Tuesday, 27 March 2018
General Kim by Akutagawa Ryunosuke
General Kim by Akutagawa Ryunosuke is the third story of Three Japanese Short Stories all of which are translated by Jay Rubin, also it's the book's shortest, coming in at six pages, nonetheless with referencing the Nihon shoki toward the end of the story it bears a strange twist of satire of the fervour of patriotic propaganda and with referencing the Nihon shoki Akutagawa was obviously setting his target high in wanting to garner the reader's attention. One of Akutagawa's historical pieces, the brief narrative is set just before the Seven Year (Imjin) War or invasion of Korea 1592 - 1598 in the reign of King Seonjo and features the historical figures of Konishi Yukinaga and Kato Kiyomasa, which at it's opening sees the pair incognito scouting out Ryonggang where they come across a sleeping village boy, the encounter has a portentous twist that nearly ends with the killing of the boy, the consequences of him being spared becomes apparent in due course.
The narrative then jumps forward thirty years, to the period of the invasion and the boy has grown into being Kim Eung-seo who together with Kye Wol-Hyang, (forced into being Yukinaga's mistress), hatch a plan to murder Yukinaga, and a fantastically supernatural fight scene unfolds involving decapitation, flying swords that loose their power by being spat upon and the decapitated body of Yukinaga reaching for his sword. After this there are parallels with the scene of Kim Eung-seo being earlier spared when he realizes that Kye is pregnant with Yukinaga's child, fearing the implications of this and not sparing the mercy he received in his earlier life he duly despatches her and the unborn baby. General Kim is a strange and macabre, although interesting reel of historical satire, of it's omittances and also of it's exaggerations.
Akutagawa & Others at Penguin Modern