A bitterly jealous brother, a samurai who makes the ultimate sacrifice, a cold-hearted husband, a monk who mistakes desire for piety, a fraudulent merchant who meets his match in a supernatural river otter — the motives underlying these traditional Japanese folktale characters are explored with haunting results.
Prompted by the sometimes illogical and perplexing actions of folktale characters (Why doesn’t the wolf kill Little Red Riding Hood right away?), master storyteller Rui Umezawa revisits eight popular Japanese folktales, delving beneath their sometimes baffling plot lines to highlight the psychological motivations behind the characters’ actions.
In “Betrayal,” a treacherous husband poisons his wife so he can marry another woman. In “Paradise,” a young man saves the life of a sea turtle, who takes him to a luxurious underwater palace, where his every whim is fulfilled. A brother in “Rage” is consumed by jealousy when his brother’s dog digs up a cache of gold. In “Honor,” a samurai kills himself to keep a promise made to his blood brother.
Tales of addiction, bravery, sex, greed, abuse and control — these stories take their inspiration from the great Japanese storytelling traditions, as well as from Noh and Kabuki. Sometimes laced with ironic humor, sometimes truly horrifying, these stories of the strange and supernatural will appeal to readers of all ages, but they particularly speak to teenagers.
Evocative and haunting illustrations by the stunningly talented Mikiko Fujita add to the eerie beauty of this collection. A detailed afterword outlines the author’s storytelling approach and provides source material for each tale.
Rui Umezawa is a storyteller, essayist and novelist. Born in Tokyo, he left Japan as a child when his father, a theoretical physicist, pursued career opportunities in Europe and North America. Rui studied comparative literature and has an M.A. from the University of Alberta. He is the author of a picture book, Aiko’s Flowers (illustrated by Yuji Ando). His adult novel, The Truth About Death and Dying (called “a dazzling tour-de-force” by Canadian Literature), was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize for Best First Book (Canada and the Caribbean).
Mikiko Fujita is an artist and graphic designer who was born in 1986 in Chiba, Japan, and now lives and works in Germany. She has trained at Tama Art University in Tokyo and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and has exhibited her work in Munich, Berlin, Bologna, Tokyo and Paris. Her picture book, Nachtschwärmer, has just been released in Germany.
By turns emotionally resonant and unsettling. Umezawa deftly captures the inherent strangeness of these tales.
That next moonless night when all the ghouls crawl out will be the perfect time to explore this Strange Light Afar.
You want to read — and re-read — these stories for the beauty, fluidity and power of Umezawa's writing.
Storytellers will find this a rich mine for new tales.
Beautifully written . . . an outstanding collection.