Over the next few days I'm going to highlight some of the newest books selected by the JLPP that may be published soon(*) and that I'm particularly excited to read. (See my recent post to catch up on the whole spiel, as well as the reasons why I'm excited about Masahiko Shimada's Death Penalty.)
(*)As I was doing my research, I saw something that made me profoundly disappointed. Most of the books on the list they have for publishers have been around a long time now. Masahiko Shimada's Death Penalty wasn't even part of the 5th round of drafts, it was in the 4th. The book I'm going to talk about below (along with many others) was discussed in this post from the Three Percent blog last May. The Downfall of Matias Guili by Natsuki Ikezawa, another book I think sounds fascinating and want to talk about soon, was from the 2nd round(!) of selected books.
Why aren't publishers picking up these books?? It's really too bad. I certainly wouldn't defend the literary merit of every book on the JLPP list (since some of them seem like rather questionable choices to me, not to name names...), but some of them are moderately to really good contemporary work (The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P and Manazuru) while others are undisputed classics or from important authors (Botchan, The Glass Slipper and Other Stories, etc.).
I guess I just wonder if (and which) publishers have read which works, and why they disliked them or found them to be so severely unprofitable. I know it takes time to publish books, but some of these books have been on the market forever - not only that, but fully translated and ready to go.
[So I guess I'm just going to pretend me talking about them will drum up interest somehow and publishers will suddenly decide to publish the books.]
[Also, on the up side, if they announced round 5 so long ago, maybe round 6 will be coming up soon and we get a whole new round of books to look forward to...]
Punk Samurai and the Cult
Translated by Wayne P. Lammers
Why I'm Excited: Ko Machida is like Haruki Murakami in a way - his initial aims in life had nothing to do with literature. He was first famous in the critically acclaimed punk band INU, and then many other acts, in the 80s, and then dabbled in acting, including a starring role in the sci-fi/punk rock musical movie Burst City. (I've never seen the movie but this trailer looks insane in an awesome way:)
In the early 90s he started writing poetry, and then fiction, and he's won a bunch of the big awards, including the Akutagawa and the Tanizaki.
The JLPP describes Punk Samurai and the Cult as a "fabulously preposterous historical novel." The plot revolves around one samurai witnessing another samurai suddenly murdering a seemingly harmless old man and his daughter, but it turns out the old man was a member of the secret religious cult "The Belly Shaking Party" and the samurai did not want the religion to spread. The samurai witness goes to talk to his boss, and his boss then joins up with the killer samurai (in a classic buddy-cop opposite people style: the first samurai is an academic but terrible at swordplay, the second samurai a master swordsman but dumb as a rock) to take down this cult.
The genre tag for Punk Samurai and the Cult given by the JLPP is "Fantasy/Surreal/Horror," but it also sounds like it'll have a killer sense of humor.
Machida has won some awards for fiction, but the fact that he doesn't come from a literary background could keep this novel from being well-crafted or elegantly structured, and being instead choppy or aimless, as I find a lot of Japanese literature to suffer from, at least from my Western-literature-educated eyes. Still, the offbeat sensibility is what appeals to me, and Machida has proven himself in the literary circles to be a talented writer, so I have high, though cautious, hopes.