REVIEW: Territory of Light

I’m going to start this review right off the bat by saying that I picked this book up for the sole reason that Tsushima Yuuko is the daughter of Dazai Osamu, my favourite Japanese author in history. Had it not been for that connection I honestly doubt I would have picked it up at all.

Territory of Light is a short novella made up of serialized vignettes that look into the life of the nameless narrator as she does her best to raise her two-year-old daughter in the midsts of a separation. Dreamlike in the way these peaks into a life on the edge of losing it all, this novella drifts in and out of time as it deals with loss, longing, depression, and the hardships a young single mother faces.

From the beginning, my own childhood definitely resulted in this book inflicting a few gut punches, but then it began to shift in a way I’m not sure I can explain and instead of seeing myself in the place of the narrator’s daughter, I imagined the author and her mother overlapping within the characters. Tsushima was only a year old when Dazai was discovered dead, having drowned in a canal with his lover, Yamazaki Tomie. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that caused for Tsushima, let alone her mother who had clearly been abandoned due to Dazai’s self destructive whims and ever changing moods. When the narrator discusses the death of her father within the story, and the way it affected the character of her mother, it read to me as an accusation – but not necessarily a negative one – directed at Dazai for not being there, for leaving them not only for another woman, but in death as well.

Knowing what I know about Dazai absolutely coloured my reading this book and I found something cathartic in reading it as well as greatly appreciating the different perspective – even if it’s a fictionalized one – regarding a man I greatly admire. I definitely plan on seeing out more of Tsushima’s work available in English and hope to one day be able to read her stories in the original Japanese. It would be curious to see if her style is similar to that of her father’s. Especially considering both were cursed with only placing second for the Akutagawa prize.

(LATE) MANGA MONDAY: No Longer Human

On Monday, I mentioned I was swapping things around and doing a regular book review so that I could share my review of the manga adaptation today.

The book in question is Dazai Osamu’s novel, No Longer Human, but adapted to the manga format by Japanese body horror king, Junji Ito.

Before I continue, this review contains trigger warnings for suicide, infanticide, violent imagery, and sexual assault.

So similarly to the novel (the review of which you can read here), this was a difficult one to get through. While I am very familiar with the content and the story of No Longer Human, Ito took this one to a whole other dimension. The story, itself, is heavily inspired by Dazai’s own life and there were certainly more elements of truth in the manga as well as far more fantastical horrors.

Unlike Ito’s other major works, his adaptation of No Longer Human was less focused on body horror and far more tuned into the psychological trauma that comes with the tortures Yozo faces. What was merely implied in the source material, was presented without apologies in the manga, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or not. The sexual assault in the beginning and even throughout the story was intense and felt like it was too much given the format of the storytelling, however the ways Yozo is consistently taken advantage of is still so important to his story arc and the way his relationships (or lack thereof) are formed.

On top of that, there was far more death, far more suicide, and a lot heavier darkness. Dazai was not a happy man, and it can be seen throughout his short life by reading his novels and his stories. But the way that Ito really needles out the underlying sadness and turns it into something so solid and real it’s impossible to ignore as he beats you to death with it. Again, I’m conflicted by the emotions this manga drew from me because on the one hand it was a lot to process and manage, but on the other hand, it felt so real when it comes to how dangerous unchecked mental illness can be. It shows how important it is to really care for those who are suffering.

I loved the inclusions of Dazai himself as a character. I loved Ito’s artwork as I always do. But this was a rough one. Junji Ito is one of those mangakas who I rarely recommend because of how tricky it can be to navigate horror tolerance thresholds, but if you’re already familiar (and unbothered) with his work this is one to check out for sure.

 

REVIEW: No Longer Human

#MangaMonday has been shifted to Wednesday, because the title for this week is actually an adaptation of the amazing, semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu.

I also would like to mention trigger warnings for this novel include suicide and sexual assault (both implied and actual).


No Longer Human is the story of the narrator finding lost journals from a man named Oda Yozo, and following him through his struggles at simply existing around human beings. Yozo has never felt he fit in with the world, let alone just the space he occupied. He was easily taken advantage of and quickly found himself in barely escapable failures.

The novel is a complicated one, at first reading like little more than a depressing tragedy of a time where mental health care didn’t exist at all, resulting in the sad existence of Yozo. I actually had to read this a few times for the words to sink in, and upon re-reading, feel that the true meaning of the story is to be more aware of the people around us. It’s a story about loneliness and how that feeling is exacerbated when you can’t understand the social cues that berate you every waking moment. The lines about depression, about what it means to long for non-existence as opposed to outright death (which is the way I personally read it – suicidal ideation over suicidal intention). Yet our protagonist is so overwhelmed and sad that his ideations actually become failed truths again and again and again.

In a weird way, I find this novel surprisingly comforting in that it gives voice to some very real feelings that I’ve had to deal with myself. While I was reading a translation, I feel that Donald Keene did an incredible job of capturing Dazai’s essence and his emotion in the words and one day I really do hope that my Japanese reaches the point where I can read the original.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book to a single person I know, it is just so touching and important to me.