Hitonari Tsuji*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Hitonari Tsuji*

Hitonari Tsuji* 辻仁成

In 1989, while making a living as a vocalist for a rock band, Hitonari Tsuji began his writing career with the novel Pianishimo (Pianissimo), which was awarded the Subaru Literary Prize. He remains active as a novelist and film director whose home base is in Paris.

Kaikyo no hikari (Lights in the Channel), the novel which brought Tsuji into prominence, is set in Hakodate, a port city at the southern tip of Hokkaido. Two men are approaching their thirtieth birthdays, one of whom—the narrator—is a guard in the local penitentiary. At the prison one day, he encounters Hanai, an old classmate, who is beginning an eight-year-sentence for inflicting bodily harm. In grade school, Hanai had bullied the narrator terribly, and under curious circumstances, the pair now meet again after an interval of eighteen years. Married and a father, the narrator has spent his entire life in Hakodate overlooking the rough waters of the Tsugaru Strait, where his fisherman father lost his life. The narrator perceives Hanai's presence as a threat, but Hanai ignores him, becomes a model inmate, and is let out early on good behavior. On the day of his release, however, he assaults the narrator, yelling "Who the hell do you think you are!" The description of the channel between Hakodate and Aomori, which swallows countless human lives yet goes on shining, leaves a haunting impression.

The novel Hakubutsu (White Buddha) was translated into French and in 1999 received the Femina Prizefor Foreign Literature—the first Japanese work of fiction to be so honored. This is the story of Minoru Eguchi, who was born at the beginning of the twentieth century on Onoshima island, a patch of reclaimed land between rivers in central Kyushu. The sixty-plus years of his life are set forth with compelling power that derives from actual achievements of the author's grandfather. Minoru follows in his father's footsteps and becomes a skilled swordsmith. He is dispatched to Siberia with the Japanese Expeditionary Forces (1918–1924) and shoots a Russian soldier. After demobilization, he becomes a successful inventor and expands his business only to lose everything in a flood. Despite this setback, he gets back on his feet and spends his declining years trying to influence locals to gather the remains of everyone buried in Onoshima, pulverize their bones, and construct a great white Buddha.

The author's questions about life and the world after death are taken up in Taiyo machi (Waiting for the Sun), a beautifully constructed novel of sweeping scale. The story freely interweaves three settings: Shinjuku at the turn of the century; Nanking in 1937, at the time of the Sino-Japanese war; and Hiroshima in 1945, just before the atomic blast. The three main characters are Shiro, a film set designer whose job of yogoshiya (literally, "messer") is to give sets an aged appearance; his older brother Jiro, a gangster who gets shot in the head while smuggling drugs and winds up in a vegetative state; and Tomoko, Jiro's former girlfriend who is a screenwriter. While looking after Jiro, Shiro and Tomoko participate in the production of Taiyo machi, the last epic work of Inoue, a film director reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa. As Jiro hovers near death, Shiro steps out of the shadow of his brother and falls in love with Tomoko, whom he wants to save. But Fujisawa, a thug who is Jiro's senior in the crime family, threatens Shiro's newfound confidence.

Fujisawa's father, an American soldier who was captured by the Japanese when his pre-bombing reconnaissance mission failed, had left a diary behind, which the son has taken on the burden of. The novel alternates pages from the diary with recollections of the director Inoue, who was present during the Sino-Japanese war filming a documentary. With shifting points of view, and shifting priorities, a complex skein of meaning has been created, beyond which the author shines a ray of light.

* Kaikyo no hikari (Shinchosha, 1997, 159 pages, Akutagawa Prize)

* Hakubutsu (Bungei Shunju, 1997, 317 pages, Femina Prize)

* Taiyo machi (Bungei Shunju, 2001, 486 pages)