Masuji Ibuse Janet Burroway - Essay

Janet Burroway

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Masuji Ibuse, the author of Black Rain, writes of rural Japan in a style that can only be described by paradox: it is richly dry, profoundly diffident. The excellent short stories of Lieutenant Lookeast conform to no Western expectations of the tale. There is conflict but no resolution, sometimes a beginning but rarely an end. They are not 'slice-of-life', because they deal not with revealing routine but with crisis, which may be the humiliating sexuality of a cow, the madness of a veteran, the imprisonment of a salamander or the trials of a mild policeman in a violent village. In English short stories these crises would most likely be 'turning points'; in Ibuse they simply pass out of range, usually with an irrelevant, and therefore significant, comment on the encompassing landscape. 'Yosaku the Settler' in particular reminds me of the ballet technique of Merce Cunningham, in which expectations are aroused in the audience for the purpose of denying them. We follow the background and the interrogation of a poor settler who is denounced as an insolent evildoer for having stored yams in a sacred tomb, and at the same time assured that he has a cultural debt to the nation to let more scrupulous scholars know what it looks like. But Ibuse severely neglects to tell us whether Yosaku ever achieved the glory of this interview, and even what sentence was passed on him; he reverts, briefly, to the less dramatic and more important injustice of the village that disappeared because it had no place to store its potatoes. John Bester, who produced this supple translation, begins his introduction by observing that Ibuse is an acquired taste [see excerpt above]. I think most readers will acquire it in half a dozen pages. (p. 370)

Janet Burroway, "Limping Westward," in New Statesman (© 1971 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 82, No. 2113, September 17, 1971, pp. 369-70.∗