More Japanese weird fiction while I work on new stuff.
Raw Feed (2007): Night Voices, Night Journeys: Lairs of the Hidden Gods, Volume One, ed. Asamatsu Ken, 2002, 2005.
“Foreword: Recollections of Tentacles”, Asamatsu Ken, trans. Edward Lipsett. — Perfunctory, metaphor laden account of how popular H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos are in Japan. This is described as an anthology concentrating on Lovecraftian tales with an historical element. Asamatsu notes that the only American sf authors with a “solid bibliography” (Whatever that means exactly: consistently worth reading or most of their works translated into Japanese?) are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and H. P. Lovecraft — and only the latter has TV adaptations and publishing houses devoted to it.
“Introduction: Rush Hour of the Old Ones”, Robert M. Price — Price, who has edited several Lovecraft inspired anthologies and who, I understand, has a degree in theology, purports to find some similarity in the broad mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos and Aum Shinrikyo (humanity must be purged from Earth to make way for supernatural beings who will be worshipped by the worthy members of the cult — Price provides some interesting material on how the group’s theology evolved) and also Buddhism (specifically August Derleth’s corrupted interpretations of the Cthulhu Mythos).
“The Plague of St. James Infirmary”, Asamatsu Ken, trans. R. Keith Roeller — This story shows what I’m told is a characteristic Japanese love of icon — kami in their extreme from. This is sort of interesting mélange of American icons fixed in the Japanese mind: Chicago and its gangster. The entirely predictable revelation is that cunning Scarface is Al Capone. The less obvious revelation that Eliot is the future Eliot Ness. I have no idea if his girlfriend was a real character.) Taro, the Japanese bodyguard, turns out to be Kaitaro Hasegawa (I assume a real Japanese writer) who created a beloved fictional one-armed, one-eyed samurai (which Taro temporarily is, due to injuries, in this story.) Price’s notes reveal Michael Leigh, the occultist character, to be a borrowing from Henry Kuttner’s foray into the Cthulhu Mythos. There is a certain unintended humor here — besides the improbable assertion that Michael Leigh’s implied ancestor, Judge Leigh of the Salem Witch Trials, moved to Chicago (my research says the first whites arrived in the 1770s there) with it being noted that the Japanese “have an exceptionally keen spiritual sensitivity”.
“The Import of Terrors”, Yamada Masaki, trans. Kathleen Taji — This story effectively combines the firebombing of Kobe — and less obviously its devastating earthquake fifty years later — with some of the elements of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness” (I was reminded how rich this is in Cthulhu Mythos elements when I went back and looked at it) and “At the Mountains of Madness”. Two Japanese boys, fleeing the firebombing and starved, enter the mysterious house of a Russian immigrant. They encounter a strange creature who urges the boys to eat it. But they also see the maimed body of the Russian. Still living, he tells them not to eat the alien, that to do so will let a parasite live in their bodies for fifty years, and, when it emerges, catastrophe will result. He even kills one of the boys to stop him from eating the alien but then dies. The narrator, the surviving boy, tells at story’s end how he feels strange impulses and must return to Kobe. Price brief introduction actually helps appreciate the story. He reminds us that Lovecraft’s tale linked the aliens in the Vermont woods with Indian myths and the Mi-Go of the Himalayas and that they feared other aliens. That enemy they feared is implied, believes Price, to be the parasite infecting the alien (seemingly one of the Old Ones from “At the Mountains of Madness”). Price also points out the timing of the narrator’s return to Kobe and the portent of disaster would have been understood by a Japanese audience to mean the Kobe earthquake. Price also compares the state of the boys to the “hungry ghosts” of Buddhism and Hindu reincarnation, a state two notches below being reincarnated as human. However, I don’t quite buy all of Price’s implications. Yes, the Mi-Go are linked to the Himalayas but they aren’t in this story though, admittedly, the parasite may be one they feared. (Russian Nikolai’s maiming seems to reveal a man, and not a Mi-Go, horribly injured by the parasite bursting from his body — though how it got to be the size and shape of an Old One is really explained). Nevertheless, it’s an effective story. There’s no reason why a Lovecraftian tale has to slavishly and precisely link itself to the details of the Cthulhu Mythos to work.
“27 May 1945”, Kamino Okina, trans. Steven P. Venti — An interesting mythos story set during the midst of the Battle for Okinawa. A priestess of the island’s Cthulhu cult undertakes a mission to release, seemingly, some nascent Deep One forms from beneath Shuri Castle. There is a nice bit at the end of the story tying the destruction, that day, of the castle by an American battleship, the secret nuclear testing two years later on a South Pacific island, and the reluctance of American to have a G8 summit in 1992 at the restored castle to the events of the story.
“Night Voices, Night Journeys”, Inoue Masahiko, trans. Edward Lipsett — Forgettable story that invokes the old sex-death link to little effect. The story explicitly mentions Yog-Sothoth.
“Sacrifice”, Murata Motoi, trans Nora Stevens Heath — An odd story with a happy ending. A lot of stock horror elements are there: an unfriendly village with a strange ritual/cult, an urbanite retreating to said village to heal an ill (bad skin), and the village has unusually large and prize vegetables due to their special soil. The protagonist fears his sick wife may be being prepared as some sort of human sacrifice to the Soil God who produces a soil so good that it may be eaten. Said soil may be the product of human sacrifice or, editor Price speculates, the excrement of the Soil God. Because of this speculation and because ingesting such large quantities of soil makes the protagonist’s wife youthful and beautiful and cures her dermatitis, I was reminded of the peculiar Japanese sexual fetish (not widespread) of eating human excrement.
“Necrophallus”, Makino Asamu, trans Chun Jin — A sadomasochist tale that has a certain emotional believability and consistency. A sadist who likes to beat women and encounters a mysterious alien, figured like a woman, who may have been born on Yuggoth, her mother disfigured by her grandfather wielding the alien dagger Necrophallus, which maims the narrator and gives him ecstasy at the same time.
“Love for Who Speaks”, Shibata Yoshiki — A reworking of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Both stories feature “people” who find that they are really hybrids of humans and Great Old Ones, heredity calling them back to the ocean and an aquatic existence in the deep. But, whereas Lovecraft’s story is a horrifying revelation, genes pulling the hero to a repulsive fate (his cousin, after all, shoots himself rather than go to the ocean with the inhabitants of Innsmouth), the protagonist here finds freedom in not only realizing her biological destiny but escaping from the control of her unloving husband. It is the character of the husband — a gnostic like figure, editor Robert Price notes, who has become enamored with the pleasures of the surface world rather than attending to his calling of finding “women” who are daughters of the Great Old Ones –that has no comparable analog in the Lovecraft story.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.