Today’s J-Lit Giants offering is another guest post, this time from Patrick. Patrick is not a blogger, but he is on twitter (@ResearcherNo1), and he is a big J-Lit fan. In his own words:
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now live in Seoul. I’m currently a salaryman and have a degree in philosophy. My interests include: books, movies, music, food (cooking and eating), baseball (watching, not playing), and travel.”
Now that you’ve met Patrick, let’s find out more about his chosen J-Lit Giant 🙂
Suicide, rebellion, addiction, genius and Dazai
“Osamu Dazai once wrote a short story entitled “A Handsome Devil with a Cigarette.” I had always thought it was a great title for a film. I like Dazai a lot.” Film-maker Wong Kar-Wai
A master storyteller, Dazai’s body of work is diverse, though he is best known for his semi-autobiographical fiction. For these stories, he borrowed liberally from the details of his life. This, along with his use of the first person narrative, blurred the line between author and characters to create a style similar to what we see in some of the works of John Fante and Charles Bukowski. Especially in Japan, Dazai is also well known for his modern retellings of classics and folk tales. Not satisfied with merely updating these stories, he departs significantly from the originals to create something unexpected and wildly inventive.
Dazai’s themes of hopelessness, alienation and nihilism captured the feelings of many in post-war Japan, while his rebellion against the establishment has always endeared him to younger readers. For me though, it is his sense of humor and the humanity in his characters (for better and worse) that continue to draw my interest.
Despite his life being cut short, Dazai left us a significant number of short stories as well as novels and essays. While his exact place in modern Japanese literature is still debated, his importance is undeniable. Osamu Dazai is a complex individual, and there is much to discover and enjoy in his writing. Having read almost everything of Dazai’s writing translated into English, I can definitely say that I agree with Wong Kar-Wai. I like Dazai a lot. In fact, he has become one of my favorites.
Though Dazai is usually known for his pessimistic semi-autobiographical fiction, his work is actually quite diverse, which I’ve tried to reflect in my recommendations.
Self Portraits – A short story collection of his autobiographical fiction spanning the years 1933 – 1948. This work includes his first story using the name Osamu Dazai, “Train,” the previously noted “Eight Scenes from Tokyo” and “Handsome Devils and Cigarettes,” as mentioned by Wong Kar-Wai.
Blue Bamboo – A collection of seven stories including Dazai’s modernized retellings of classics and folk tales. For these he draws from a wide range of material, including Japanese and Chinese classics and even Hans Christian Anderson. A departure from his autobiographical fiction, this book offers another facet of Dazai the author and showcases his talent as a master storyteller.
As always, now it is over to you! Have you read anything by this writer? What would you recommend as a first Dazai book? Please leave a comment if you want to give us the benefit of your experience 🙂