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  • Stories by Fujino KaoriFujino Kaori: Fear in the Form
  • Kendall Heitzman (bio)

Fujino Kaori was awarded the Akutagawa Prize in 2013 for her novella Nails and Eyes (Tsume to me), and in the publicity and press that followed, she was frequently referred to as a writer of literary horror. In the judges' remarks in the September 2013 issue of the journal Bungei shunjū, Ogawa Yōko refers to Nails and Eyes as "frightening" (398), while Miyamoto Teru and Yamada Eimi both used the word "horror" in discussing the work (402, 405). Fujino (2017d) has claimed not to understand where this impression of her work as horror fiction could possibly have come from, but with tongue firmly in cheek. Her previous works had been of a kind: In her Kafkaesque novella The Greedy Bird (Iyashii tori, 2008), a pet cockatiel grows to gargantuan size. In Negative Space (Patorone, literally named for the cartridge that holds a spool of 35mm photography film, 2012), the protagonist finds herself in a mental fog that isolates her from her sister, her friends, and reality itself. Many of Fujino's stories are bloody; people are killed by various creatures and contraptions, and commit random acts of violence without themselves knowing why they are doing it. Her knowledge of horror cinema is encyclopedic; she draws from a deep well of images and devices. [End Page 96]

And yet, the horror of Nails and Eyes for many readers is located not in the plot but in the form. Much of what readers have found unnerving about the novella has had to do with its second-person narrative, a rarity in Japanese literature, and discussion of the work immediately following publication largely centered on the implications of this narratological gambit (Matsumoto [2018, 187-213] gives an overview of this discourse and participates in it). It isn't a true second-person; the "I" of the narrative clearly identifies herself as a separate character, delivering to her stepmother her version of their relationship, which began when "I" was a toddler, after her mother had died under mysterious circumstances while at home alone with her, and the stepmother subsequently joined the household in the mother's place. The disembodied nature of the narrative—where is the narrator now, in time and space, how does she know so much about what her stepmother was doing and thinking at the time, and what exactly has happened to this family in the interim?—is considered to be a large part of what makes the work so unnerving. In a three-way conversation published in the May 2013 issue of Gunzō, when the writer Shimada Masahiko posited that the second-person really wasn't essential to the work, the others resisted: the critic and professor Ōsawa Nobuaki argued that the usage of "you" implicates readers themselves, while writer and translator Tanizaki Yui felt that it served to merge the subject and object of the narrative into a single consciousness (Shimada et al. 2013, 395-96).

Fujino writes unsettling stories, to be sure, but no two stories unsettle in quite the same way, and this formal experimentation is the true hallmark of Fujino's early career. To call her a genre writer of any sort would be to mistake the surface topography of her stories for the deeper, crisscrossing striations of their narratives, which I will attempt to begin to pull apart here. Although Fujino often invokes the tropes of horror, for example, her instincts are generally to undermine its narrative logic. In "Final Girl" (Fainaru gāru, in Fujino 2017a), the title story of her 2014 collection of short stories, the protagonist is indeed the last standing survivor of a serial killer as indicated by the title, a reference to the "final girl" trope first described by Carol J. Clover (1992). And yet, the serial killers keep coming after her throughout her life, to the point that fear nearly gives way to weary resignation; the narrative arc that she had imagined for herself as hero of her own story is obliterated by life as it actually transpires.

Fujino also draws from a wide range of other literary sources to create her stories, including American...


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pp. 96-101
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