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Still Life and Other Stories by Junzo Shono

In an issue of Mangajin there was an interview with Wayne P. Lammers who translated this book. Wayne was one of the main translators for Mangajin. Anyway the interview was very good, and what he said about this book was intriguing enough for me to go out and get a copy. I was not disappointed.

The stories are ordinary enough, without any major action or typical plot line to speak of. However, there is an underlying tension to many of them that will keep many a reader on their toes. These creepy shadows under the surface reminded me a bit of Audition. I’m certainly not saying that if you enjoy this book you will like Audition (or vice versa). There is merely something similar between the two that I can’t quite put my finger on.

The ordinariness of it all (especially after the first couple stories–A Dance and Evenings at the Pool) may bore some readers. If so, I think those readers are missing the brilliance of Shono’s attention to detail, some of the underlying symbolism, and the Japanese mind. I suppose it probably helps, in appreciating this work, to have lived with the Japanese for an extended period of time.

The stories sound autobiographical. Given their content, I would guess that it would be rather awkward to have such stories published while you are still alive, especially in a country like Japan. Your neighbors could just read your books to find out intimate details of your life and marriage. It’s sort of like having your personal, unedited journals, that you wouldn’t even show a spouse (perhaps especially wouldn’t show a spouse), published for the general public’s eyes to see. 

Shono seems like he has many regrets or things he feels guilty about. He doesn’t usually say this, but they come through in the writing, especially the symbolic aspects. At the same time, he seems to do the things he implies he doesn’t do enough (spend time with his kids, pay attention to his wife, think about why he does things rather than just go along with the crowd with a salaryman mindset) much more than the average Japanese male.

We all can learn a lot from Junzo Shono. He teaches us about life, about examining life and what is really important, in a way that is completely non-preachy. His method is subtle, but the messages are clear. Thanks be to Wayne Lammers for bringing Shono’s writings to the English speaking world.

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