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Murder Most Modern

Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture

Sari Kawana
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttts6k1
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  • Book Info
    Murder Most Modern
    Book Description:

    The first book-length study of interwar Japanese detective fiction, Murder Most Modern considers the important role of detective fiction in defining the country’s emergence as a modern nation-state. Sari Kawana contrasts Japanese works by Edogawa Ranpo, Unno J za, Oguri Mushitar , and others with works by Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie to show how Japanese writers disseminated their ideas on the most startling aspects of modern life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5659-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Detective Fiction, Diphtheria, and Modernity
    (pp. 1-28)

    “Detective fiction,” declared the popular author Yumeno Kyūsaku (1889–1936) in 1935, “is like the serum for diphtheria.” Yumeno employed such an unusual metaphor to answer a nebulous question about one of the most popular genres of modern Japanese literature: “What istantei shōsetsu[detective fiction]?” Although works in this genre, with their dazzling plots and shocking secrets, have captivated the Japanese reading public since the late nineteenth century, the genre itself has defied rigid categorization and resisted strict definition. Within the same essay, Yumeno went on to elaborate the comparison:

    Detective fiction is like the serum for diphtheria. Injecting...

  6. 1. Tailing the Tail: How to Turn Paranoia into a Hobby
    (pp. 29-68)

    In a dark, quiet city street, a detective tails another man. The detective, with his Stetson pulled down over his eyes and the collar of his trench coat turned up, watches the man from the corners of his eyes. The man feels a presence behind him and looks back. The detective darts behind a pole. The man sees no one, thinks that it was his imagination, and walks on. The detective comes out of the shadows and continues to follow.

    A scene like this is business as usual for detective fiction. Normally, tailing (bikō) is but one technique a detective...

  7. 2. Eyeing the Privates: Sexuality as Motive
    (pp. 69-110)

    In Edogawa Ranpo’s 1930 work “Majutsushi” (The Magician), Hanazono Yōko, the daughter of a wealthy business owner, is kidnapped by a crazed killer. As amateur detective Tamamura Jirō, her fiancé, searches for her, he stumbles upon a bizarre show in a little theater:

    The tuxedo-clad emcee came on stage and delivered the prologue: “The next act is the most popular one of our troupe, a wondrous magic trick, something our leader learned while in Europe, the magic of taking apart a beauty (bijin kaitai jutsu). Our leader will cut up a beautiful woman, her arms, legs, and neck, then put...

  8. 3. Mad Scientists and Their Prey: Bioethics and Murder
    (pp. 111-146)

    Japanese detective fiction of the early twentieth century challenged its own generic norms by blurring the boundary between fiction and reality, between legitimate academic endeavor and vulgar thrill. Behind this haze at the periphery of detective fiction, the dichotomy between hero (detective) and villain (criminal), the genre’s central setup, was also being undermined. Prominent but deranged agents of science—such as research scientists, engineers, and doctors—started to appear more often as serial killers than as models of scientific morality. Such sinister representations of scientists are somewhat at odds with both the contemporary state ideology toward and the popular understanding...

  9. 4. Drafted Detectives and Total War: Three Editors of Shupio
    (pp. 147-185)

    In analyzing the difference between premodern and modern military campaigns, sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that modern warfare can be described as “total war,” in which every aspect of battle—including the organization of the army and the production of weapons—is touched by the principles of industrialization. As a result, victory depends on having abundant material as well as human resources for the long term: the side that first exhausts them loses.¹

    Japan first experienced this modern warfare in the late 1930s to 1945, when it found itself fighting battles on multiple fronts against the Allied powers. More than ever,...

  10. 5. The Disfigured National Body: Unmasking Modernity in Postwar Mysteries
    (pp. 186-218)

    Having exhausted its resources on fighting an all-out war on various fronts for more than a decade, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on August 15, 1945. Soon after, some expressed regret for not having done enough for the Emperor.¹ However, many others were elated at the news of the end of war and “hastened to remove the blackout paper from their windows, letting light back into their lives.”² Although peace came at a high price—with territorial, material, symbolic, and emotional losses—it was a welcome change for the Japanese population, which now had the chance to reflect on...

  11. Epilogue: Beyond the Whodunit
    (pp. 219-224)

    By the late 1940s, detective fiction once again was alive and well in Japan: the genre had rebounded from the war and enjoyed a renaissance in popularity. But the termtantei shōsetsuwas not so fortunate. This moniker, which had served the reading public well for decades, eventually gave way to the namesuiri shōsetsu(fiction of detection) in the postwar period. It could be argued, though, that this change of label is arbitrary and perhaps even misleading.

    The term was first used when Yūkeisha publishedSuiri shōsetsu sōsho(Selected Works of Fiction of Detection) in 1946 as part of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 225-250)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-272)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)