Mitsuyo Kakuta, one of Japan’s most widely read and revered female authors, has a new full-length novel out in hardback, Silver Night (Gin no Yoru), as well as two anthologies. Soji Shimada, Japan’s so-called Man of Mystery and Randy Taguchi, also have new books out.
As well as being consistently popular, Kakuta in particular is in high demand. Her newly penned work The Talents (Taranto) is currently being published in serial form in the morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun, a major national Japanese newspaper. Prior to its launch in the newspaper last year, Kakuta had dedicated herself to updating the Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji, which is said to be the world’s oldest novel.
Kakuta re-imagined and refined this lengthy tale into a three volume series for a new generation of Japanese readers. A herculean task that is often-bestowed upon one of the leading writers of each generation.
Her newly published novel, Silver Night, the first full-length work of fiction by Kakuta to be published in book form for five years was published in November last year by Kobunsha. Interestingly, it was also initially published as a serial in the magazine, VERY, a fashion and lifestyle magazine targeting women in their 30s.
Silver Night is a tale about three women in their 30s (Chizuru, Mayumi and Itoko), who had all previously been in a band that made its national debut while the three were still high-school students, struggling to make their way in life with their band days now firmly behind them.
Silver Night was published in VERY 15 years ago when Kakuta, now in her 50s, was trying to further cement her writing success – a path she first embarked on after making her writing debut at the age of 19, when her first work was shortlisted for a newcomers prize run by a famous Japanese literary journal.
Kakuta who had put the work aside and forgotten about it, re-read the narrative a year or so ago, and was taken aback by it. She had written Silver Night after winning the Naoki Prize in 2005, one of Japan’s most important literary awards, for her work Woman on the Shore (Taigan no kanojo) and had not given it much thought since.
Kakuta expected that re-visiting her past like this would make her want to tinker with the text and the characters and their concerns. But surprisingly, she found a narrative world she couldn’t re-enter, one distinct from her present self.
Unexpectedly, the characters hadn’t taken on a new life and Kakuta says she felt there was a “completeness” to her work, which meant there was no need to develop the characters or revisit or re-imagine their anxieties and complex relationships.
She concluded that their world, captured in her 15-year-old narrative, should be retained for readers with only minor editorial changes and not re-interpreted from the perspective of a much more experienced author in her 50s revisiting the past.
That said, Silver Night was in fact written during a period when Kakuta had decided to move away from pure literary fiction and focus more on the narratives of her tales than on the words and prose contained within her writing. This is something she has done with enormous commercial success. And perhaps unsurprisingly initial feedback following the re-publication of Silver Night in book form has been very encouraging.
The recently published works by other Red Circle authors include: Shimada’s A Certain Knight’s Story (Aru kishi no monogatari) published in Futaba Bunko’s collection Express Train Tickets to Tragedy: Railway Mystery Masterpieces (Showa JNR Volume II). Highlighting yet again the myriad and many popular links between Japan’s famous trains and railways and the nation’s literature.
One Love Chigusa by Shimada, the master of postmodern Japanese whodunits famous for his bestselling locked-room mysteries, was published last year in the newly commissioned series of ‘English-First’ works Red Circle Minis, translated by Sir David Warren, a former British Ambassador to Japan.
And a paperback (bunko) edition of Taguchi’s A Man Hung Upside Down (Sakasa ni tsurusareta otoko) about the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attacks by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth) was published in February this year.
The new Kakuta anthologies include: Personal Reading and Culinary Log (Shiteki Dokushokuroku), a collection that explores taste – literary and gastronomic – in many different rich and delightful forms and combinations; and Bike Riding: The Outdoors and Literature (Jitensha ni notte: Autodoa to bungei), a collection of tales linked by the theme of cycling.
Personal Reading and Culinary Log published by Shinchosha in November last year in bunko, paperback format, is a collection of 100 food related essays and reviews alongside extracts and passages by well known authors and poets such as Kotaro Takamura (1914-1938), Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), John Steinbeck (1902-1968) and Teru Miyamoto selected and written by Kakuta and Toshiyuki Horie who like Kakuta, is a winner of multiple literary awards, including the Akutagawa, Mishima and Tanizaki prizes.
Many readers have commented online about how enjoyable and interesting a “literary menu” it makes, with its interplay between the two authors, who have distinct flavours and styles, combined with the ability to sample the prose of different renowned authors.
It has encouraged many to head off to the library or to a bookstore to revisit or read for the first time some of the titles the extracts are from. Perhaps making Kakuta and Horie’s celebration of food, Personal Reading and Culinary Log, the perfect literary smorgasbord for many Japanese readers.
The collection Bike Riding: The Outdoors and Literature, published on Christmas day last year in hardback (tankobon) by Kawade Shobo includes works by Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), Sakutaro Hagiwara (1886-1942), Hiroshi Manade (1932-2000), Shion Miura and Motoyuki Shibata, as well as Kakuta.
Despite all the challenges, 2021 looks set to become another exciting and highly productive year for the curated group of Japanese authors, Red Circle.
- About Red Circle:Red Circle Authors Limited is a specialist publishing and communications company that conducts bespoke projects on behalf of a carefully selected and curated group of leading Japanese authors. Red Circle showcases Japan’s best creative writing. For more information on Red Circle, Japanese literature, and Red Circle authors please visit: www.redcircleauthors.com.