Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories - by Nishimura Kyotaro

Amongst the latest of titles published by Thames River Press is The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories by Nishimura Kyotaro translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, the collection is selected from the lists of the JLPP, which has now seen nearly all of it's titles listed in English translation published, there remains Alfred Birnbaum's translation of Abe Kazushige's Sinsemillas, and Christopher Belton's translation of Mori Eto's Colorful, Stephen Snyder's translation of Maijo Otaro's Asura Girl is due in December and Paul Warham's translation of Ground Zero, Nagasaki: Stories by Seirai Yuichi, whose title story was awarded the Tanizaki Prize in 2007, is due in January 2015, all of which makes the demise of the JLPP more lamentable.  
Nishimura was awarded the Edogawa Prize in 1965 for Tenshi no Kizuato/A Scar of an Angel and also the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1981 for Shuchakueki satsujin jiken/The Terminal Murder Case, and is also famous for the character Inspector TotsugawaThe Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories contains five stories, the first being the title story, The Isle of South Kamui, which sees a doctor, who after having problems with a woman connected to the yakuza takes a post on a remote island south of the island of Kamui. On the ferry crossing to the island the doctor becomes acquainted with a salesman who appears at various moments throughout the story, in some ways he is the only character that the doctor has to be able to rationalize his observations of the island with, on his arrival the doctor observes the 'harvesting' of one of the local species of birds, the Streaked Shearwater, a protected bird which the islanders are permitted to hunt on one day of the year only, the doctor observes the sweating bodies of the women during the bloodletting and the entrails of the birds whose meat is later served for him at his welcome party, the salesman informs him of the licentiousness of the women of the island which the salesman participates in and which the doctor also falls prey to. In it's remoteness the island's customs appear to be rooted in the past, and out of sync with contemporary society they refer to the mainland with its ancient name of Yamato and the electricity on the island is switched off at eight, for guidance in matters of importance they consult an oracle of a mountain temple, but the crux of the story comes to a head with the outbreak of a contagious disease which can be fatal within twenty four hours after contracting it, knowing that the disease was brought on to the island the islanders suspicions focus on the salesman and doctor. With not enough serum for all the doctor is forced into choosing between saving himself or saving his patient, but his actions result in consequences unforeseen and defies the logical pattern of his sense of morality.
Summer Reverie dips into the infatuated psychology of a 17 year old youth, Shinichi, who finds himself drawn to his step mother, set on the coast of Izu, it has the feeling of the taiyo zoku although being brought more up to date and taken up a notch or two by degree. Shinichi looks up to Yukibe, a girl from his school who dropped out and is living on the streets and was involved in the student protests, he observes that, 'she is fighting against something. But I...', at night he fires his rifle, a gift from his father before he died, into the darkness of the sea. Between Shinichi and his step mother is her potential suitor, Takeda, a novelist who is staying in the house, his presence exacerbates Shinichi's temperament, whilst out swimming Shinichi gets caught in an undercurrent, before loosing consciousness he remembers seeing Takeda walking away leaving him to drown. In an erotic dream Shinichi dreams of his step mother naked and of him shooting her, a spot of red appearing on her chest where the bullet strikes which proves to be portentous. Although Nishimura's narratives feel in places quite plaintive, his stories explore the undersides of his character's psychologies and from them appear well crafted stories of the unexpected with turnabouts unforeseen.  
Two of the stories have narratives from detectives trying to solve their case, although at the same time Nishimura delves into the psychologies of both the criminals and detectives alike, especially in the final story entitled The Detective, where a six year old boy is reported as having committed suicide after swallowing rat poison, the child's mother is an aspiring actress and the case has ramifications for the detective's own history and echoes of the accidental death of his own son on the day that he and his wife separated. House of Cards follows a detective on the case of a murdered bar girl and a dissolute poet. The narrative in The Monkey That Clapped It's Hands comes from a journalist, Sawaki, investigating the suicide of a young man, Shinkichi, who had travelled from Hokkaido to Hokuriku for work, discovering that before his suicide Shinkichi had written three letters to three different people, Sawaki tracks out the three to find out if the contents of the letters will offer any clue for the motive of Shinkichi's suicide. The story has a soulful quality to it, reading like a distant portrait of a young man's dislocation from nature, from the rural to the city and subtle connections could be made between the wind up toy monkey at it's centre and the loneliness of the mannequin like life Shinkichi finds himself in. During his investigations Sawaki is accompanied by Shinkichi's mother, Toku whose grieving is subdued until the end of the story, the story turns over some subtle themes , the recruitment and assimilation of rural workers into the loneliness of city life, which also surfaces in another story, and also of the media's searching manipulation of the unfolding story to get a saleable angle on events, which again is a theme apparent that features in a number of the stories in this interesting collection.

The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories at Thames River Press

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