The International Writers
Magazine: Book Review
In the West if we
think of Japanese literature at all we turn to Haruki Murakami for contemporary
insights or Junichiro Tanizakis short, erotic novels 'The Key'and
'Diary of a Mad Old Man'. Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima is
seductive and dark. For tradition and brilliant writing Soseki Natsume's
"I Am a Cat" reveals much about the Meiji era Japan.
Men on Planet Porno by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Translated by Andrew Driver
Alma Books ISBN: 1-84688-016-5
Paperback, £10.99, $17.95 256 pp. Publication: Sept 2006
A Sam North review
Andrew Driver pitched this translation of Tsutsuis work
to publishers he must have gotten some very strange looks and
its our luck that someone at Alma Books took it on because
this is a strange but very fine collection of surreal stories
from a man who understands the mind of modern Japan all too well.
He is already popular in France where he was awarded a Chevalier
des Arts and des Lettres in 1997. So finally he now
available in English for our own appreciation. His stories are
often self-mockingly misogynistic nicely ironic and creep
under the skin of bewildered salarymen everywhere.
Click here to buy it
So enter Yasutaka Tsutsui and hes here to shake your perceptions
of Japan. The hilarious moment the Dabba Dabba tree enters the life of
a bored married couple you know that things are not quite as they seem.
The notion of an erotic dream is taken to new highs and you will laugh
out loud, tempered by this misogynistic streak that runs through Tsutsuis
work. Frenetic attempts to have sex with complete strangers in your dreams
turns out to be hard work and just because you are asleep and dreaming,
it doesnt follow that everyone else is and resentment and chaos
Im perfectly sane. But we are in someones elses
dream. Could you take your clothes off now, quickly.
The second story Rumours about Me is a wonderful exercise in paranoid
writing as an ordinary guy discovers his every move followed by the media,
every insignificant event a major headline in the newspapers and on TV.
slams co-worker Fujita (25) over paperwork error
Morishita Buys Another Pair of Socks (Blue-grey, 350 yen)
It occurred to me whilst reading this colelction of short stories that
here at last was a writer getting to grips with what really ails us with
the prescience of another science fiction writer, the late Philip K Dick.
These could be new Dick stories and everything that bugged him, sex, betrayal,
drugs, corporate bullying, the uncertainty of life in a changing world
of the 1950's onwards is here. It was a good feeling to be at once comfortable
with the writing style and know that you were reading new material.
From short pieces like the absurd moment a friend calls to say hes
invented a time machine to the strange heavy atmosphere of the stranded
railway line of Bears Wood, you are in the company of a writer who
is comfortable with sexual tension, disappointment and secrets. Farmer
Airlines about a journalist and photographer trying to get off a hurricane
stricken island because they are more afraid of the wrath of their boss
back in the office than the near certainly of death in the air is delightful
and relentless. You are there in the eye of the storm and sharing their
The crazed cruel bizarre moments on the Very Edge of Happiness
tell us a great deal what it like to live and work in corporate Japan
no one who has ever been a major traffic jam or frustrated at work
or home would fail to see some aspect of their pointless lives here.
The Commuter Army is a mad but so plausible tale of a gun supplier
of faulty rifles forced to enlist in the day army to fix the rifles at
the front which shifts with alarming regularity. The absurdity of war
and the incredible acceptance of everything make it hyper normal. The
scene where his wife brings his dinner at the front is poignant and amusing.
Although I didnt take to The Last Smoker the satire
was just too heavy handed, as was The World is Tilting however
the last story Salmonella Men on Porno Planet is a fully imagined
classic. An extraordinary world of complete obscenity where men battle
against multiple orgasms and every kind of plant and animal keen to have
their wicked way with them. Its hilarious yet keenly written with
some excellent philosophy on evolution on alien worlds. Andrew Driver
has done an excellent translation which must have been quite a challenge.
If you have never read any Japanese short stories, this would be a perfect
place to start and if you just want a serious insight into the weird psyche
of the richest country on the planet Salmonella Men on Planet
Porno by Tsutsui is for you. You will not be disappointed. You may
even become addicted.
© Sam North Feb
is the editor of Hackwriters and the author of
'Another Place to Die'
- about the coming flu Pandemic of 2009
ISBN: 978-1-84753-899-4 Lulu Press
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