A Little Spice Interview Yasutaka Tsutsui


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by Kerrie-Anne

Excitement and anticipation would best describe my mood when Paprika was opened. After all Yasutaka Tsutsui is one, if not the, most respected author in Japan.

Critically acclaimed with an air of mystery for his somewhat eccentric ways, a multitude of literary awards follow him, he is a man whose literary genius had been touted far and wide.

I must say what I found was somewhat different. Now to be fair I may have missed something within the cultural differences we are all challenged with, Japanese and Australian Cultures are poles apart, however I find a certain amount of respect never goes astray regardless of the culture, having friends from every corner of the globe, respect is universal.

Perhaps understanding the man himself would shed some light on the novel. Help me understand the nature of his writing, his perspective and the cultural bounds to which he was writing, alas this was not to be.

Putting my disappointment in the novel aside, I approached the man himself hoping to gain an insight into the mind of Yasutaka. Initially I considered this interview to be a failure, the strange, quick and short responses, not to mention the apparent lack of consideration of the questions. However upon reflection I have done a complete 180% turn around, for the same reasons I considered this a failure, I now think it tells us an awful lot about the man who is Yasutaka Tsutsui.

This is how it went. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Can you tell us a few things about yourself?

I think I’ll leave that to you.

What was it, which drew you to writing?

Reading. And the fascination of novels.

Who has been your inspiration in life?

Comic actors. The Marx Brothers, in particular.

What would you consider to be the most important innovation you have seen in your 74 years?

Momofuku Ando’s instant noodles.

You have been honored with several literally awards including:
The Izumi Kyoka award, 1981
(for Kyojin-Tachi [Fictional Characters])
The Tanizaki Jun'ichiro award, 1987
(for Yumenokizaka-Bunkiten [The Yumenokizaka Intersection])
The Kawabata Yasunari award, 1989 (for "Yoppa-dani eno Koka" [A Descent into the Yoppa Valley]
The Japan SF award, 1992
(for Asa no Gasuparu [Gaspard of the Morning]).

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The Pasolini Award (1997)

You have been described as the ‘Guru of Metafiction’. How do you find this description of your writing style and yourself?

What?! I’ve never heard that one. You’ve got it all wrong. I am not the Guru of Metafiction.

(he is described as this on his own website and profile page click here. )

Whilst growing up in Osaka life was a very different place to today.

What is your fondest memory of growing up, and how do you think this affected your writing?

I was born and raised in Osaka. Life then was indeed a very different place. But that aside, my fondest memory as I was growing up was seeing a lot of films. The so-called “programme pictures” taught me the importance of plot.

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?

That will be decided by you all when I’m dead.

When writing Paprika what was the inspiration behind the story line?

Dreams, inevitably.

Do you think the technology seen in Paprika such as the Gorgon, Dream Capture Equipment and ultimately a Dream Detective/manipulator will one day be part of everyday life?

There is absolutely no chance of that happening. If it did, all my effort in stretching the bounds of fantasy would have been wasted.

The complexity of the characters in Paprika has been something I found as enjoyable and interesting as the story itself. How do you develop your characters personalities? Do you build from the story or do they take on a life of their own separate to writing of the story?

For “Paprika”, I remember the idea coming from an episode where two candidates for the Nobel Prize were fighting over a lunchbox.

Some aspect of Paprika, felt in some ways like a study into society. The treatment of Dr Atsuko Chiba by the media, Kosaka Tokita his weight issues, attitudes into mental health the stigmatism which is associated with them. Was it your intention to bring these issues into the public arena and raise awareness of the issues?

These are all merely details that drive the story. But it is these details that are so important for a novel. That doesn’t only apply to novels; god dwells in the detail.

So many wonderful characters abound in Paprika. Who was your favourite character?

I liked them all equally. I could happily act any one of them.

On your website it is stated

‘Unfortunately, the recent champions of PC consensus became so nervous about Tsutsui's literary experiments that the writer finally gave up writing -- at least publishing works in print media -- in the summer of 1993. However, he has since been getting more active in cyber-media, helping set up in the summer of 1996 the first literary server in Japan "JALInet," which allows us to read his new story based upon Shichifuku-jin (the Seven Deities of Good Fortune).’ Given the rise of the internet do you think published media is coming to an end, to be replaced with Cyber space or will there always be a place for the printed word and will you reenter it?

When that happens, I will already have entered another world. In fact, I think the human race will be extinct before the printed word ceases to exist.

What advice would you give to those attempting to become published authors?

Read the classics. Most classics can now be read as entertainment. They are also packed full of ideas.

Having accomplished so much over the years, what has been the most valuable lesson you have learnt?

Never to follow any teaching, mottos or life maxims, but to be free.

How do you see society and life in general over the next century?

I think the devil will be laughing.


Anonymous said...

First you insult the author with poorly researched, badly written questions, then you criticize his answers for being justifiably sardonic? And to cap it all, you go on about 'respect', yet you don't even show him the respect to spell his name correctly?? Let me highlight a few points. (1) No one would claim Yasutaka Tsutsui (that's the correct spelling) to be the most respected author in Japan. (2) 'His' website is not in fact run by him but by a literary organization. The title 'guru of metafiction' was coined by Dalkey Archive Press in an interview with him; that doesn't mean he has to agree with it. (3) Amongst the many other errors in your questions, the character in Paprika is Kosaka TOKITA. Finally, what exactly is a "LITERALLY GENUIS"?
Andrew Driver

Mike French said...

Thanks for your comments Andrew. And thanks for pointing out the typos so quickly - often we have an editorial clean up in the first few hours after publication on the zine.

(Andrew translated Paprika.)