Page 45 Review by Publisher Blurb
"I realised that I was dying
and that I was going to go to hell.
"The bottom of the abyss, the one place I wished not to go.
"My body felt heavy.
"It was no doubt because of this weight that my body was descending.
"I understood the cause of the heaviness.
"The ten misfortunes had always been packed away inside of me.
"If only I could vomit up these misfortunes, my body would become lighter
and I would be able to ascend to paradise.
"I had to hurry
"The first was the misfortunate of society. At most society was the individual
it was not worth fearing. I believed this, but when a crowd of individuals formed, the pressure increased tenfold, a hundredfold."
I found myself grimly fascinated by this disturbing tale of one man's gradual descent into madness and his astonishing ability to cause so much terminal collateral damage to others along the way, particularly to those many women that almost magnetically fell in love with him. It was actually made even more unsettling when I read a little about the original prose novel and the author himself.
Firstly, I find it somewhat astonishing, but perhaps not entirely surprising upon reflection, that the original book is Japan's second highest ever selling novel. For when you consider the apparent social strictures and seeming emotional claustrophobia of daily Japanese life, it is really so surprising that a work about an individual, albeit one undoubtedly substantially damaged in childhood by sexual abuse, entirely unable to feel at ease or fit in with even his family never mind anyone else, should prove so popular?
It's for good reason that one of the most common sayings in Japan is, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Similarly, I therefore mention as a curious aside, that the highest selling Japanese book is Kokoro by Natsume S?seki, primarily dealing with themes of isolation and guilt.
Anyway, what really perturbed me was that the work is seen very much as containing several autobiographical aspects, not least an obsession with suicide. In fact, Dazai took his own life shortly after the publication of the final part of the initially serialised work. Consequently it is viewed by many scholars as an attempt at justifying his life, and indeed I suppose, choice to die by his own hands.
There have, of course, been several other adaptations over the years, both on screen and also in manga form, some more faithful to the source material than others. Here, as far as I am aware, the only real twist (perhaps that should be spiral!) of his own that Ito has added is to introduce the main character ?ba Y?z? to the author Osamu Dazai himself in an asylum, whilst in the depths of Y?z?'s eventual, inevitable psychotic break.
They converse at length during Y?z?'s recovery over how their lives are so similar and indeed how there is even a character called ?ba Y?z? in the book (this book) which Dazai has already started. This meta conceit also allows Ito to include Dazai's subsequent suicide, further adding to the strangeness of it all. I guess that's classic Ito actually, based on his own horror works (for that is precisely what this is: pure horror), always finding a way to take the already odd to a deeper, even more bizarre level. It works actually, all too well...
But before the asylum sequence, the tragic, terrifying story of ?ba Y?z? gradually unfolds, page by ever more devastating page, first from the confused child, through troubled adolescent, into seemingly helpless destroyer of others. If much, or indeed just some, of what is contained in this work is autobiographical, I can understand why the author was burdened with guilt and shame over his actions to the point of suicide.
I think what in part makes this such a compelling read is that ?ba Y?z? never sets out intending to hurt someone, but even when it becomes manifestly apparent that his actions, or frequently inactions, are doing so, he is utterly incapable of stopping or changing his behaviour. He doesn't even really try, primarily attempting to wilfully ignore situations that are becoming ever more precarious to people he apparently cares deeply about, simply to avoid any sort of emotional confrontation.
He does appear to believe in love, and can at times demonstrate it himself, but he himself is never able to be happy for anything more than the most fleeting of occasional moments, thus inevitably sowing the seeds of the demise of another relationship, and individual, and another little part of his own soul which is then subsequently shredded and gone forever. Combined with an addictive personality and voracious appetite for drink and then drugs, it is a path that you would presume has only one possible destination. The only question being how many casualties will ?ba Y?z? cause en route. At least, that's what you would presume
I can't comment on how good an adaptation this is, due to not being familiar with the source material, I can only state it is an absolutely brilliant work in its own right. As someone who whilst enjoying Ito's work immensely (UZAMAKI, GYO, can find my enjoyment at times tempered by his tendency to amusing absurdism in his writing (entirely a personal thing, I appreciate that is the precise draw for others) the fact his enthusiasm is that particular direction is constrained by the source material here is a good thing. For me at least anyway, others may very well disagree.
However, there is certainly plenty in the material for Ito to express himself fully visually, with ?ba Y?z?'s frequent visions of demons and apparitions of his 'victims', plus that truly mind-bending extended descent into hell sequence, the opening of which I began this review with, which is as close as ?ba Y?z? ever comes to truly confronting his own demons.
Yes, the master of body horror certainly doesn't hold back with his artistic endeavours here
I think perhaps it is the depiction of the real life individuals in their deranged states which are the most disturbing of all and therefore, although I realise it probably refers to ?ba Y?z? alone, it must be said that the book is perfectly titled