Monday, August 09, 2010

Short-a-Day: Masaya Nakahara's "Bloody Self-Portrait of a Beast"

Originally published in A Public Space 01, Spring 2006. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 5.

"I never had anything I wanted to say to begin with and I'm completely uninterested in what I'm writing about," says Nakahara in the odd one-page interview with translator Justin Simon that precedes his very short story. Odd, then, that "Beast" seems to have a lot to say, sprawling out from the unexplained rivalry between "veteran actress Nobuko Yamamoto" and her "childhood friend Yoko Yoshida" to Yamamoto's appearance on a television show that's "for frank discussion between older people and younger people." She's there to discuss her play, which she wrote based on Yoshida's "beloved nephew Yoji" as a "song of encouragement," a paean to the dreams of a younger generation: "In her heart Nobuko prayed the word would become a place where all young people could live as they pleased, just like these little birds."

What she encounters, however, is a madhouse: "In an effort to produce a free-spirited atmosphere, various caged animals had been released into the studio." Worse, one of the animals is hideous, blind, and unrecognizable: when she uses a commercial break to ask that it be removed, the young AD points out "If we don't give fair exposure to ugly things too, people protest and accuse us of discrimination." Moments later, the creature dies, having skewered itself on a poorly manufactured panel in the set. The story isn't committed to any of these ideas, vivid as they are, and although it forms a neat atmosphere, it does nothing with it. There's no disagreement that the beast is hideous (that it should be removed), Yoshida's an empty one-shot, and the generational gap seems thrown in as if attempting to look profound. Given Nakahara's own stance on his writing, whether he's posturing or not, I find little reason to dwell on the insignificances of such a bland story, no matter how interesting the initial idea.

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