Tag Archives: survivor guilt

Medoruma Shun’s Akutagawa Prize-winning novella “Droplets”

Medoruma Shun won the Akutagawa Prize in 1997 for Suiteki (水滴 A Drop Of Water, translated by Michael Molasky as “Droplets“). Owing perhaps a little to Kafkza’s “Metamorphosis,” it is a work of Okinawan “magical realism.” Fifty years after the epic carnage of the Battle of Okinawa, a veteran named Tokushô wakes up one morning unable to move or speak with his right shin grotesquely bloated, resembling a gourd melon (tôgan). His hard-working wife Ushi is frustrated that she will have to do all the work in the fields. Convinced that villagers are experimented on in university hospitals, she refuses to allow their physician to have Tokushô admitted to one.

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The liquid that drips out between the big toe and its neighbor is analyzed as ordinary water. Every night ghosts (I use the word since they can go through walls, they are not labeled anything in the English translation) who were left to die in a cave by Tokushô and other wounded but ambulatory soldiers come and drink the droplets from his foot. His generalized survivor guilt it concentrated on Ishimine, a comrade from the same area of Okinawa to whom Tokushô promised to bring water, but didn’t. Ishimine’s ghost does not speak, but Tokushô feels forgiven before the swelling subsides and he is able to move and speak again.

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POW on Okinawa, 1945 (in public domain)

Tokushô’s cousin, Seiyû, who strikes me as a sort of minor league Milo Minderbender, discovers that the drippings can stimulate the growth of hair and also cure impotency and, unbeknownst to Tokushô or Ushi, makes a small fortune selling bottles of the drippings. The effects prove to be only temporary and the hustler is set upon by those who bought “miracle water” from him.

 

In common with Medoruma’s masterful novel In the Woods of Memory (first published in Japanese in 2009, just published in English), “Droplets” shows the agonies of 1945 still festering half a century later and also shows rural Okinawans as being far from noble or innocent (though those in “Droplets” do not behave as badly as the bullies and serial rapists of Woods). I find the characters less developed (though taking up equivalent space on pages) in “Droplets,” and the novella more interesting as phenomenon than as literature. I did not find it “engaging,” as Akutagawa jude Kôno Taeko did.

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

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Overstuffed 1959 Kinoshita movie: “Thus Another Day”

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It’s difficult to guess why a director as experienced as Kinoshita Keisuke was by 1959 would try to jam so many storylines into a 74-minute movie as he did in “Kyô mo mata kakute ari nan” (Thus Another Day). What I think is the main storyline involves a couple very strapped for cash to support themselves and their young and very bratty and very materialistic son, Kazuo (Nakamura Kanzaburô). Satô Shôichi (Takahashi Teiji) has the bright idea of renting out their house for two months to an executive in the company for which he works. His wife, Yasuko (Kuga Yoshiko), goes home to her parents, taking the brat, who enjoys being able to swim in the ocean and to play with the daughter (I thought her name was Yokô, but from the credit list guess that it was Noriko), the daughter of a WWII veteran, Tetsuo Mori (Tamura Takahiro with none of the bravado of the flight commander bombing Pearl Harbor that he played in “Tora! Tora! Tora!”), who is hobbled by survivor guilt. He broods on having sent many better men to their deaths and wishes that having failed to die for the Emperor (or Empire), and regrets that he was not executed as a war criminal. (He does not seem to have committed any war crimes, btw.)

Yasuko is concerned that her newfound, melancholy friend will kill himself. Trying to avoid plot spoiling, let me say that he goes into battle against some young thugs who have been tormenting an attractive (to the local girls) sometimes singer (there seemingly had to be a repeated folk song in a Kinoshita movie!), named Gorô (Kosaka Kazuya).

When he comes to visit his wife and son, Shôichi spends most of his time playing mahjong with the bored wife of the company’s managing director (Sano Shûji), who appreciates the ambitious employee (rather than feeling any jealousy: who knows what he is enjoying while his wife is stowed away on the coast?).

There are way too many characters sketched. There is an opaque seemingly yakusa-ordered killing of a woman who knew too much (though I have no idea what she knew or if she threatened to reveal anything about the yakusas) executed in a manner with a relatively low probability of succeeding. I don’t know how or even whether the young thugs are connected to the vacationing yakusa chief. Seeing that Gorô has the same family name at Mori Tetsuo, I guess he must be a nephew, since Tetsuo has no son. Etc. Confusing and overstuffed minor Kinoshita movie.

Kusuda Hiroshi’s cinematography is good, but not special in the 35th movie he shot for his brother-in-law.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray