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The International Writers Magazine
: Book Review

Salmonella 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

When Andrew Driver pitched this translation of Tsutsui’s work to publishers he must have gotten some very strange looks and it’s 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
In the West if we think of Japanese literature at all we turn to Haruki Murakami for contemporary insights or Junichiro Tanizaki’s 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.

So enter Yasutaka Tsutsui and he’s 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 Tsutsui’s 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 doesn’t follow that everyone else is and resentment and chaos ensues.

‘I’m perfectly sane. But we are in someone’s else’s 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.

‘TM 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 he’s invented a time machine –to the strange heavy atmosphere of the stranded railway line of Bear’s 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 anxiety.

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 didn’t 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. It’s 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 20th 2007
Sam North 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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