This is the 6th story in the collection of short stories (Rashomon & 17 other stories), by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (western style) which I hope to review as a complete book soon. In this tale Japan's greatest artist (Yoshilde) is given the task, by His Imperial Majesty, of creating a screen depicting visions of Buddhist hell. As an artist Yoshilde is obsessed to the point where he is quite happy taking sketches of rotten corpses found by the roadside or chaining up his assistants into tortuous positions just to get the right image. In fact the artist is so consumed by his art, nothing else matters. Well almost, he has a daughter, a fair beauty, courteous & devoted to him, she is also the only constant outside art in his life. So Yoshilde works on the screen drawing & painting images.
"Oh that screen! I can almost see its terrifying images of hell before me now!
Other artists painted what they called images of hell, but their compositions were nothing like Yoshilde's. He had the ten kings of hell and their minions over in one corner, and everything else - the entire screen - was enveloped in a fire storm so terrible you thought the swirling flames were going to melt the mountain of sabres and the forest of swords....... These alone were enough to shock and amaze any viewer, but the sinners writhing in the hellfire of Yoshilde's powerful brush had nothing in common with those to be seen in ordinary picture of hell".
But the image for the centrepiece eludes him, no matter what he tries he can't get it right, he has the idea of a carriage plummeting through space, blasted by the winds of hell & in this carriage that's all ablaze, is a woman so beautifully costumed she must be a consort of his Highness. Yoshilde in his desperation to finish the screen asks his highness to create the image with one of his carriages & if possible.......
His Imperial Highness answers Yoshilde's request, but with a very high price & a twist that all those ten kings of hell would have applauded.
Hell Screen (地獄変, Jigokuhen ) is a short story written by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. It was originally published in 1918 as a serialization in two newspapers. In this review I am using the western style of writing his name, as in Japan it would be Akutagawa Ryūnosuke pronounced AK -Ta GA - WA with all the A's long as in father & DYU - NOSS -ke with equal stress on the first two parts & less on the ke, also the e's are short as in Kevin. The reason I am using the western style is purely convenience as this is how it appears on the edition I have, that being, the Penguin Classics " Rashomon and 17 other stories" this is translated by Jay Rubin & has an introduction by Haruki Murakami.
This review is for the October mini challenge (Hello Japan) on Tanabata's "In Spring it is the Dawn" blog. The challenge for the month of October is all things spooky & also Japanese, for more check out the In Spring it is the Dawn site which apart from the challenge is also a treasure trove of all things Japanese.