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Culture and Education

50th Anniversary of Edogawa Rampo's Death – A Significant Relay Point

Koji Toba
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Rampo outside of his book storehouse

The name Edogawa Rampo conjures up images of a man working in solitude inside his book storehouse that remains at Rikkyo University to this day. We can understand much about Rampo by reading "Harimaze nenpu" (A Chronicle in Clippings), a memoir that chronicles the first half of his life and was compiled during the war. Rampo described himself in relation to the schools he graduated from (the last being Waseda University), his works, and the magazines he worked for. He was an author that defined people based on the context of their relationships. Those relationships did not only consist of the present day materials in his scrapbook, but encompassed the past and present, East and West.

From Western Literature to Rampo

The exhibition "The Haunted Tower—Perfect Popular Culture" is scheduled to continue until May 2016. Reservations are required and tickets are sold exclusively at Lawson.
©Nibariki ©Museo d'Arte Ghibli

One of the major topics surrounding Edogawa Rampo in 2015 relates to Hayao Miyazaki's "The Haunted Tower—Perfect Popular Culture." This special exhibition at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a popular spot for tourists from around the world, traces the transformation of the 1860 novel by British author Wilkie Collins "The Woman in White," which later served as source material for Anglo-American author Alice Muriel Williamson and her 1898 novel “The Woman in Grey.” "Yureito" (The Haunted Tower) written by Ruiko Kuroiwa in 1899 was adapted from this book. The exhibition provides easy to understand explanations as to how Rampo adapted the story under the same name in 1937. Rampo first encountered Ruiko's translated version as a junior high school student while staying at a spa town and became engrossed, reading it day in and night out. His enthusiasm for the novel would eventually lead to his adaptation. Rampo’s adaption, which Miyazaki read at a similar age, influenced aspects of his first animated feature film "Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro," in 1979. One example of this influence is the distinctive clock tower that appears in the film. Miyazaki likens such interplay in popular culture to a great river, pointing out that his own work, despite gaining worldwide popularity, is just a single point on the river's journey.

Hayao Miyazaki's analogy certainly applies to one aspect of Rampo. His novel "Hakuhatsuki" (The White-Haired Demon) was also based on Ruiko's adaptation and became a renowned masterpiece on par with "Yureito." He translated novels by Edgar Allan Poe, whose name he co-opted for his pen name, as well as works by Arthur Conan Doyle. Beyond these direct links, Rampo was well acquainted with Western detective novels and incorporated their tricks into his novels. Greatly influenced by Western literature, Rampo played an important role in the history of Japanese detective novels.

The Influence of Rampo

"Ningen Isu" (The Human Chair), written by Edogawa Rampo, illustrated by Jan Švankmajer, Esquire Magazine Japan, 2007.

So far, we have discussed the impact of Western literature on Rampo. However, Rampo has influenced many animators and movie directors besides Miyazaki. Prior to making a name for himself with "Domu" (A Child's Dream) and "Akira," Katsuhiro Otomo created manga based on Rampo's "Nihaijin" (Two Crippled Men) and "Kagami Jigoku" (The Hell of Mirrors). The famous Czech animated film director Jan Švankmajer adapted Rampo's "Ningen Isu" (The Human Chair) into a picture book. Koji Wakamatsu reinterpreted Rampo's work "Imomushi" (The Caterpillar), which was banned during the war, as a tale of sexual violence in his 2010 film “Caterpillar.” The star of the film, Shinobu Terajima, received the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival for her role. En Mikami deals with Rampo in the fourth volume of his best-selling light novel series "Biburia Koshodo no Jiken Techo" (Biblia Used Bookstore Casebook). Last year was the 120th anniversary of Rampo’s birth and there is no end in sight for new manga and anime based on his work. Examples include new work related to Rampo’s Shonen Tantei Dan (Boy’s Detective Club) by Manabu Makime and other novelists.

"Kuro-tokage" (Joint screening, Shingeki, 1962), from "Kisaku Ito's Stage Designs," The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Database for Theatre Research, catalog number C03-014

These constant adaptations and reinterpretations are not limited to what Miyazaki describes as “popular culture.” Rampo also influenced so-called "high" literature. Rampo's “Hitori Futayaku” (One Man, Two Roles), which tells the story of a man who transforms himself and seduces his wife, and “Kikei no Tennyo” (Deformed Heavenly Maiden), which tells the story of a female protagonist that can detect people who have transformed, are likely the basis for Kobo Abe’s novel “Tanin no Kao” (The Face of Another). This novel was adapted into a film by director Hiroshi Teshigahara. A more obvious example is his 1934 novel "Kuro-tokage" (The Black Lizard), which was adapted by Yukio Mishima and became both a theatrical play and a film. As with Rampo and Hayao Miyazaki, Mishima was greatly influenced by one novel that he read as a youth and initially failed to adapt it into a ballet. He eventually successfully produced a play and later appeared on screen in a film adaptation, indicating his strong passion for the story. He reinterpreted the famous detective character Kogoro Akechi in a romantic setting with a female thief called The Black Lizard who became a famous role for cross-gender actor Akihiro Miwa and was revived last September.

The Modernity of Rampo

How is it that Rampo's work, in this manner, continues to spur the imaginations of creators in diverse fields, and has managed to retain its modernity? In essence, it can be summarized in his own words: "This transitory world is a dream, while our dreams are reality." A feature of Rampo's writings is his interest in the artificial world, in the virtual rather than the real, as illustrated in his works "Panorama-to Kitan" (Strange Tale of Panorama Island), "Jigoku Fukei" (A Glimpse into Hell), "Dai Anshitsu" (The Great Darkroom), "Denjin M" (M the Electric Man) and others. In these works, Rampo repeatedly returns to his constructs of the man-made world. This can be viewed as an eternal theme, dating back to the famous episode "Kocho-no-Yume" (Butterfly Dream) of the Chinese classic Zhaungzi, which he adapted to include optical instruments and dolls. Rampo’s “modernity” is found in the technology and science fiction ideas incorporated in his works. Even if the works of Edogawa Rampo are just one point in the great flow of popular culture, it is in our golden age of virtual reality that this has become a reference, and a significant relay point.

Koji Toba
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Koji Toba was born in Tokyo in 1968 and graduated from the Faculty of Letters at Hokkaido University. He completed his Doctoral Program at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences where he obtained his doctorate in literature. His fields of research are contemporary Japanese literature and post-war literature movements. He previously taught as Associate Professor at Tokushima University’s Institute of Socio-Arts and Sciences. His works include "Undotai: Abe Kobo" (The Movement named Kobo Abe, Ichiyosha), "1950 Nendai: Kiroku no Jidai" (1950s: The Age of “Reportage/Documentary”, Kawade Shobo Shinsha), and "Sugiura Minpei wo Yomu" (Reading Minpei Sugiura, Fubaisha, Inc.) which he co-authored. He edited "Abe Kobo: Media no Ekkyosha" (Kobo Abe: A Border Transgressor of Media, Shinwasha) and co-edited "Sugiura Minpei Anya Nikki 1941-45: Senjika no Tokyo to Atsumihanto no Nichijo" (Minpei Sugiura’s Dark Night Diary 1941-45: Daily Life in Wartime Tokyo and Atsumi Peninsula, Ichiyosha) and other works.