Keiichirō Hirano: Of the Strange and the Spirits (Part 1)
By Quek See Ling
Nicknamed “Yukio Mishima reincarnated”, Japanese writer Keiichirō Hirano was the youngest Akutagawa Prize winner when he won it in 1998, and has also received the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres before he was 40. Almost 20 years after their initial releases, the Chinese editions of his Akutagawa Prize-winning debut Eclipse (1998) and his second novel, Tale of the First Moon (1999), were finally released in August 2017 by Zhejiang Literature & Art Publishing House.
I was fortunate enough to attend “Japanese Kaidan Culture and Contemporary China: Introducing Keiichirō Hirano’s Eclipse and Tale of the First Moon”, one of Shanghai International Literary Week’s activities at the 2017 Shanghai Book Fair. (“Kaidan”, a literary genre, may roughly be translated as “strange tale”.) Held at Sinan House of Literature, the guests in attendance included interpreter Dr Zhou Yanshu, writer Professor Mao Jian, and Professor Zha Pingqiu.
Extraordinary Language Dissipating the Melancholy of the Ordinary
Writing and reading are inseparable. Hirano revealed that he only understood the importance of beautiful language when he read Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion at the age of 14. Hirano began writing “extraordinary” abstract works, using mysteriousness to create intrigue, thus eliminating the sense of depression and constriction in everyday life. Although his nickname has polarised opinions, Hirano smilingly said that the positives and negatives cancel each other out. In terms of his works’ content, Hirano prefers focussing on post-war Japanese society, where in the depressing atmosphere of the old having disintegrated but the new has yet to be built, everyone was working hard to rebuild the economy. Reminiscent of history’s dark periods, like the Black Death pandemic of medieval France during the Renaissance period and religious wars, Hirano was inspired to compose Eclipse. Later, the 1995 and 2011 earthquakes in Japan, as well as the Tokyo subway sarin attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, made Hirano contemplate human survival.
(Translated by Daryl Li)
Please look out for Keiichirō Hirano: Of the Strange and the Spirits (Part 2)
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About Keiichirō Hirano and his Publications
About Keiichirō Hirano (1975 – )
Japanese writer, literary critic, musician Keiichirō Hirano graduated from Kyoto University’s Department of Law. At 23, Hirano became the then youngest Akutagawa Prize winner with his first novel Eclipse, and has been nicknamed “Yukio Mishima reincarnated”. Winner of numerous awards, including the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2014) and the Junichi Watanabe Literary Prize (2017). Spanning historical and contemporary settings, his works feature intriguing plots and philosophical themes, and have been translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Arabic. Among his major works are Tale of the First Moon (1999), The Only Form of Love (2010), and The Final Act of the Play (2016).
Publications by Keiichirō Hirano
About Tale of the First Moon
|On the eve of the Renaissance, Nicolas, a student advocating the theology of Thomas Aquinas, travels to Florence to search for the heretical text of a hermetic manuscript. He meets the alchemist Pierre – who has an abundant collection of texts and is well-versed in heretical knowledge – and encounters all types of people and religious missions. The hermaphrodite hidden in the cave by Pierre is seen as a heretic and is sentenced to death by burning, but in the fire, is turned into a piece of gold, essentially completing one final alchemical experiment.||Living in the 30th year of the Meiji Restoration (1897), the young poet Ihara Masaki is bitten by a venomous snake near Totsukawa village in Nara prefecture. He is taken to a temple for treatment by monks who have taken to hiding in the mountains to avoid the “haibutsu kishaku”, a movement advocating the expulsion of Buddhism from Japan. In a recurring dream, the poet falls in love with a young woman hiding in the monastery, but is unable to see her because her gaze can kill. After he hears her tragic story, however, he decides to return to the temple to confess his feelings, leading to a heartbreaking death for both.|