Monday, January 18, 2010

The Setting Sun


The Setting Sun, Dazai's first novel was published in Japan as Shayo in 1947, translated by Donald Keene, who also writes an introduction which has dated slightly, in it he makes some interesting observations about the changes of attitudes in Japanese society. The current edition is available from New Directions. Donald Keene points out that The Setting Sun is one of Dazai's more objective works, although there's traces of Dazai throughout many of the characters in the book. Set against the austerity of the end of the war, it's narrated mainly by Kazuko the daughter of an aristocratic family, but due to the family's dwindling wealth they have had to move the family home from a house in Tokyo to a villa in Izu. It could be said that Dazai is writing from an autobiographical perspective, as he too came from a large wealthy family. Kazuko explains that ten years previously her father had died in the house they lived in at Nishikata Street, the departure from their old family home takes an emotional toll on their mother. They wait to hear from her brother Naoji, who has been away fighting, their uncertain as to if he's still alive, since moving into their new house, mother has weakened a great deal, much of Kazuko's time is spent looking after her, they talk of the past, Kazuko's earlier marriage that ended with her having a pregnancy that ended in a still birth, at that time her relationship with her husband wasn't going well, and mainly as a result of a careless remark it was thought that Kazuko was having an affair with an artist called Mr Hosoda. During the end of the war Kazuko had worked in a camp, 'What a dreary business the war was' she surmises.

They learn that Naoji is alive, and when he returns out of the blue, mother's condition deteriorates, Naoji heads straight for the local inn. They also learn that Naoji has become addicted to opium, a habit he had started at school, in imitation of a certain novelist. Kazuko's days are spent tending her mother and knitting, a pale pink wool she uses contrasts with the greyness of the sky, in a descriptive passage I really admired. Whilst her brother is away in Tokyo drinking with novelist Uehara, (this character seems to be the one that could resemble Dazai the most), she decides to tidy her brother's things that are still in the moving crates, she picks up one of his diaries entitled, 'Moonflower Journal', and starts to read what he has written. It could be said that Naoji's character reminds us of Dazai too, Naoji's writing could be seen as being very Dazai like, 'Learning is another name for vanity. It is the effort of human beings not to be human beings', he states in his polemic like entry. As her mother's condition worsens, the doctor's diagnosis that it's T.B and she passes away some days later. Kazuko's increasing anxiety grows, not knowing where things will end up, piece by piece, she has had to sell the family's belongings to get by, her attempt at addressing the problem is by writing letters to Uehara, imploring him to let her become his mistress, she wants his child, she had briefly met him before, whilst trying to sort out her brothers debt with the chemists, and their meeting had ended with him kissing her.

Through depicting the decline of an aristocratic family, themes familiar with those of many of Dazai's stories and novels appear, alienation, isolation, his character's struggle to fit in with society at large, in Naoji, who's use of drink and drugs is an attempt to disguise his inability to live, this soon wears out, he, like Yozo in No Longer Human sees only hypocrisy in the society around him. Although reading Dazai can be a saddening experience, his writing has an inspiriting quality to it. Something I find strange in Dazai's novels, is his character's observations on religion, which is usually the Christian religion, something I'd like to find out more about, Phyllis I.Lyons - The Saga of Dazai Osamu, a book I'd like to read, may offer an explanation. Sixty odd years on from when they were first published, Dazai's novels offer a chronicle of the times he lived in, from an inner perspective and to an extent in this novel an objective one, the dilemmas that face many of his characters still finds a validity in today's world.


New Directions

Shayo (movie trailer)

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