Contemporary Japanese Writers

Shu Fujisawa*

Shu Fujisawa* 藤沢周

Shū Fujisawa ( (1959–)  ), winner of the 1998 Akutagawa Prize for Buenosu Airesu gozen reiji (Midnight in Buenos Aires), has perhaps the most acute sensual perception of any Japanese author of his generation. The writer Kazushi Hosaka has even gone so far as to suggest in the afterword to Yukiyami (Snowy Darkness) that "Not only is each separate sense well-developed, but he appears to be a synesthete." Synesthesia is a condition in which the senses of sight, hearing, taste, and so on are not discrete but resonate together; sounds, for example, may be perceived as colors. The 19th-century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud is a famous example of a writer with synesthesia. Fujisawa possesses not only this extremely rare sensitivity, but also the ability to express what he feels in words, using images of color.

The full-length novel Murasaki no ryōbun (The Realm of Purple) focuses literally on the visual properties of the color purple. The main character, Teshirogi, is a 42-year-old man who teaches math at two cram schools, one in Yokohama and the other in Sendai, a city some two hours north of Tokyo by bullet train. Teshirogi leads a double life: he lives in Yokohama with Akiko, an office worker, and in Sendai with Miwa, a nurse at a clinic in a department store. One day, one of his colleagues at the Yokohama cram school, a fellow named Kanda, kills himself by jumping in front of a train. Since Teshirogi was one of Kanda's few friends, Akiko and the cram school staff attempt to reach him in Sendai. The double life he has been at such pains to conceal is thus brought to light.

Teshirogi has been maintaining his relationships with the two women while sensing the presence of another man behind each of them. Kanda's suicide leads him to the discovery that he no longer wants to go on with his complicated dual life anyway. He pours out his true desire, which is to become the shade of purple he glimpses while riding back and forth between Sendai and Yokohama: "I wanted to become that light purple that shows along the Zaō mountain ridge from the train window?that and nothing more . . . Probably no one would understand, but I wanted to escape from the restrictions of this world, if just by a single millimeter."

Fujisawa often portrays bone-weary men who fall from normal, everyday life into a world of bizarre madness. His novel Sadame (Fate), which the acclaimed film director Isao Yukisada has expressed interest in adapting, takes as its protagonist a 30-year-old man named Terasaki whose job is inveigling women to star in porn videos. One day Terasaki meets a young woman named Yūko who says she wants to appear in sex videos to earn money. He doubts whether an impoverished amateur motivated solely by the need for cash can become a success, but to his surprise her lack of slick commercial appeal actually makes her a star. Sick of the business, Terasaki has been looking for a way out, but somehow he is drawn to this unlikely new porn queen. This an outstanding example of the "boy meets girl" genre with slightly older characters, set in the advanced capitalist society of Tokyo where even sex is reduced to money.

The novel Snowy Darkness also portrays a middle-aged man who falls from the everyday, but unlike in Fujisawa's previous works, this time the protagonist finds redemption. The story is set in 21st-century Japan, after the burst of the bubble economy of the 1980s. Protagonist Yukihiko Takagi works at a real estate company facing imminent cutbacks. He is transferred to his native Niigata with orders to oust tenants from buildings whose property value has plummeted, put the buildings up for auction, and buy them back cheaply?a tactic that will shatter the local real estate market. For the first time since he was disowned by his father after a quarrel over a dozen years ago, Takagi heads back to Niigata, taking with him the shamisen his grandmother once taught him to play, her legacy.

In a bar where he is supposed to serve an eviction notice, Takagi gets to know Watanabe, the Okinawan owner who is also a master of the shamisen, and Elena, a Russian pianist and regular at the bar. Together they rouse the musician in his soul. When Takagi realizes that he was assigned to Niigata because he was about to be laid off, he takes up the shamisen again and joins with Watanabe to save the bar. Music plays a key role in this brilliant work.


* Sadame (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2000, 163 pages)

* Murasaki no ryōbun (Kodansha, 2002, 266 pages)

* Yukiyami (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2007, 492 pages)