Monday, March 4, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Title: Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories
Author: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

via Amazon

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa is generally regarded as "the father of the Japanese short story."  His legacy was further strengthened by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa whose masterpiece Rashōmon combines the story of "In a Bamboo Grove" with elements (including the title) of "Rashōmon."  The film has had enormous impact, including on Star Trek's "A Matter of Perspective."  

The stories are highly varied.  Some are set in feudal Japan.  Others are more modern, some realistic, some with magical realism elements (an important influence on Haruki Murakami for one).  Many of his later autobiographical works are included in a section entitled Akutagawa's Own Story.  

Akutagawa was likely schizophrenic, though he was never officially diagnosed as such.  He certainly suffered troubling hallucinations and finally killed himself.  He was quite frank about his mental illness struggles in his writing.  Many of his earlier works reveal a deep morbid fascination, unsettling in light of his eventual self-inflicted death.  The most memorable story for me, Hell Screen, is also the most disturbing.  Master painter Yoshihide insists on seeing the images he must paint, no matter how horrible, including watching his own daughter burn to death in a carriage.

Akutagawa's work is certainly compelling - high quality literature, though in light of the disturbing content, I was glad to finish.


  1. I've never read any Japanese short stories. What years did he write? Post war or earlier?

  2. I do not think I have read any Japanese short stories- but your review has me intrigued. Thanks for sharing! :) ~Jess