Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Devil's Disciple

The second Japanese title published recently from Hesperus Worldwide, is this collection of two novellas from Shiro Hamao, 濱尾 四郎 (1896-1935), a public prosecutor with aristocratic lineage, this fluid and at times poetical translation comes again from J. Keith Vincent, (A Riot of Goldfish), who was the joint recipient of the 2011' U.S Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature'. Both of these short pieces were originally published in the literary magazine Shinseinen, in 1929, these were the first stories that Hamao had published. The Devil's Disciple/Akuma no deshi is a tale of thwarted love between the genders and takes the form of a written confession, Shimaura Eizo finds himself accused of murdering a young woman and awaiting trial but as he confesses to Tsuchida Hachiro, who in his old university days Shimaura became infatuated with, it could be that he is charged with the wrong murder. The confession starts by recalling their  university days together where the two young men formed a relationship, the older Tsuchida became a mentor to the younger Shimaura who fell under his guidance, teaching him the world of literature, introducing him to Poe, Doyle and Freeman also lecturing him on the world of Carpenter and WhitmanI found myself stimulated by the criminal and the bizarre, Shimaura writes. But Shimaura was dumped when Tsuchida  becomes attracted to a younger man at the university. Devastated by this split Shimaura drifts into a desolate life until he meets Sueko, he acknowledges the difference between himself and Tsuchida finding that he is attracted to both sexes. The two find a mutual affection but this relationship comes to an end when a husband is found for Sueko, and Shimaura quits the university and finds himself drifting again, picking up translating work and writing articles for magazines, he manages to scrape by, but always keeping enough money aside for alcohol and his 'sleeping powder'. He meets Tsuyuko who becomes his dutiful wife despite it being on his side a loveless marriage, at first Shimaura can tolerate the situation but his wife becomes a source of irritation to him, her obsessive subservience further annoys him. Randomly he meets Sueko on the street and learns that her husband died in the Kanto Earthquake, and she now lives alone. By this time Shimaura has become quite addicted to sleeping powder and takes vast prescriptions, quantities that would usually kill a person not used to it's effects. Trying to provoke Tsuyuko into leaving him proves fruitless as she tolerates him being with other women, Shimaura begins to spend more time with Sueko, wanting to get rid of Tsuyuko, Shimaura devises a way of murdering her, although due to a tragic intervention, things don't go the way he had planned.

The second story is called Did He Kill Them?/Kare ga koroshita ka, this story is at first narrated by a barrister who becomes embroiled in what at first appears to be an obvious case, he examines the circumstantial evidence, a married couple are found murdered, stabbed to death, the woman's lover is found at the scene with a bloodied blade. This seemingly obvious scenario harbours an intricate maze of hidden attractions between the four characters that Hamao masterly weaves without revealing the actuality of it until Otera Ichiro's last statement is found after he has been executed for the murder of Seizo Oda and his wife Michiko. At the heart of this story, (as Ichiro suspects), lies perhaps a sadistic game, Michiko a beautiful young woman is caught, or so it appears in an abusive marriage, although appearances lead to much darker motives, she takes pleasure in toying with young men's affections, as Ichiro discovers that Michiko has feelings for his friend Tomoda Takeshi, Ichiro's jealousy begins to push him to the brink, the second half of the story switches to being Ichiro's telling of the actual events. Out of the two novellas presented here this one lingered with me the longest after putting the book down and captures Hamao's ingenuity at crafting a complex psychological study from a seemingly simple opening. The translation of these stories broadens further the picture of early Showa Era literature, the stories dip into a number of genres; legal procedure, (as Hamao was a public prosecutor), detective noir, and ero-guro-nansensu, (erotic grotesque nonsense), the influence of these can be read in these stories. In his introduction J. Keith Vincent highlights that Hamao was an early advocate of gay rights, noting that in pre-modern Japan homosexuality was widely accepted, but by the 1930's modern sexual theory had recast it as a pathology and a perversion. Hamao was one of the first writers to oppose this. Hamao was a contemporary of the mystery writer Edogawa Rampo but died early in 1935.

The Devil's Disciple at Hesperus Press

Japanese Literature Challenge 5


parrish lantern said...

Again another writer to add to my ever increasing list, thanks for the intro.

me. said...

I really enjoyed reading these two stories, I think I'll probably give them a re-read in the near future.