Masahiko Shimada*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Masahiko Shimada*

Masahiko Shimada* 島田雅彦

Masahiko Shimada graduated in Russian from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, and while still enrolled as a student won the 1983 Kaien New Literary Writers Prize for Yasashii sayoku no tame no kiyukyoku (Divertimento for Gentle Leftists). This award launched his writing career, and he has been in the vanguard of Japan's new generation of novelists ever since. Shimada writes with prolific flair in a rhetoric and style graced by spirit, wit, and a taste for experimentation. He is also an expert on opera, and wrote the libretto for the opera "Jr. Butterfly."

His novel Higan sensei (Master from Across the Way) is a parody of Natsume Soseki's classic novel Kokoro. The narrator is a nineteen-year-old youth studying Russian in college who wants to study under a novelist living across the river from him. Sensei ("teacher," "master") is thirty-seven and writes strange romances that are impossible to pigeonhole, equal parts pornography, science fiction, political novel, and mystery. Though married, Sensei seems to have a great many lovers. One of his sex friends, a piano teacher named Kyoko, spends the night with the narrator, allegedly at Sensei's instigation. Sensei becomes mentally deranged and tries to commit suicide. Before that he sends the youth a diary recording his turbulent relations with women.

Oboreru shimin (Drowning Citizens) is a collection of fourteen short stories numbered from 0 to 13. Each one describes the ordinary yet odd daily lives of the residents of Nemurigaoka, or "Sleepy Hill," a neighborhood that might be found in any Tokyo suburb. In the fourth story, "Chonai bika" (Town Beautification), Mr. Kodama bids his wife goodbye each morning and sets off for work. Ever since he retired, she has somehow lost the power of speech and can say only "Goodbye, dear" and "Welcome home, dear." Kodama's "work" consists of picking up litter, and the townspeople call him "Volunteer Guy" or "Trash Master." One day he fails to appear. When the police enter his house to investigate, they find the rooms packed with all his collected trash. Inside a chest of drawers are the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Kodama, dressed in mourning. The lives portrayed in these fourteen stories are a vivid portrait of our times.

The novel Chaos no musume(Daughter of Chaos) is a fantasy of a peculiar flavor. Naruhiko, whose grandmother is the last shaman, suffers from the unusual disease of narcolepsy. When he is twelve his grandmother dies, and the role of shaman falls to him. Meanwhile K-ji Aota, a trading company employee, is murdered, and his daughter M-ko goes missing. She has been kidnapped by a man calling himself Maoji ("Devil Prince") who renames her Makoto and confines her in a room in his apartment, making her his sex slave. To regain her identity, Makoto kills him and starts on a journey to find herself. Along the way she kills two men who trifle with her and acquires the new name Arisa. She meets a literature teacher named Sanada, who finds her plight strangely moving and wants to protect her.

Naruhiko, now a shaman, communicates with the mysterious Arisa. Working with Sanada, they find out that her real name is Mariko Aota, and that her father was killed by a hitman on orders from the manager of a petrochemical complex. To save Mariko, Sanada blows up a roomful of oil executives, himself along with them. Mariko realizes that she is pregnant with the child of one of her victims and despairs at this harsh fate. Naruhiko predicts that the "daughter of chaos" will be saved by the "son of despair." Having rescued Mariko, Naruhiko hears his grandmother's approving voice from heaven: "Well done."

 

* Higan sensei (Fukutake Shoten, 1992, 360 pages, Izumi Kyoka Prize)

* Oboreru shimin (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2004, 192 pages)

* Chaos no musume (Shueisha, 2007, 345 pages)