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Rest in Peace, Uchida Yasuo

Mike Cash

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One of Japan's most successful, well-known, and prolific modern authors has passed away at the age of 83.

I doubt that the foreigners who get so worked up over Japanese literature but who never read a single word of it that somebody else didn't translate for them have ever heard of him. I don't expect that his passing will receive any mention whatsoever in any non-Japanese medium. And that's a damned shame.

訃報:内田康夫さん83歳=作家、浅見光彦シリーズ - 毎日新聞
 

thomas

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I admit I have never heard of him, thanks for pointing out his name. I hope that one day I’ll be fluent enough to read Japanese books in less than half a year.

It seems only one of his titles has been translated: Tuttle published his “Togakushi Legend Murders” several years ago. Have you read it, Mike?
 

johnnyG

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Hmm..., literature?

Yasuo Uchida*
Yasuo Uchida (1934–) is a popular author whose works have sold more than 100 million copies in Japan. His reputation as a mystery writer is built largely on a series of novels featuring the brilliant detective Mitsuhiko Asami, whose episodes exceeded 100 with the 2006 publication of Kireijima (Island of Abandoned Spirits). The fictional Asami is enormously popular and even has his own fan club.

After years as a copywriter and TV advertising executive, Uchida, in his forties, self-published Shisha no kodama (Echoes of the Dead). Despite this late start, he maintains a brisk writing pace, turning out three or four titles a year. Constant in his work is his evocation of the sensation of journeying to strange places and his research of historical legends that originate in these settings. All of Japan's 47 prefectures have appeared in his novels, many of which have become the basis for full-length TV movies. Another reason for his success is his puckish sense of humor: he frequently includes a character modeled on himself, introduced as "writer Yasuo Uchida," a confidante of Asami.

The inaugural work of the Asami series was Gotoba densetsu satsujin jiken (The Case of the Gotoba Legend Murder). Emperor Gotoba (1180?1239), who presided over a time of great political turmoil, was exiled from the capital of Kyoto to the Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan. Seven centuries later, Miyako Shōhōji, a 29-year-old office worker tracing the legendary route of Gotoba's exile as part of her travels, is murdered at a train station. A history book she had recently purchased is missing. Is the book evidence of some other crime? Or does history itself hold a clue?

Asami, "a tall, handsome man of clearly good upbringing," comes from a family of elite government officials: his late father occupied a high post in the Ministry of Finance, and his older brother heads the Criminal Affairs Division of the National Police Agency. Asami himself is "a private eye, always sponging off his family, basically a freelance writer." Whereas fictional detectives are traditionally a prickly lot, he is laid-back. And whatever era the story is set in, his age never varies: Asami is forever 33 years old.

Although Asami hates airplanes, he does travel overseas in the novel Itaria gensōkyoku (Italian Fantasy), the sequel to Kihinshitsu no kaijin Asuka hen (Asuka: The Phantom in the V.I.P. Suite). The story revolves around the shroud of Turin, said to bear the marks of the crucified Christ. The premise of the story is that the shroud was stolen in 1973 during filming for a TV program and replaced with a fake. Thirty years later, art dealer Muta and his wife are traveling aboard the cruise ship Asuka, disembarking with five wealthy Japanese tourists for five days to stay near Florence, Italy, at a villa owned by a Swiss gentleman whose daughter-in-law is Japanese. The visitors receive the peculiar message "Beware of the phantom in the V.I.P. Suite." When a painter named Ishiwata is murdered, Asami is called in to investigate.

Asami has to dig deep. He uncovers the decades-earlier accidental death of Kuze, a Japanese resident of Carrara who worked at a marble quarry. Kuze and the painter Ishiwata, he learns, had been members of the Japanese Red Army. One of their acts of terrorism had been to steal the shroud of Turin and, with the help of the painter De Vita, hide it in the cellar of the villa. In an attempt to protect the shroud, the owner had sealed off the cellar, but when Ishiwata threatened him, the artist was killed by De Vita's daughter.

Uchida also writes the Kazuo Okabe mystery series, which focuses on the cases encountered by a police lieutenant. Hagiwara Sakutarō no bōrei (The Ghost of Sakutarō Hagiwara), the first title in the series, makes clever use of these lines by poet Sakutarō Hagiwara (1886?1942): "Looking foolish, the arms come out, the legs come out, the head comes poking out." A buried corpse portrays exactly this fantastical scene. Okabe's dogged investigation clears up a 30-year-old case of false accusation.
Books from Japan | Authors : Yasuo Uchida* | Books from Japan
 

Mike Cash

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I admit I have never heard of him, thanks for pointing out his name. I hope that one day I’ll be fluent enough to read Japanese books in less than half a year.

It seems only one of his titles has been translated: Tuttle published his “Togakushi Legend Murders” several years ago. Have you read it, Mike?
I haven't read that one, but I have read fourteen of his other novels.
 

johnnyG

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I'm not a literature person (in any language), but I have read a couple Abe Kobo books (in Japanese).

I suppose someone might do a thesis on Uchida, in the same way they might study Rex Stout, Ross Macdonald, or Agatha Christie, among others.

A hundred million in sales is certainly significant, but from the above description, I doubt that he comes close to Hammett or Doyle, or the granddaddy of them all, The Moonstone.
 

Mike Cash

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You mistake the purpose of my post. It was not to argue the relative merits of his books versus those of others. It was to lament the passing of someone whose books I enjoyed on their own merits. If you just want to shït on him for not measuring up to your standards of literary excellence, that's a line of discussion I don't care to pursue.
 

johnnyG

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I doubt that the foreigners who get so worked up over Japanese literature but who never read a single word of it that somebody else didn't translate for them have ever heard of him.
Well, that's not a lament of his passing (and your own value judgements are showing there).

When you say that it sounds like you are belittling foreigners who study j-literature for not having heard of him, and that you're trying to place him amongst a group of writers that are probably not his peers.
 

Mike Cash

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Well, that's not a lament of his passing (and your own value judgements are showing there).

When you say that it sounds like you are belittling foreigners who study j-literature for not having heard of him, and that you're trying to place him amongst a group of writers that are probably not his peers.
Or you could read it as it was meant instead of being eager to get butt-hurt over it.

It was an admission that he didn't rise to the level that literary snobs would consider literature. You confirmed it.

What part of "Rest in peace" did you not understand?
 

johnnyG

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Or you could read it as it was meant instead of being eager to get butt-hurt over it.

It was an admission that he didn't rise to the level that literary snobs would consider literature. You confirmed it.
QED
 
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