My desultory ways are catching up with me, and the supply of retro reviews is getting sparse.
However, while I’m off writing up new stuff, here’s a retro review from November 4, 2013.
By the way, I reviewed a collection of Miyabe Miyuki’s fiction over at Innsmouth Free Press.
Review: Kaiki: Uncanny Tales from Japan: Vol. 1: Tales of Old Edo, ed. Masao Higashi, 2009.
With haunted houses and haunted fishing poles, sinister monks and a battle of wills with a ghost, samurais and serving girls, these nine stories and one short manga are not always horrific, often enigmatic, and always a delight. Add a Lafcaido Hearn essay on “The Value of the Supernatural in Fiction” and a very useful introduction on the permutations, tradition, and history of Japanese weird fiction, and this is a definite must read for those interested in the supernatural tale of Japan or even just non-Anglophone weird fiction.
The tales all have some connection with Edo – though many stories are not set there – and range in age from 1776 to 2005. Some are retellings of classic Japanese ghost stories, some are influenced by European and American horror stories, and some are entirely original.
“In a Cup of Tea“, Lafcaido Hearn – Hearn’s retelling of the Japanese tale “A Young Man’s Face Appears in a Cup at a Tea Shop”. Masao notes Hearn brought out the “tale’s fantastic and nonsensical nature by editing out the last parts”.
“The Chrysanthemum Pledge“, Ueda Akinari – An old tale from the classic 1776 collection of Japanese weird fiction Tales of Moonlight and Rain. It celebrates the virtues of loyalty and not hanging out with “superficial” people.
“Three Old Tales of Terror“, Kyôgoku Natsuhiko – Three shorter stories all titled with questions: “Who Made Them?”, “What Does He Want?”, and “Where Had She Been?” and definitely in the tradition of enigmatic Japanese weird fiction
“The Futon Room“, Miyabe Miyuki – A serving girl, replacing her dead sister’s position, wonders what horror awaits her in her new job.
“Here Lies a Flute“, Okamoto Kidô – Editor Higashi Masao implies this 1925 story bears the influence of W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”.
“The Face in the Hearth“, Tanaka Kôtarô – An enigmatic story on the dangers of being impolite? It involves a mysterious monk.
“Visions of Beyond“, Kôda Rohan — As Robert Weinberg and Higashi Masao note in the book’s introductions, this story is not at all horrific and mostly a long piece on the intricacies of Japanese river fishing: the different fish to be caught and the techniques for doing so and the admonition that the goal of fishing is to enjoy and contemplate the whole experience, not necessarily catch fish.
“The Inô Residence, Or, The Competition with a Ghost“, Inagaki Taruho — A thoroughly delightful tale paced in a way that’s very surprising for Western sensibilities. The translator notes for the story say that the story is based on the 18th century narrative An Account of Inô and the Spirit, and several Japanese authors have done versions of it.
“Through the Wooden Gate“, Yamamoto Shûgorô — In his introductory notes, Masao says this belongs to a subgenre of Japanese supernatural stories known as “kidnapped deity” stories.
“Three Eerie Tales of Dark Nights“, Sugiura Hinako – A brief manga.
As usual with Kurodahan Press publications, the book comes with plentiful footnotes explaining relevant aspects of Japanese culture and history as they are alluded to in the stories.