Title: Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination.
Author: Edogawa Rampo (Tarō Hirai).
Genre: Literature, plays, humour, satire.
Publication Date: 1924, 1925, 1926, 1929, 1950 (this collection 1956).
Summary: This collection compiles 9 short stories by the author who is widely regarded as the father of Japanese mystery writing. In The Human Chair (1925), a man who initially hides inside a chair in order to rob a hotel begins to have a sexual fascination with the women who sit on him, until he irrevocably falls for one of them. In The Psychological Test (1925), Rampo's version of Sherlock Holmes, Kogoro Akechi, assists his friend, District Attorney Kasamori, when he comes across an intricately planned out and almost flawlessly executed robbery and murder, and conducts a word-association psychological test on the two suspects, which Akechi ingeniously re-interprets for his friend. The Caterpillar (1929) tells of a quadruple amputee who is also disfigured, deaf and mute after the war, and his wife, who selflessly and devotedly takes care of him, until her frustration, boredom and isolation begin to spill out in acts of disturbing cruelty and perversity. In The Cliff (1950), a young woman discusses with her new husband her recent self-defense murder of her husband, and begins to see that her new husband had much more to do with it than she ever realized. In The Hell of Mirrors (1926), a young man named Kan Tanuma develops an insane obsession with mirrors and optics, and begins experimenting with them until he creates a chamber of mirrors that challenges his very sanity. In The Twins: A Condemned Criminal's Confession to a Priest (1924), a death-row prisoner makes a confession of a crime he had never been charged with but that haunts him - killing his twin brother and successfully taking over his life. In The Red Chamber (1925), a secret society that gets together to tell horror stories listens to a new initiate's story, which is a chilling account of having discovered a way to kill almost a hundred people in completely untraceable ways. In Two Crippled Men (1924), an old man recounts to a fellow spa goer the spur of incidents of somnambulism during his college days, during which he is sure he has unconsciously taken a life, and is shocked when his companion offers an interpretation of the events that challenges everything the old man spent his whole life believing. In The Traveler With the Pasted Rag Picture (1929), a stranger with an uncannily live-looking rag-doll picture relates a story to a fellow traveler of how his brother had sought out and fallen in love with a girl in the picture.
My rating: 8.5/10.
My review: Some of the creepiest, darkest stories I have ever read hail from Japan, and this volume keeps up the standard. Almost every single story will make your skin crawl, even though most of them don't really deal with anything much more out of the common than the depths of human depravity. The Human Chair actually made me physically uncomfortable. Not even the cheap ending plot-device of "Psych! Didn't happen!" couldn't in any way influence the effect of the imagery has already had on you. I enjoyed The Psychological Test because I didn't even have to look the story up to know it was Rampo's very own Sherlock. And it was a flattering parody. A doctor, perfectly logical, wonderfully out-of-the-box, endearingly conceited - all the aspects to make an effective Japanese Holmes! His brilliant deductions will leave one as amused as the ingenuity and cold psychopathy of the killer will leave one enthralled. The Caterpillar is by far the most striking, disturbing story in the book. Every aspect of the story is absolutely horrifying, and the most interesting thing about it is nothing within the story could be considered objectively frightening. But the way the narrator describes the amputee, and the repulsive but apt parallel his wife draws between him and a caterpillar is haunting. The woman's actions, even in all their senseless cruelty, are more devastating than they are repulsive, as the author emphasizes so effectively the absolute hopeless despair that leads to them, and the incredible guilt that follows. The ending is almost sweet, but in a chilling, uncomfortable way. Definitely a story to sear itself into one's brain. I found The Hell of Mirrors an exceptionally fascinating, compelling concept. Of all the creepy ways mirrors tie into the occult, and, consequently, many horror stories, this was the first one of its kind for me. A study at the same time of human obsession and narcissism. Two Crippled Men is an interesting study in human manipulation, and, The Dangerous Liaisons being one of my favourite books, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The exploration of how power of suggestion and Machiavellian skill can literally convince a person to enter a non-existent reality that is based purely on belief was great. To be honest, I didn't quite expect that twist at the end - it did not even cross my mind, although in retrospect maybe it should have. I think it's a superbly crafted story with a very different way of delivering both the "Don't let your fears rule you, they may be imaginary" and the "Don't trust naïvely" narratives. The Traveler With the Pasted Rag Picture was the only story in the volume to actually deal with the supernatural, and, ironically, is probably the least disturbing story of them all. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Poe, Lovecraft and contemporaries for fiction such as this, but it read more as a melancholy fantasy story than really a scary one. A person falling in love with a piece of art is a thoroughly explored concept in literature, and the ending, if anything, is heavily reminiscent of The Picture of Dorian Gray, except it's much easier to sympathize and feel pity for the character and the desperateness of his situation. Just a well-told story.
♥ Beginning with this individual, several people "sat on my knees" that day, as if they had patiently awaited their turn. No one, however, suspected even for a fleeting moment that the soft "cushion" on which they were sitting was actually human flesh and blood circulating in its veins—confined in a strange world of darkness.
What was it about this mystic hole that fascinated me so? I somehow felt like an animal living in a totally new world. And as for the people who lived in the world outside, I could distinguish them only as people who made weird noises, breathed heavily, talked, rusted their clothes, and possessed soft, round bodies.
♥ Long I pondered: "Maybe I was destined to enjoy this type of existence." Gradually the truth seemed to dawn on me. For those who were as ugly and as shunned as myself, it was assuredly wiser to enjoy life inside a chair. For in this strange, dark world I could hear and touch all desirable creatures.
Love in a chair! This may seem altogether too fantastic. Only one who has actually experienced it will be able to vouch for the thrills and the joys it provides. Of course, it is a strange sort of love, limited to the senses of touch, hearing, and smell, a love burning in a world of darkness.
~~The Human Chair.
♥ Fifteen minutes later he arrived in front of the old woman's house. Although he had fortunately not met a soul who knew him, he found his breath coming in short gasps. This, to him, was a nasty sensation. Somehow he was beginning to feel more and more like an ordinary thief and prowler than the suave and nonchalant prince of crime he had always pictured himself to be.
♥ "Give a guilty man enough rope," rejoined Dr. Akechi philosophically, "and he'll supply enough evidence to hang himself."
♥ "In conducting a psychological test, there is no need for strange charts, machines, or word games. As discovered by the famous Judge Ooka, in the colorful days of eighteenth-century Tokyo, who frequently applied psychological tests based on mere questions and answers, it's not too difficult to catch criminals in psychological traps. But of course, you have to ask the right questions."
~~The Psychological Test.
♥ "He is thinking again," she told herself.
Even at the best of times it was an eerie thing to see a man whose only organ of communication was his eyes lie there with those eyes fixed forever on just one spot, and now how much more so in the middle of the night. Of course his mind has become dull, she thought, but for a man so completely crippled as he, there undoubtedly exists a world completely different from any I can ever know. Is it a pleasant world, she wondered. Or is it a hell...
♥ On other occasions I would find his lab cluttered up with a miscellaneous collection of mirrors of fantastic shapes and sizes—corrugated, concave and convex types predominating—and he would be dancing in their midst, completely naked, in the manner of some primitive pagan ritualist or witch doctor. Every time I beheld these scenes I got the shivers, for the reflection of his madly whirling naked body became contorted and twisted into a thousand variations. Sometimes his head would appear double, his lips swollen to immense proportions; again his belly would swell and rise, then flatten out; his swinging arms would multiply like those found on ancient Chinese Buddhist statues. Indeed, during such times the laboratory was transformed into a purgatory of freaks.
♥ Why would a man become crazy if he entered a glass globe lined with a mirror? What in the name of the devil had he seen there? When these thoughts passed through my mind, I felt as if I had been stabbed through the spine with a sword of ice.
Did he go mad after taking a glance at himself reflected by a completely spherical mirror? Or did he slowly lose his sanity after suddenly discovering that he was trapped inside his horrible round glass coffin—together with "that" reflection?
What, then, I asked myself again, had he seen? It was surely something completely beyond the scope of human imagination. Assuredly, never before had anyone shut himself up within the confines of a mirror-lined sphere. Even a trained physicist could not have guessed exactly what sort of vision would be created inside that sphere. Probably it would be a thing so unthinkable as to be utterly out of this world of ours.
So strange and terrifying must have been this reflection, of whatever shape it was, as it filled Tanuma's complete range of vision, that it would have made any mortal insane.
The only thing we know is the reflection cast by a concave mirror, which is only one section of a spherical whole. It is a monstrously huge magnification. But who could possibly imagine what the result would be when one is wrapped up in a complete succession of concave mirrors?
My hapless friend, undoubtedly, had tried to explore the regions of the unknown, violating sacred taboos, thereby incurring the wrath of the gods. By trying to pry open the secret portals of forbidden knowledge with his weird mania of optics he had destroyed himself.
~~The Hell of Mirrors.
♥ But as for me, the very reason for my wanting to kill him was that we were two persons in one. And how I hated my other half! I wonder whether you've ever had such a feeling of uncontrollable hatred, far more severe than that which you could feel against any person not closely related to you. And in my particular case it was still more so because we were twins and I was insane with jealousy.
♥ Once I had gone so far as to commit adultery as well as murder, my mind was now at rest, and I continued to live happily for a year. With plenty of money to spend, and with the woman I had once loved at my beck and call, my life seemed one of perpetual bliss—but there was one hitch—my conscience. Night after night it tormented me, while his apparition haunted my dreams. In fact, this period of a year was the longest I had ever experienced.
♥ Gentlemen, have you ever theorized on murder along these lines? I myself thought of it for the first time only after the experience I have just related. If you ponder deeply on the matter, you will find that the world is indeed a dangerous place. Who knows when you yourselves may be directed to the wrong doctor—intentionally, criminally—by a man like myself?
♥ For myself, as soon as I discovered the secret I was overjoyed. How generous the Creator was, I told myself blasphemously, to have provided so much opportunity for the perpetration of crimes which can never be detected. Yes, I was quite mad with joy at this discovery. "How wonderful!" I kept repeating. And I knew that once I had put my theories into practice the lives of most people would be completely at the mercy of my whims! Gradually it dawned on me that murder offered a key to the problem of relieving my perpetual boredom. Not any ordinary type of murder, I told myself, but murder which would baffle even Sherlock himself! A perfect cure for drowsiness!
♥ Yes, you may well knit your brows, after hearing of all my cruel acts. Surely not even the devil himself could have surpassed me in villainy. And yet, I still insist that all my wickedness was but the result of unbearable boredom. I killed—but only for the sake of killing! I harbored no malice toward any of my victims. In short, murder was, for me, a sort of game. Do you think I am mad? A homicidal maniac? Of course you do. But I do not care, for I believe I am in good company. Birds of a feather, you know.
~~The Red Chamber.
♥ Soft winter sunlight warmed the eight-mat room, lighting up its luxurious paper screens. In the large charcoal brazier, carved out of paulownia wood, before which the two men sat cross-legged on silk cushions, a silver kettle sang cheerfully, the mellow notes drifting out into the landscape garden like a lullaby intended for the baby sparrows dozing on the pine branches.
♥ As soon as I was free, I went home with my father, and shortly afterward, I fell desperately ill. Had it been a physical ailment, I would no doubt have soon recovered. But this was something different—a mystic mental disease for which there seemed to be no known cure. Finally, after six months, I managed to get up, but all the time I knew, and so did my family, that I was no longer normal. Instead I was a man without a soul—a mental cripple destined to live the remainder of my life in anguish and misery. Thus did my normal life end.
~~Two Crippled Men.