Ry nosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is one of Japan's foremost stylists - a modernist master whose short stories are marked by highly original imagery, cynicism, beauty and wild humour. 'Rash mon' and 'In a Bamboo Grove' inspired Kurosawa's magnificent film and depict a past in which morality is turned upside down, while tales such as 'The Nose', 'O-Gin' and 'Loyalty' paint a rich and imaginative picture of a medieval Japan peopled by Shoguns and priests, vagrants and peasants. And in later works such as 'Death Register', 'The Life of a Stupid Man' and 'Spinning Gears', Akutagawa drew from his own life to devastating effect, revealing his intense melancholy and terror of madness in exquisitely moving impressionistic stories.
I read and watch a lot of Anime and Manga. Usually the sort that is easily available, the ones with teens at boarding school with very little family. This has skewed my perception of Japanese Culture. The stories in this book, written in the early 1910's, changed all that.
These stories are very modern in tone, even being written at the turn of the century. Even the stories based of Japanese Fairy Tales are modern. I like that they show a much different side of Japanese Culture. The characters here keep in touch with family, even extended. The stories show the whole human spectrum of emotion - from Hope to Hate. From Happiness to Depression.
My favorite story in this collection is "Dragon: The Old Potters Tale". Its a simple story that runs deeply. A few of them are not as good as others but as a whole, I loved these stories.
My voyage into Japanese fiction is really just beginning. This book was the first of such I’ve read beyond Murakami’s work. But it is reason enough to propel me into a reading much more.
In Rashomon, the act of the ghoulish old woman picking out long hairs from the skulls of the corpses to make wigs and sell them to buy scraps of food delineate a desperate act to fulfill the demonic perils of life. Similarly, 'Martyr' highlights the thriving soul of hypocrisy in religion and the susceptibility to strong gossip.
Akutagawa’s affinity for such themes brings out his real tumultuous relation with mental anxiety and clinical neurotic dwelling of his personal life. (He committed suicide at the age of 35 due to an overdose of Vernol). Furthermore, his description of kimonos/garbs adorning his protagonists illustrates a high usage of the color blue which in Japanese culture is the color of naivety,immaturity and youth.
For that, I give an overall 5 stars, though perhaps it should be 4.