Monday, 26 January 2009

Edogawa Rampo


As I've mentioned before (where were you? Well, you should rub something on it), this is the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe being born into our veil of tears, from which he departed a bit sharpish after writing some spiffing stories, some cracking poems, a brilliant bit of mystic cosmology, and a sort of novel

Now, there's this Japanese bloke, Taro Hirai, who took the name 'Edogawa Rampo' because it was as near as he could get to Edgar Allan Poe. Rampo was one of Japan's premier writers of detective fiction. Indeed, reading the only selection of his work I could find, it's clear that the side of Poe that influenced him most was the weird, psychological story. Rampo's work is very strange, but not actually supernatural. His stories tend to focus on the bizarre, improbable and downright loopy. Thus in 'The Hell of Mirrors', a man obsessed with his own reflection ends up inside a kind of giant mirrorball, which is not good for him. 'The Caterpillar' is about the wife of a hideously crippled war hero who torments and eventually mutilates him even more horribly. 'The Twins' is the story of a man who murders and then takes on the identity of his twin brother. And in 'The Cliff' a man and wife discuss the conspiracy that led to the death of her first husband, and reach a surprising conclusion. 

The one thing Rampo doesn't seem to have written is supernatural fiction, oddly enough. This is all the more surprising when you consider Japan's rich history of myth, folktale and ghost story. But perhaps the fashion of the time led Rampo to explore other avenues - a love of 'tales of mystery and imagination' does not, after all, confine an author to the ghostly or mystical.

Only a handful of Rampo's stories and two of his short detective novels seem to be available in English translation. There is also the film Horrors of Malformed Men, which is a surreal portmanteau production, cramming in a dozen or more Rampo tales, often drastically modified. I think it was banned for a while because some scenes are a tad naughty. 

So, there you have it. Another writer you might care to try. Personally I think Rampo is rather good, and the improbability of his plots is far outweighed by the cool, elegant skill with which he executes them. 

1 comment:

Todd T said...

Thanks for this, Dave. I've had a paperback collection of his called JAPANESE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION on my to-be-read pile for a while, but haven't started in. Didn't know about the movie, which sounds potentially interesting.