By Rie Tagawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriteBullseye!
By Yasutaka Tsutsui
Translated by Andrew Driver
Kurodahan Press, 225pp
Encountering the unrealistic characters in “Bullseye!,” a collection of 20 short stories written by Yasutaka Tsutsui at different points in his life, you might be puzzled, interested or even disgusted. Welcome to the bizarre world of Tsutsui, one of the nation’s leading sci-fi novelists and a writer of metafiction.
The 83-year-old Osaka native started his career in the 1960s and has produced dozens of novels and other works of literature over the past six decades. His works have won awards including the Tanizaki Junichiro Prize in 1987, the Yomiuri Bungaku-sho prize in 2000 and the Kikuchi Kan Literary Award in 2010. He is also known as an actor.
Perhaps his best-known work is “Toki o Kakeru Shojo,” a sci-fi story about a 15-year-old schoolgirl who gains the ability to leap back and forth in time. It has been published in English as “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” and has had multiple drama, anime and movie adaptions.
However, his talent is better expressed in slapstick comedies and experimental, crazy — sometimes nonsensical — metafiction that aims to break the taboos of modern society.
“There was a clock on the dining room table. It worshipped me. Clocks are funny things, but a clock worshipping a person is simply ridiculous.”
So begins the title story in “Bullseye!” The protagonist is an old man apparently suffering from dementia. The disease makes patients behave differently from ordinary people, but how he behaves is more different still. Identified only as “I,” he leaves his house to “give a lecture at the university,” and steals a handgun from a police box where he asks for directions, as the weapon was on the desk “asking to be stolen.”
He then starts wandering around in search of prey, intruding into a community center where a lecture on “The Tale of Genji” is being held. Making the original speaker faint, he gives an awkward lecture in which he claims the tale written more than 1,000 years ago is highly regarded today because “readers are all fools.” It is appreciated not for readers’ desire to read it, but because of “social forces that transform reading into a moral duty,” he says. He eventually takes out his gun, pointing it at the audience.
The speaker later regains consciousness and says, “Was it you who stood in for me?” and “It was like you were expressing my innermost thoughts. I can’t thank you enough.”
Here is a hint of why Tsutsui’s works are so attractive for many people. We know everyone has a dark side — it could be called madness — but hides it in daily life to avoid trouble. You might want to fire a gun or abuse somebody in public. But doing such things is, of course, not allowed in modern society. In contrast, the characters in his stories do whatever they want to do and say whatever they want to say. Maybe readers unleash their frustrations by exploring Tsutsui’s imaginary world without taboos.
It might sound like he only writes violent and crazy stories, but he is also a great writer in terms of entertaining readers. You will no doubt enjoy the mysterious short story “The Onlooker,” as it has an unexpected and funny twist.
Where to Read
Somewhere in a Martian colony in the year 2250, where the story “Zarathustra on Mars” takes place