yourself for having laughed at it in the first place. Read more