Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dazai’s criticism of society was often a parody; Donald Keene has compared him to the gesaku writers of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), who wrote comical farces. Although he writes of life on the edge of survival and his feelings of despair, there is an appealing bohemian romanticism in Dazai’s writing. As personal as his stories seem, Dazai did not write purely autobiographically. Like most writers, he built on his experiences and adorned them; for example, his collected writings include five versions of his first suicide attempt in 1930. Even a story such as “Eight Views of Tokyo,” which appears to be straight autobiography, is a complex weave of fact and invention.

Particularly noteworthy in this story is the handling of chronology. The opening scene shows Dazai in the mountain village where he has gone to write; he worries that he may be unable to write anything, that he will run out of money. The bulk of the story rehearses his past, with the conclusion looping neatly back to the beginning, until the reader realizes that this story is itself the “writing” that Dazai was planning in the opening paragraphs. This technical device conveys very effectively the writer’s perception of his own life as “material”—a perception that, in Dazai’s case, was unusually strong. Thus, style and theme work together: The method of telling the story reinforces the theme of “writing in order to live.”