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Yasutaka Tsutsui began his career as a science fiction writer. Since then he has distinguished himself as a unique figure in Japanese literary history, producing a variety of works ranging from pure literature to popular novels. Tsutsui has maintained a relationship with Azuma since endorsing the selection of his Ontological, Postal (Sonzaironteki, yubinteki, 1998) for the Mishima Yukio Prize as a member of the selection committee, taking part in a number of published discussions. The present discussion took place on the occasion of the reprinting of Tsutsui’s recent Stigmata (Seikon, 2013), to which Azuma contributed a commentary.
Azuma read Stigmata as a kind of chronicle of postwar Japan, and asked Tutsui how it captures postwar Japanese society. Tsutsui replied, “all the tragedies, including the recent Tohoku earthquake, were minor when compared to the war.” War is as beautiful and riveting as it is tragic, and has the capacity to captivate many people emotionally. In Stigmata wherein the protagonist is a boy who had been castrated when an infant, Tsutsui sought to experiment with the depiction of the manner in which an individual or a society lives without desire as an allegory of postwar Japan.
Azuma noted that one of the enduring characteristics of Tsutsui’s works is the sadness of their characters who realize the futility of their actions and their feeling of powerlessness. Tsutsui acknowledged that the expression of powerlessness is an important theme. Azuma analyzed that he expressed this as slapstick comedy in his early work, and as metafiction since his middle period. It was Virtual Men (Kyojintachi, 1981), where the characters in the novel struggle with the knowledge that they only exist within a fiction and tr y to live happily in vain, that served as a turning point.
Tsutsui’s latest work Domain of Monad (Monado-no ryoiki, 2015) features a transcendental figure that goes by the name “GOD” whose vision penetrates the structure of the world. W hen asked why he chose God as his theme in the novel, Tsutsui confessed that though he himself was not a person who believed, he always sensed that someone different from the gods of all the existing religions was watching him from above. Azuma suggested that Tsutsui’s metafiction flowed from this quasi-theological sensibility.
Lastly, Azuma highlighted Tsutsui’s history of traversing genres as an actor and musician. The diversity of Tsutsui’s artistic activities has greatly contributed to bringing a diverse and varied imagination to literature, and thus enriching the tradition of Japanese literature.