Masuji Ibuse The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To appreciate [Lieutenant Lookeast] fully it is necessary to have some knowledge of the background of Japanese modes of life and thought. Moreover, several of these pieces are not so much short stories in the accepted sense as character or descriptive sketches, evoking people, an atmosphere and a place. Looked at in this light, however, they have a brilliance and humour which is frequently memorable.

The title story, written in 1950, describes the peculiar behaviour in a postwar Japanese village of a former lieutenant of the Imperial Japanese Army and tells of the ironic circumstances in which he lost his sanity in Malaya during the Second World War. The writing is satirical, at times biting, yet understanding of human foibles. It is also an outstanding piece of characterization which underlines the fact, sometimes forgotten these days, that a large proportion of the junior officers in the old Imperial Army were of peasant stock and had a narrow educational background. This made for both fanatical loyalty, harshness of behaviour and inflexibility.

By far the longest tale, taking up almost half of the book, is "Tajinko Village", written in the form of a diary, covering some six months, of a village policeman shortly before the outbreak of the Pacific war. While the emphasis is on petty crime, the narrative gives a sympathetic picture not only of the village people but also of the policeman, aged about thirty, who in spite of a limited education has to act much of the time as a mediator and counsellor in village squabbles. Another story, the brief "Pilgrim's Inn", has a haunting quality; "Old Ushitora", on the other hand, displays Ibuse's gently mocking humour at its best.

"Village Vignettes," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1971; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3641, December 10, 1971, p. 1560.