Doc (D) and Reiko (R)

“Sounds like a Catholic kind of story…”

D: So, I like this book. It’s short. That’s not why I liked it, but it’s short. Why did you decide to choose this book?

R: This story? Because I found this story to be packed with so much good stuff. It gives you an image of… like the last scene…it’s stayed with me forever. So, this author is known to be depressing. Not many people know he can write a story quite like this. I believe I read in an afterword at some point that he may have been writing this for himself because he wanted to be healthy again and wanted to end his alcohol and drug addiction.

D: Sounds like a Catholic kind of story, if you will. He’s trying to motivate himself out of his own funk. Is this based on something that happened to him?

R: Yes, I believe so. His novels are usually based on his own experience. This style is called semi-autobiographical.

D: Ah. It’s kinda’ like my “Rapt in Indigo” story.
You said people thought he can’t, or couldn’t write this kind of story. What do you mean?

R: His most famous story is called “Human Lost” and it’s about him going downhill, and I think it begins with: “I’m sorry I was born,” Or, maybe, the story starts with something like… “I’ve spent a shameful life…”

D: Okay, that’s an attractive start.

R: Hehehe. Yeah, but many people actually like this story. It’s his most widely read story. People relate to it.
I find him humorous. He has good humor. I mentioned before that he makes me laugh out loud while reading…

D: You like stories that make you laugh.
These older stories…they can kind of ferret a laugh out you. It’s kind of fun right?

“…you were able to capture the visual moment that you seem to like in books like Yoko Ogawa’s.”

R: I have a question. Because your reading of the story came first through my translation – in my words, did you still find it beautiful?

D: Yes, absolutely. You think I wouldn’t after your translation?

R: Because you haven’t read the Japanese original version, and I always wonder when you read a translated version, can that special element be transferred? Can it still impress you?

D: Certainly, because the emotion is retained in translation. I guess you do a good job. The whole last page…I remember when I first read it, it was moving. I could see it. So, you were able to capture the visual moment that you seem to like in books like Yoko Ogawa’s. You like that visual. I think you try to focus on that maybe as you’re translating it, and I definitely see that woman hopping and twirling as you were searching for that last word. You were like “what do you call this thing?” and you were dancing in front of me to show me how…

R: Hehehe, in the subway station.

D: Is that where you were doing it? Skipping?

R: Yes.

D: Yeah, the emotion definitely comes through. I would not enjoy the story, nor would I enjoy translating it, if you weren’t able to get it to the point where I wanted to do the work, so… hopefully people like what we put together as a result.

 “One of the last words was what unlocked the key.”

R: We also may have done a decent analysis of Dazai’s belief in God and how he was questioning his belief… it came back to him in the end, though…

D: Seems like it. I think that part of the story would not have come to me… if we got it right… had you not mentioned his past in dealing with religion, wrestling with being an alcoholic, whatever his problem was… and trying to pull apart that last word. One of the last words was what unlocked the key.

R: I was excited about it. How did we find out?

D: You said you were puzzled by the use of the word…

R: Sashigane.

D: When I asked you to explain what it meant, you pulled up the dictionary and went through the definitions and we settled in on this idea of “marionette”… “puppeteer”… then we hopped from marionette to the Mother Mary. A connection! You mentioned religion… one God… and somehow you redirected us back to this idea of…
So, the word meant that someone was manipulating something behind the scenes, right? You were saying he was being manipulated into seeing this beauty—and the good things… and I started to think, oh, maybe he’s saying that she is manipulating him back on course to this other idea where… (because you told me earlier he really liked this idea of a “God view”) … and… he mentioned that in the story right?

R: Yes.

D: But he was swayed a little bit by the simplicity of the other guy and the wife. “Good” and “bad.”

R: Yeah. The wife who was the cause of the problem as he saw it… So, he was drunk… He came into the room drunk… and he’s kind of acting as though… Oh! I’m realizing now, as I’m saying this… the doctor can kind of be an evil thing! Like a cute little evil thing with a… hammer… no… a fork… no… a pitchfork! Saying “drinking is good, drinking is good…” And on the other side is the wife, the good angel, saying, “oh, don’t drink, play bridge with me,” smiling at them.

D: Yeah this is the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other shoulder. So, she is playing the role of angel to his devil in her husband’s world in a way. She’s trying to protect her husband. Interesting.

R: I liked that he (Dazai) described her (the wife) as being not beautiful in a traditional sense. Not physically beautiful—but he sees her as being beautiful because her heart is beautiful. And that’s symbolized by her fair skin. I think he’s aiming at that angel image.

D: The other woman… he is describing her somewhat in a similar fashion—angelic like. He points out her physical features almost like nonchalantly. He brings it up because he has to describe her. He wants to lay contrast to her personality, which is the bigger part of her.

R: So, this woman is laughing and has a good quality; healthy and bright.

D: You said that a lot actually, healthy… healthy is… he doesn’t quite implicitly state, “being healthy,” but you seem to keep coming back to that. Why?

R: Because of my knowledge, I know he (Dazai) was always unhealthy, and to contrast that, I think he paints this woman as having a healthy mind. The health is implied in the story because her husband is sick; he fought and won the battle. So it’s a… he’s on the way to his recovery. Wishful. He’s also wishing that he (Dazai) be healthy in mind and also in body.

“Their ideas are often more universal, whereas Dazai’s concepts tend to be unique.”

D: Does this story end with this story? Or is there a prior story to it, or an after-story?

R: No, it’s just this story.

D: And there’s no theme. I mean, you said he writes about being drunk all the time. Are there other stories like this where maybe he’s saying… creating a story that is one where… he wants help? Or, where he’s calling attention to his own problem?

R: Many books, actually.

D: Talking about being drunk?

R: Yeah, “Human Lost” is all about how shameful his life has been.

D: Was he popular when he was younger?

R: Yeah, many people relate to him, because he wasn’t afraid of showing his weakness. His naïveté was, to some people, attractive.

D: Do you think people react to him in the same way today?

R: Yes, some concepts of his are very unique and difficult to get across to a foreign audience. He’s big in Japan. He is quite different from Soseki Natsume or Haruki Murakami who are well received outside of Japan.

D: They’re very abstract.

R: Yeah, or easier to translate. Their ideas are often more universal, whereas Dazai’s concepts tend to be unique.

D: I think this concept is universal, the concept of feeling that you’ve lost your control of your own health and character in a sense. But what’s difficult about this, as I see at least, is he’s wrapping that weakness in a story that has nothing to do with him, but everything has to do with him, perhaps. And you need to infer that. And that’s what we hoped to do, I think, with this book… especially at the end.
How many times have you read this book?

R: At least ten times.

D: And it took one more reading and me and you pulling it apart to kind of get this thing we think we got at the end, so it would be lost on many. People may read this story (if we simply translated it and didn’t think deeply about it) and if the reader didn’t know his background, they’d miss a lot of the depth of the story.

R: Yes that’s so true. So translating this one actually really helped me as well. And, breaking it down and talking about it with you helped me even more.

D: Yes absolutely.

R: You have a good knowledge of Christianity.

D: Yeah hahaha that’s right. My Catholic/Christianity background. Yes, it was drilled into me.

“That’s why I really admire authors from this era, they took their work super-seriously…”

R: And the last thing, about marionette… the origin of the word… I was amazed that if that was his intention… if he knew his word, sashigane, was translated to mean marionette, and that marionette could be related to Christianity (as in the Mother Mary), he must have been a genius.

D: That’s what I was thinking when we were stumbling on that… if he inserted that difficult to decipher word to send you down this course of “marionette”… I mean, he wouldn’t think people would do this kind of investigation, but if he was like crafting it in reverse that way, that’s really amazing.

R: That’s why I really admire authors from this era, they took their work super-seriously like Picasso, or the great painters, Da Vinci is a good example; he liked hiding mysteries in his paintings, in a painting he hid so many mysteries and people are still trying to interpret the meaning. That’s what the great artists do.

D: There is a word for that too that I don’t recall in story writing, or in gaming, maybe… (which might be taken from something else). There’s this idea with game creators where they hide a gold piece in a game, and if you unlock it… they just made a movie about it…“Ready Player One!” Did you see that movie? It’s this whole concept… it’s amazing in that movie. You bury little treasures basically that lead to the next treasure.

R: And imagine those people didn’t have any computers, or programs, so all they did was just write on paper day after day. Their brain must have been very big and creative, and always thinking.

D: That’s probably part of the problem for writers too. Too much thinking. These guys need to mute that with alcohol sometimes. A lot of these big well-known guys had problems with alcohol. Turns down the noise.

R: Brains are like muscle. If you are using it all the time it develops into a huge brain and you become super-smart.

“I love that sentence just before the last passage.”

D: Very cool. So do you have any other favorites you like of his?

R: Um, so the next one actually, the Mount Fuji one, is also my favorite. If we can, although it’s longer, I want us to work on it for sure in the future.

D: That’s the “Arrow” one, right?

R: Arrow one? Oh, the “Arrow” one is not by Dazai. Its author is Atsushi Nakajima. I’d like to translate that as well.

D: Does Dazai have a presence in current media at all? Do a lot of people still talk about him? You said people like him still. Has there ever been any movies about him?

R: Yes, “Human Lost” was made into a movie.

D: Oh really? Is that a short book?

R: That’s about this size…

D: The movie was made a long time ago? In the 70s?

R: No, recently. “Ningen Shikkaku,” means “You Failed as a Human” … “Human Lost.”

D: Did it do well?

R: I’m not really sure.

D: Did you see it?

R: No…

D: Why not?

R: I don’t really go watch movies that are based on books because I like books more.

D: (Laughing)… cool. Anything else you want to cover on this?

R: Why don’t you wrap up?

D: I thought this was a cool story. I liked that it was light and deep at the same time. And I like that you added some of your own feeling and interpretation to it. I like your use of, (whether you are translating directly or not), declarative language. Like at the very end. I love that sentence just before the last passage. I loved the way you called people “the wife.” In some way as I’m seeing it now, at least, you’re honoring the plainness or vagueness of Japanese. But as I come to understand Japanese more, it makes complete sense to me. Right? As it’s translated into English it’s a neat feel. It’s an older feel. In a way, the way the man would refer to a woman back then… “that woman” …”the wife.” It’s very much how we might have described in English someone’s wife, back then, we wouldn’t add these polite modifiers that we have right now, we were in a sense, more direct. So, I like it. I like the way you did it.

R: So, if it’s more direct how, do you say it? Instead of, “the wife?”

D: I think the way you’ve done it has it being more direct, and with a bit less politeness, which I think is the way, it would be. And when it has less politeness, I feel you can place it in a time period. So I have to be careful as I’m translating not to over-modernize it as well, adding “like” … and even as I go through different drafts, I’ll probably remove contractions and things like that. You don’t really have a lot of contractions in there. I try to honor that. Japanese doesn’t really have… I mean… you have the use of “no” (の) for ownership, right? Yeah, I like the feel of it in the rhythm. You did a good job.

R: Thank you.

D: It’s a nice way to start this effort. I look forward to doing more of them. This is just the beginning… so that’s about all I’ve got for now. Thanks.