Rashomon and seventeen other stories

by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Other authorsJay Rubin (Translator)
Paperback, ?





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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dcunning11235
There are several stories in this collection well worth 5 stars... and a few that are not. However, and this is a controversial decision in my own mind, the lesser stories still provide a key view into the authors.... disintegration. The last few in the collection, all published posthumously, are in fact difficult to read because of the writing... but also because the writer is clearly in a final downward spiral. It is uncomfortable because you are, essentially, reading someone's diary, and reading that they are going to kill themselves.

For that, I give an overall 5 stars, though perhaps it should be 4.
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LibraryThing member figre
My voyage into Japanese fiction began with the works of Haruki Murakami. (If you have not read his work, do so.) So, when I saw he wrote the introduction to this collection of stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, I was intrigued. Akutagawa wrote in the early 20th century and set the tone for much of the Japanese fiction that was to follow. Within this collection is an engrossing set of stories and tales that capture the reader quickly and consistently. The opening stories, set farther back in Japanese history, have a fable-like quality. As the stories move forward in historical setting, the fables transcend to studies of people and the lives they lead. The final six stories are more autobiographical, and suffer some from this. Yet, even these slightly over-introspective pieces force a different perspective on the reader. Within this collection, the stories range from an unemployed man exploring where the bodies are buried in a city gate, to a monk who predicts a dragon will emerge from a pond, to an artist who places art above the lives needed to create that art, to a man who is forced to use horses legs, to the artist’s life as a collection of paragraphs. In them all there is a magic that is real or perceived, and each causes the reader to stop and think about what was read and what it means to that reader.

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.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
I picked this book up on a whim from the Library Book Sale because of the cover. I randomly grabbed this book from when I needed something to read one evening. And, this book exceeds all expectations.

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.
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LibraryThing member Praj05
Akutagawa known as the “Father of Japanese short stories” stays true to his designation with this collection of metaphysically refined stories. The rendered stories: - The Grove, Yam Gruel, Rashomon, Martyr to name a few; highlights Akutagawa’s preference for macabre themes of immortality, depression, virtue, chaos and death. These stories encompass a constant battle of skepticism prevailing over virtue of morality v/s existence of evil.

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.

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LibraryThing member missizicks
I enjoyed this introduction to the works of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. The biographical chronology at the beginning was a useful introduction to the man. Haruki Murakami's introduction made me smile - how keen he was to say that Akutagawa isn't his favourite of Japan's "National Writers", before offering an opinion on where Akutagawa had gone wrong as a writer and, perhaps, in life. I enjoyed rereading The Nose, which I'd studied for A Level Japanese, and Dragon: The Old Potter's Tale was fun, but my favourites are Hell Screen and Loyalty, perhaps because they are longer stories that explore human behaviour more fully, and Horse Legs, because it made me think of Kafka's Metamorphosis. The final story included in the collection is Spinning Gears, which was published after Akutagawa's death. It is an affecting piece of writing, as Akutagawa documents his inner feelings, particularly his fears of madness. It's a sad note to end the book on, both in the sense that Akutagawa took his own life as this story hints might happen and in the sense that his writing was moving in a new direction but was cut short.… (more)
LibraryThing member TJWilson
An eerie read through a short career. I went from delight at Akutagawa's morbid but funny early short stories to horrible dread at feeling brought on by the hopelessly inclined prose of his last two posthumous essays concerning his own life. A simply compelling and unique read.


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