With a new film adaption of No Longer Human/Ningen shikkaku on the way, also a full length animation, I thought it was time to read Dazai's novel. The novel is made up of three notebooks, the third being in two parts. Widely regarded as Dazai's masterpiece, Yozo's story runs parallel in parts with Dazai's life story, first published in 1948 just after his death, the novel is the second best selling novel in Japan, Kokoro, by Soseki apparently is the first. Translated by Donald Keene who also writes the introduction in which he points out that critics of 'The Setting Sun' never referred to his writing as 'exquisite', I guess he means what I have read in other criticism that some writers could be seen as using 'exoticism' in their writing. Keene also points out that in No Longer Human, the influence of Western writers on Dazai is evident, there is not many direct references to Japanese culture in the book at all, Yozo lends a copy of 'I am a Cat' to one of his cousins, and mentions that he never really liked sushi, that's about it.
The story of Yozo is very much the story of Dazai's, born into a large family, being brought up on a country estate, his father a politician, not being able to fit in with the people around him, constantly playing the clown to avoid scrutiny, somehow knowing that to enter into the deceitful realm of the adult world, doom will not be far away, the novel is a polemic against society, and Dazai's constant battering and confusions at the relationship between the individual and society,trying to decipher how each influence each other, the drunken dialogue's between Yozo and Horiki I found particularly intriguing, as well as his thoughts on religion. Yozo makes his way to Tokyo and art school, but spends most of his time drinking with Horiki, and the descent into alcoholism, which leads to his drug addiction begins. He has a brief flirtation with a left wing party, which he has no real great commitment to, Yozo constantly sees the farcical in things,and for this reason he always remains outside. Happiness is something which appears to be at an impossible distance away, unobtainable. After surviving a suicide pact he had with a woman who died, he's cut off from the family and lodges with a friend of the family, but soon runs back to his drinking companion Horiko, the novel covers the events of Dazai's life.
It reads very much like a fictionalized autobiography, but you get the feeling when reading Dazai that he's keeps himself distant from the narrative, but the sense of honesty in his books is immediately disarming. Yozo appears to be a character with many flaws, and through the cracks, perhaps you can see a glimpse of the fragile state of Dazai's thought and emotions. For quite some time I'd read about Dazai, but could never fathom what his books would be like to read, I think 'The Setting Sun' is a work in a different direction which I'd like to explore soon.