International Writers Magazine: Comment
THE POOL by Hideo Okuda,
translated from the Japanese by Giles Murray,
IBC Publishing, Tokyo (distributed outside Japan by Stone
Bridge Press, Berkeley), 2006, 224 pp.
easy to see why IN THE POOL by Hideo Okuda has sold more than
200,000 copies in Japan since its 2002 publication and become
a major Japanese motion picture.
of five "longish" stories has hilarious dialogue, lovably
neurotic characters, and keen insight into contemporary Japanese life.
Okuda gave this story collection a wonderful thematic unity: Each story
begins with an outpatient at Irabu General Hospital who has been sent
to the basement office of the "NEUROLOGY DEPARTMENT" because
their problem suggests a head case. The neurology department consists
of the hospital owner's son, Dr. Ichiro Irabu, an overweight slob of
a medical practitioner--but also a wise fool. He's ably assisted
by Mayumi, a sexy young nurse who administers mysterious (possibly "Dr.
Feelgood") injections to each patient with steely indifference,
then returns to gum-chewing and her magazines.
Every patient realizes the double-wide weirdness of Dr. Irabu and Mayumi
and makes a mental note they might better off. Possibly, they
should leave ASAP. But each of the five is burdened with seemingly
intractable afflictions: Kazuo Omori, a magazine editor, becomes addicted
to his twice-daily swims "In the Pool" and wants to swim even
more; Tetsuya Taguchi in "Making a Stand" suffers a sustained
erection syndrome that might last months; competitively attractive Hiromi
Yasukawa of "Trade Show Model" knows men are stalking her
(yet she never sees them); teenager Yuta Tsuda spends $200+ monthly
text messaging in "Cell" and stops using his phone only to
sleep; and journalist Yoshio Iwamura ("Double Check") has
an obsessive compulsive disorder that starts with making sure his cigarette
stubs are extinguished and escalates to unchecked OCD.
In each case, Dr. Irabu manages a cure of his bewildered patient. How?
That's the story. But part of the hilarity is Irabu himself will
even take up his patient's behavior--whether it be compulsive swimming
or compulsive text messaging. It's one way the doctor helps his
patient along on the road to self-acceptance. Imitation as the
sincerest form of flattery works here too.
So while IN THE POOL has many laugh-aloud moments, at a deeper level,
this comedic collection has some intellectual backbone. These
are stories about characters tamping down their neuroses and getting
on about life.
In that regard, a note about Japanese psychotherapy with which Japanese
might be more familiar than English readers: Okuda has Dr. Irabu refer
to the great pioneer in Japanese psychotherapy, Morita. A contemporary
of Freud, Dr. Masatake Morita (1874-1938) cared little about the roots
of neurosis, preferring to educate patients to accept neurosis and go
on with action-oriented steps to improve their lives. "Just
do it!" might have been his slogan. As one student of Morita,
Takehisa Kora, has written, accepting reality as it is or "arugamama
means to jump in anyway, fear and all."(1)
For this reviewer, Irabu's techniques echo, in a light-hearted way,
the Moritist approach to healing neuroses. So, yes, there is much
wacky comedy in Okuda's IN THE POOL stories, from doctor and patient
alike. But the madness is not without defensible method in the tradition
of Japanese psychotherapy (and increasingly in Western cognitive therapies).
This highly popular story collection in Japan might be read in this
English edition by anyone interested in tales of Japanese Woody-Allenesque
neurotics at their most endearingly eccentric, who are finally redeemed
by self-acceptance learned from a wise fool, Dr. Ichiro Irabu.
© Charlie Dickinson October 2006
read "stories & more" @ http://charlied.freeshell.org
(1) Kora, Takehisa, HOW TO LIVE WELL: Secrets of Using Neurosis, State
University of New York Press, 1995, p. 13
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