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Strange Tale of Panorama Island

Strange Tale of Panorama Island

Edogawa Ranpo
translated by Elaine Kazu Gerbert
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Strange Tale of Panorama Island
    Book Description:

    Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965) was a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and like Poe drew on his penchant for the grotesque and the bizarre to explore the boundaries of conventional thought. Best known as the founder of the modern Japanese detective novel, Ranpo wrote for a youthful audience, and a taste for playacting and theatre animates his stories. His writing is often associated with the era ofero guro nansense(erotic grotesque nonsense), which accompanied the rise of mass culture and mass media in urban Japan in the 1920s. Characterized by an almost lurid fascination with simulacra and illusion, the era's sensibility permeates Ranpo's first major work and one of his finest achievements,Strange Tale of Panorama Island (Panoramato kidan),published in 1926.Ranpo's panorama island is filled with cleverly designed optical illusions: a staircase rises into the sky; white feathered "birds" speak in women's voices and offer to serve as vehicles; clusters of naked men and women romp on slopes carpeted with rainbow-colored flowers. His fantastical utopia is filled with entrancing music and strange sweet odors, and nothing is ordinary, predictable, or boring. The novella reflected the new culture of mechanically produced simulated realities (movies, photographs, advertisements, stereoscopic and panoramic images) and focused on themes of the doppelganger and appropriated identities: its main character steals the identity of an acquaintance. The novella's utopian vision, argues translator Elaine Gerbert, mirrors the expansionist dreams that fed Japan's colonization of the Asian continent, its ending an eerie harbinger of the collapse of those dreams.Today just as a new generation of technologies is transforming the way we think-and becoming ever more invasive and pervasive-Ranpo's work is attracting a new generation of readers. In the past few decades his writing has inspired films, anime, plays, and manga, and many translations of his stories, essays, and novels have appeared, but to date no English-language translation ofPanoramato kidanhas been available. This volume, which includes a critical introduction and notes, fills that gap and uncovers for English-language readers an important new dimension of an ever stimulating, provocative talent.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3727-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Modern Japanese literature has traditionally been divided between “pure” or high literature, grounded in literary referentiality and “seriousness,” and popular literature, which appeals to more immediate sensory experience and incorporates elements such as mystery, suspense, and dramatic surprise. With the rise of mass culture in the 1920s, this distinction between high literature and popular culture began to blur. The era saw many works by “serious” writers that played upon readers’ love of suspense. Doubles and doppelgängers, visual illusions and deceptions, trickery and crime, and mental derangement and obsessions, brought to effect through the ingenious use of vision technologies, began to...

  5. Strange Tale of Panorama Island

    • 1
      (pp. 1-4)

      Few residents of M Prefecture may know of its existence. Located at the southernmost point of S County in M Prefecture, the island measures scarcely five miles in diameter and floats like a greenmanjūturned upside down, far from the other islands where I Bay opens out into the Pacific Ocean. It’s deserted nowadays. Nobody takes note of it, save for occasional fishermen who go ashore there on a whim. It stands alone in the wild sea at the tip of the cape, and unless the sea is calm, it’s risky for small fishing boats to approach it. What’s...

    • 2
      (pp. 4-9)

      The story begins in Tokyo, far from M Prefecture.

      In a student quarter located in the central district of the city, there was a typically squalid lodging house called the “Friendship House.” And in its shabbiest room dwelled a strange young man by the name of Hirosuke Hitomi. It wasn’t clear if he was a student or a vagrant, but he looked over thirty years old. He had graduated from a private university over ten years before construction work on Okinoshima began. He didn’t seek employment after graduation, and had no source of income, so he sponged off friends and...

    • 3
      (pp. 9-11)

      Well now, to return to the story. Hirosuke Hitomi was leading this purposeless, humdrum existence day by day when of a sudden, about a year before the works on the island that I mentioned before began, a wonderful piece of luck came about that marks the beginning of this story.

      It was an extraordinary circumstance, which cannot be summed up in the words “good fortune.” It was for him awesome and frightening, but also enchanting and fascinating, like a fairy tale. When he heard the good (?) news, he remembered something, and then experienced a strange joy that he had...

    • 4
      (pp. 11-16)

      One of the main things leading him to think up such an unheard of evil scheme was the fact that in M Prefecture, where the Komodas lived, cremation was generally not practiced. Members of the upper classes like the Komoda family were particularly averse to cremation and buried their dead instead. He knew this well, having heard about it from Komoda himself during their student days. The other reason was that Komoda had died during an epileptic fit. That also called forth certain memories.

      Hirosuke Hitomi, happily or unhappily, had previously been addicted to reading books on death by Hartmann,¹...

    • 5
      (pp. 16-18)

      Feeling as if all the blood in his body had collected in his head, he forgot all about the frightening aspects of the scheme he had been thinking of. Having spent days and nights thinking about his plan and refining it, he decided to put it into action.

      When he recalled it later, he would realize that his feeling at the time was akin to sleepwalking, and that though he was about to carry out his plan, he felt strangely empty, as if that great plan were some casual pleasure trip that he was setting out on. But somewhere in...

    • 6
      (pp. 19-23)

      His project was helped along by the fact that in the second-class cabin at the end of the boat there were only two other passengers, seemingly from the country. They were middle-aged men wearing serge kimonos and serge jackets; they had heavy-boned, sunburned faces and looked none too bright.

      Hirosuke Hitomi entered the cabin without saying anything and took a seat in the corner farthest away from the two men. He stretched himself out on a blanket provided by the steamship company. He pretended to nap, but of course he did not fall asleep. With his back turned toward them,...

    • 7
      (pp. 23-27)

      The man who until the night before had been Hirosuke Hitomi spent the following day in a cheap station inn in Ofuna. In the afternoon of the next day, choosing a train that would arrive in T City at nightfall, and in disguise, he joined a group of third-class passengers.

      Readers, I’m sure you’ve already noticed. He was frittering away precious time like this because he was waiting for the newspapers to find out if the performance of his suicide had achieved what he had intended. And now that he was at last making his way to T City, it...

    • 8
      (pp. 28-31)

      Although one could say that he was blinded by the prospect of immense wealth, the fact that the former Hirosuke Hitomi could withstand all these violent emotions was probably because, like all criminals, he suffered from a kind of psychosis. There was something wrong with his brain, and in certain situations his nerves were completely paralyzed.

      When the fearsomeness of a crime exceeds a certain degree, the same thing happens as when one closes one’s ears and cannot hear anymore. That is, one becomes deaf to one’s conscience, while the intelligence becomes unnaturally sharp, as keen as the edge of...

    • 9
      (pp. 31-35)

      An hour later, Hirosuke, pretending to have collapsed by the edge of the road after coming back to life from the grave and tottering a third of the way back home, was wrapped in a dirt-smeared shroud and lying in the shade of a bush in the woods. Having worked throughout the night without eating or drinking since the day before, his face looked sufficiently haggard, which made his playacting all the more convincing.

      His plan in the beginning had been to change into the shroud as soon as he got rid of the cadaver and to trace his way...

    • 10
      (pp. 35-38)

      He tenaciously kept up the discipline of silence for about a week. During that time he remained in bed in the master’s room with open eyes and ears, trying to understand the ways of the Komoda family, the characters of its members, and the ambiance of the household, and worked on himself to adapt to it. He lay motionless in bed, looking as if he were semiconscious, half-dead, but his head was running at full speed, sharply, fast but accurately, sending off sparks as it turned, as if he were racing a car at fifty miles per hour.

      The doctor’s...

    • 11
      (pp. 39-42)

      The fear that Chiyoko evoked in Hirosuke was fear of a kind that he could not describe, and it deepened as the days went by.

      Even during the week he was bedridden he was exposed to frightening dangers a number of times. For instance, one night he awoke suddenly from a horrible nightmare. The woman in his nightmare had been sleeping in the adjacent room but had come into his room at some point and was now quietly sobbing with her bewitching, loosened hair spread all over his chest.

      “ Chiyoko, Chiyoko, you needn’t worry so. Look at me. It’s...

    • 12
      (pp. 42-45)

      As he continued on this trip which delighted him in so many ways, Hirosuke pictured in his mind the figure of Chiyoko left at home on the estate—Chiyoko who aroused in him mixed feelings of fear and yearning. He felt the charm of her downy cheeks wet with tears in the depths of his being, and the lingering sensation of the touch of her two arms invaded his dreams at night and set his soul atremble.

      Because Chiyoko was Genzaburō’s spouse, it was natural for Hirosuke, who had become Genzaburō, to love her, and she certainly sought the same...

    • 13
      (pp. 45-48)

      But the wealth of the Komoda family which cut through many difficulties and bought everyone’s silence had no power over the love of Chiyoko. Even if Hirosuke was able to palliate her family with his usual tricks, there was no way for him to console Chiyoko; he could not deal with her sadness, which she herself could not handle.

      She could not understand the strange change in her husband’s temperament after he came back to life. She had no way of solving the enigma of his change, and she had no one to confide in. She could do nothing but...

    • 14
      (pp. 49-52)

      Hirosuke made up his mind to eliminate Chiyoko exactly four days later.

      For a time, Chiyoko harbored a feeling of hostility toward him. But, thinking it over, she asked herself: “Even if there were proof that he were not Genzaburō, could there be another person in this world who looks so much like him? Of course, if one combed through all of Japan, it’s not impossible that there would be someone who had exactly the same face. But even if there were such a look-alike, she could not imagine what trick or magic he had used to get out of...

    • 15
      (pp. 52-57)

      The strange honeymoon of the former Hitomi Hirosuke, who had become Komoda Genzaburō, and his wife Chiyoko, who in reality was not his wife, was really a remarkable joke of destiny. Thus they wandered about this earthly paradise, this so-called dreamland that Hirosuke had created.

      They were strongly attracted to each other, even though Hirosuke planned to eradicate Chiyoko and Chiyoko held Hirosuke in fear and suspicion. They felt each other out, and curiously this called forth sweet, kind feelings for each other without arousing mutual antipathy.

      It even happened that at times Hirosuke thought about abandoning his plan to...

    • 16
      (pp. 58-61)

      From the sea bed where a pile of rocks had rolled down, numerous brownish bags floated up toward the sky like airship gasbags arranged vertically. The movement of the water was making them sway.

      As she gazed, fascinated by the strangeness of the spectacle, before she knew it the water behind the bubbles was violently agitated by a huge, horrible creature that looked like a flying dragon of the kind that appears in old paintings. Plowing its way through the bubbles, the creature slowly crawled toward her.

      She felt as if she were being pulled by a magnet. She didn’t...

    • 17
      (pp. 61-65)

      Through this strange undersea trip, Chiyoko’s heart escaped the world of ordinary mortals and began wandering in an endless world of dreams.

      T City, the estate of the Komodas who lived there, her own family—all of this seemed to be no more than a dream she had had in the far past. Human bonds such as the ones that unite parents to their children, husbands to their wives, and masters to their servants disappeared from her consciousness like mist. An inhuman fascination that ate into her soul, and a deep yearning for the man before her (whether or not...

    • 18
      (pp. 65-70)

      “I will never be able to climb it” was the first thing Chiyoko said upon dismounting from the swan and stepping on land. She was very frightened.

      “Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as you think. I’ll give you my hand. Try climbing, it’s not at all dangerous.”

      “But . . .”

      Ignoring Chiyoko’s hesitation, Hirosuke took her hand and started to climb. Before she could protest they had already climbed some twenty steps.

      “You see, there’s nothing at all to be afraid of. Come on, we’re almost there.”

      They continued climbing, step by step. What was strange was that...

    • 19
      (pp. 70-77)

      The two rode on for a while under the foliage of the primeval forest, and as they moved deeper into it without an end in sight, Chiyoko wondered how they would be able to get out. She felt that she would not be able to retrace their path to the entrance, and she began to feel not a little uncomfortable entrusting their way to the indifferent donkeys.

      But stranger yet about the landscape of this island was the fact that it appeared one was going forward when in fact one was going backward, and it looked as though one were...

    • 20
      (pp. 78-83)

      What kind of strange trick was this? Or was Chiyoko just hallucinating again? From one landscape they passed through a brief darkness and then appeared in another landscape as if in a dream, and the times when they moved from dream to dream she had a vague, singularly strange feeling, as if she were riding the wind, or had lost consciousness.

      Each and every landscape was on a completely different plane. She felt that she had leapt from a third-dimensional world into a fourth-dimensional one, and before she could catch her breath, everything about the spot that she had been...

    • 21
      (pp. 83-88)

      Night came before they realized it.

      The milky sky turned dark with evening storm clouds, and soon ominous thunderheads were towering over the charming hills where hundreds of flowers bloomed in profusion. The turbulent human wave and the chorus disappeared like a receding tide, leaving Hirosuke and Chiyoko alone by themselves in the vapor that rose white in the dark night.

      They also suddenly realized that the women who had served as their lotus-flower throne had disappeared without a trace. Moreover, already that unusual, voluptuous music that had seemed to symbolize this universe could no longer be heard. Together with...

    • 22
      (pp. 88-91)

      “I don’t know to what extent you guessed my intention, you’re so intuitive. I imagine that you guessed quite a bit. But even you didn’t know that my scheme and my logic were as firmly rooted as they are.”

      At the very moment Hirosuke stopped talking, a bright-red firework colored the sky without falling. Hirosuke glared at her steadily with the visage of a red demon.

      “Let me go home. Let me go home,” begged Chiyoko, over and over, between sobs, forgetting all sense of propriety.

      “Listen to me, Chiyoko!” shouted Hirosuke to silence her.

      “Do you think I could...

    • 23
      (pp. 92-94)

      From that day on, Hirosuke Hitomi never returned to the Komoda residence in T City. As a resident of the land of the panoramas, and as the lord of this kingdom of folly, he would live forever on the island in the offing.

      “Chiyoko is the queen of this land of the panoramas. Without doubt she’ll probably never reveal herself again to the world of human beings. You’ve probably seen the land of statues that exists on this island, haven’t you? There are times when Chiyoko becomes one of that grove of dazzling naked statues. And when not that, then...

    • 24
      (pp. 95-104)

      Reader, should we here announce the happy ending of this fairy tale? Could Genzaburo Komoda, who was actually Hitomi Hirosuke, continue to immerse himself in the pleasures of this extraordinary land of panoramas like this until he was one hundred years old? No, no, not at all. After all, it’s the pattern in old-fashioned tales that right after the climax an intruder bearing a “catastrophe” is always on hand.

      One day Hirosuke Hitomi was suddenly assailed by an indefinable anxiety. It may have been a case of the sadness experienced by the victor, or it may have been fatigue brought...

    • 25
      (pp. 104-106)

      Ten minutes later Kogoro Kitami found himself again half-immersed in the warm waters of the basin, serenely inhaling its sweet-smelling vapors in the midst of the nude women as he waited peacefully for Hirosuke to come.

      The sky was still covered with heavy black clouds. There was no wind, and as far as he could see the flower-covered mountains were as in a silvery sleep. There wasn’t the slightest movement on the water. Even the dozens of nude women bathing in the warm water were dead silent. In Kitami’s eye the entire scene looked very much like a brocade picture...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 107-116)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 117-119)