Thursday, April 17, 2014
But I won't do that -- at least, not exactly. I've never read Dazai's novel, and I prefer not to lie when I have a choice. What I know about, I do from investigation after reading Furuya's excellent version of the story.
But that adaptation of No Longer Human seems to be a remarkably careful translation of a major work into another artistic form, down to turning Dazai's original three-memoranda structure into three manga volumes, and using Furuya's own discovery of the "real" diary of main character Yozo Oba online as a precisely equivalent framing device to the one Dazai used in the novel. I was surprised to see that the Oba of the novel is a manga artist as well; while reading the books, I had assumed that was part of Furuya's translation into the modern world.
For most of the length of No Longer Human, we don't know exactly what Oba's problem is: he's a young man who feels the need to "clown," to hide his true emotions so deeply he doesn't understand them himself, to mimic others and obsessively act to make them like him. That mimicry, and his youthful good looks, make him irresistible to nearly every woman he meets -- which is all-too-common for such self-destructive young men. He could be depressive, or perhaps have some disorder that damages empathy, so something else along those lines -- I'd like to think a young man like him in most modern countries would be able to get care for his problems, but maybe not. Whatever is wrong with Oba, it leaves him radically alone and full of inner torment, which he fights off with the usual ammunition: drinking, drugs, sex. And he's the son of a rich family, so he can indulge a lot before anything bad happens.
Every generation has the story of the tormented youngster, from The Sorrows of Young Werther to Holden Caulfield. No Longer Human is the version from Japan, nearly a hundred years ago, but the specifics of time and place only ground it, not limit it. Furuya has proven that, by pulling it eighty years into its own future. It sometimes a tough read, full of Oba's self-loathing and destructive behavior -- but it's worth it, every single page. And even the Obas of this world are human -- in all of their complex, damaged horribleness, every bit of alienation and anger and raw nerves is the connection with the rest of humanity.
Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index