Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 4:27 PM

Today marks the birthday of the influential author, Edogawa Rampo, who is well-known and beloved in Japan as the godfather of mystery and detective fiction.

114 years ago today, he was born Hirai Taro in Mie Prefecture. As a young author with a deep interest in Western authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, he turned his love of the great American writer (and sometimes madman) Edgar Allan Poe into his nom de plume, Edogawa Rampo. Hint: say it 5 times fast, let the syllables blur together and the verbal connection should become clear.

Rampo has long been one of my favorite authors, and with a few simple searches on Book Search, I can relive some of the chills and dark pleasures of reading his short stories. The best collection of his work in English, Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, includes such shocking stories as The Human Chair (a story in the form of a letter from an obsessed craftsman to a rich aristocrat’s wife, who encases himself in the chair you are sitting in as you read this, OMG!) and The Caterpillar (a Johnny Get Your Gun-morality tale of a horribly disfigured veteran and his tortuous, psychosexual relationship with his distraught wife upon his return from the battlefields). These and the seven other stories in this collection still give me goosebumps when I read them.

In recent years, there has been an exciting surge of female authors from Japan writing dark and modern suspense novels. Books by Miyuki Miyabe and Natsuo Kirino, for example, have recently enjoyed great success in English, and the seeds of these contemporary tales can be traced back to Rampo. As scholar Amanda Seaman notes:

Rampo is the defining figure of Japanese detective fiction because of his unique ability to combine the suspense story tradition of the Edo period with the scientific methods and logical devices of the Western detective story.

Rampo’s works have also been adapted into a number of films and television programs, and a number of film studies titles on Google Book Search trace his influence on Japanese film. Queer Asian Cinema looks at Rampo’s themes of decadence and Japanese subjectivity, while Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film includes an interview with Kinji Fukasaku (director of Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Battle Royale) discussing his adaptation of Rampo’s Black Lizard (which featured a cameo by another famous Japanese author, Yukio Mishima).

In his later years during the post-WWII period, Rampo focused on writing critical essays and advocating for the expansion of detective fiction in Japan via the Japan Association of Mystery Writers.

Rampo's grave; his given name is listed.

Rampo passed away on July 28, 1965, and to this day his works remain popular and relevant to Japanese audiences. For American audiences looking for further stories, two of his novellas were recently released in one collection, and a book of newly-translated mystery stories and essays is in the works for next year.


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