Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Hellscreen.

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.......

hellscreen

 

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.

HelloJapan

7 comments:

Shellie - Layers of Thought said...

Ah hah.... this is the link you were talking about... somehow your link went to the last post....

Novroz said...

This sounds interesting, I haven't read anything by asutakawa yet...since this is my kind of read, I will try to find this book in the library.

parrish lantern said...

Hi Novroz this is a really good read, apart from hellscreen, theres horselegs which is a story about someone who dies (but its a mistake) so he's sent back to earth but there's a problem with his legs, so they are replaced with horses.Then There's the tale about the man whose head fell off.

Bellezza said...

The versions of Hell, which I believe to be a very real place, are so interesting as one looks at all the religions. I'm reading Infidel with one of my Book Clubs, and the Muslim idea does not differ much from the Christian one (although our faiths are quite different). Both consider it to have quite a bit of burning and suffering. The 'cartoons' you posted are horrific as well. It seems no one thinks it a safe place to be.

parrish lantern said...

yes, not a good place & Ryūnosuke through the character of Yoshilde, really makes you feel the flames.

tanabata said...

I read a different anthology of Akutagawa's stories (including Rashomon, In a Grove and only 4 other stories) a little while ago, and Hellscreen wasn't one of them. I have since got the Penguin Classics edition and look forward to reading more of Akutagawa.
Thanks for taking part in the Hello Japan! mini-challenge! :)

parrish lantern said...

hopefully you'll love hellscreen, in my review I concentrated on the horror(Halloween challenge) & in part neglected some of the finer details & the interaction between certain of the characters. so enjoy this tale in all its glory.Thanks, parrish.