Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Stories of Osaka Life

 

 
There are a number of collections of short stories that I've wanted to read but due to costing and price thought that the opportunity would never arise, one of those was "Love" and Other Stories by Yokomitsu Riichi, another at the moment is The Woman With the Flying Head by Kurahashi Yumiko and another that I've been wanting to read is Stories of Osaka Life translated by Burton Watson. Whilst in Japan I learned of Hidemitsu Tanaka/田中 英光, like Sakunosuke he was also associated with the Buraiha group of writers, Burton Weston points out in his introduction that Japanese literary scholars were keen to group authors into schools and groups, as also I think Dennis Keene mentions in his introduction to Yokomitsu's  "Love and Other Stories", perhaps this kind of information is best kept in the back of your mind on inital reading, or perhaps it's better to read and respond to the story first and then consider its context within literary history and or the relevant movement afterwards. Similar to Tanaka 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Oda Sakunosuke, 1913-1947, maybe this post should have been kept for October for more precision, although the desire to read these four stories was too much to delay reading.

The first from 1940 is Hurray for Marriage, or Sweet Beans for Two!, the English title conveys the double meaning of the original - Meoto Zenzai. Long regarded as a classic the story has been adapted to film a number of times, although plainly conveyed there is plenty going on under the surface to contemplate. The story's two main characters are Chöko and Ryukichi, initially Chöko is an apprentice geisha or more exactly a yatona, who becomes Ryukichi's mistress, he is a married man with a young daughter, the pair run away but before they return an earthquake strikes which they read as being a sign of divine condemnation at what they are doing. Extramarital affairs and relationships appear dotted throughout the four stories, it could be said that Meoto Zenzai, not only chronicles the consequences and outcomes of extra-marital relationships as Chöko and Ryukichi's relationship is also one that appears to transcend the classes as well, Choko's parents are hardworking and struggle to get by, but in contrast Ryukichi comes from a well off family, one of the subplots is the threat of Ryukichi's ostracization from the family and of him being written out of his inheritance, especially when his sister marries a more respectable suitor whom it looks like will ascend to the position of head of the family in the event of his fathers passing who has been in ailing health after suffering a stroke. Chöko  and Ryukichi are two very contrasting characters, Chöko works endlessly trying to save money to get ahead, they pursue various business ventures, but every time money is saved Ryukichi squanders it on drunken nights out, in this he is the epitome of the reckless decadent male of the age, the narrative dips under and explores commonly assumed gender roles within the patriarchal structure, within the story there appears a reversal of roles, Ryukichi whose manliness is taken as given exhibits an inescapable streak of male weakness, while Chöko is the real stronger of the two, despite this the story is told with a broader sense of humanity, these foibles appear as details of a larger drama.
 
A notable distinction between the stories is that the first two, Hurray for Marriage, or Sweet Beans for Two! and Six White Venus are told in a third person narrative and the last two, the fantastically titled City of Trees and the final story The State of the Times are relayed by a narrator within the story although some third person narratives also appear in them, and perhaps in taking things a step closer to Sakunosuke the narrator in both of the last two is a writer. The State of the Times is a fascinating story, Burton Watson notes that it's probably 'the most skilfully constructed and memorable of all of Oda's works', the story was published in 1946 and garnered increased attention when Shiga Naoya pronounced it "filthy". The narrator of the story is a writer who sees the possibility of material in almost everybody he encounters, the story is built up of linking episodes that cover a period that spans before, during and after the war. One of the main characters that features in the story is the proprietress of a bar who after an unsuccessful attempt at seducing the narrator begins to tell him the story of the ten-sen geisha, which by turns leads to the story of Sada Abe 阿部 定 and her lover Kichizo Ishida, Sada Abe also features in a later story of Oda's called The Seductress, which is yet to be translated . In pursuit of copied records of the court proceedings of the Abe case for the potential use in a story the narrator recalls the owner of a restaurant in Ganjiro Alley, an area that was destroyed in the air raids, the narrators description of the dinginess of the alley is vividly recalled and he speaks of his desire at the time to have moved into the area displaying a romantic/anti-romantic attachment to run down places contrasting it to the more appealing and popular area around Hozen-ji. The story turns with the introduction of Yokobori, a friend of the narrator who has recently returned from the war and faces a bleak and prospect less future, he turns up at the narrators house bloodied and beaten after failing to pay for food after he was robbed, Yokobori's predicament is caught succinctly when the narrator catches himself in mid sentence when describing Yokobori's way back from a certain destination, - 'though of course he didn't have anywhere to go back to.' As the story comes to an end the narrator takes a step back from the narrative and examines the transparency of his motives in writing the story and by degrees the transparency of fiction writing - 'Yokobori is no more than a puppet who has borrowed my sensibility and is wandering with it across the stage of present day life', but Oda turns the tables  - 'But no! I protest indignantly. It's present day life that's imitating my old stories', the end of the story sees the characters of the story meet again in a slightly abrupt and evocative re-grouping.

Six White Venus tells the story of two brothers, one, Narao, born under the horoscope of the six white Venus who is steadfast in pursuing his own way in the world, he finds work at a hospital and to escape the interference of his mother and brother threatens to become a doctor of a leper colony to avoid them. During the course of the events of the story the brothers discover that they are illegitimate which gives the story an added dimension. City of Trees is the shortest of the four which sees the writer/narrator of the story revisit the area where he went to school, stopping in a shop to escape a shower he meets again a restaurant owner who he knew from the past and the narrative spills into the narrators observations of the man's family, his suspiciously silent and under achieving son whom his father is happy to allow him to go into manual work as he reasons he was never any good at studying, the family disappear nearly as abruptly as they appear, the story, as with the other three are highly evocative of Osaka, from its alley ways and through the streets of Shinsaibashi,  Dōtonbori and the parks of Tenno-ji.    

     
 
                       

2 comments:

Tony Malone said...

Sounds interesting - one I'd like to try at some point :) One of my current reads is also a Burton Watson translation, a review copy I got of the 'Nihon-ryoiki'. It's not the most wonderful piece of literature ever written, but it's interesting enough for those of us who have a deep interest in J-Lit...

...not one for those whose horizons start and end with Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami though ;)

me. said...

I saw that the Nihon ryoiki was recently published, although at the moment I've a few older translations to make my way through.

I feel that I should perhaps read more from the classics, among them at the moment Heike monogatari keeps tempting me...