- From Dog Bridegroom to Wolf Girl: Contemporary Japanese Fairy-Tale Adaptations in Conversation with the West by Mayako Murai
Mayako Murai’s From Dog Bridegroom to Wolf Girl is an engaging academic text that, like many of the works Murai discusses, straddles cross-cultural boundaries by integrating Western and Japanese fairy-tale theory, analysis, and stories. Indeed, a lucid thread runs through the first half of Murai’s analysis, which explores the prominence of multilingualism in these texts as a result of their European beginnings, Japanese adaptations, and global reception, not to mention a range of intratextual language choices by the analyzed authors themselves. Murai takes an “antiessentialist approach, informed particularly by Euro-American post-structuralist feminist literary criticism,” which crosses boundaries by applying critical theory that comes predominantly from one part of the globe to texts and visual works emerging primarily in another (142). She takes the stance that these modern Japanese interpretations of fairy tales are distinctly feminist, despite the fact that, as she states in the first chapter, “contemporary Japanese female writers and authors rarely describe their works in terms of feminism even though the experience and expression specific to women have often been one of the chief concerns of their works” (35). [End Page 426]
Chapter 1 serves as a map of the history of the Western fairy-tale corpus in Japan. For those who work principally on Western fairy tales or are generally new to the cross-cultural approach, this chapter is an excellent introduction to how the European corpus, primarily from the Grimms and Charles Perrault, found its way into Japanese literature. Murai sheds light on the time-line of Japanese translations and adaptations of European fairy tales and discusses the reception of these in a variety of time periods as the tales moved fluidly between both adult and child readership. The broad scope of how Japanese folklorists and scholars interpreted fairy tales offers an important intermingling of cultures that may seem disparate but indeed has powerful effects. Murai’s history of the tales leads to the Gurimu būmu, or “Grimm Boom,” at the end of the twentieth century, which represented a dramatic production of and interest in Japanese material based on or adapted from fairy tales and intended for adult audiences.
Beginning her author-specific analysis with Chapter 2, Murai explores the works of the cross-cultural and multilingual author Tawada Yōko, specifically the novella “The Bridegroom Was a Dog” (2003). It seems that Murai is aware of the unfamiliarity an intercultural and interdisciplinary audience might have with the text, despite its translation into English. Thus, as in the following chapter, Murai necessarily includes a large amount of summary. Nevertheless, she is able to make interesting comparisons between Japanese and European animal bride and bridegroom tales and to integrate analysis into the summary. Primarily building on the work of the Japanese folklorist Ozawa Toshio in this chapter, Murai is able to distinguish the cultural divisions between nature and man as they are depicted in animal bride and bridegroom tales. Western tales, she argues, separate the two by having animal transformations—the beast becomes a man and perhaps was one all along. In Japanese tales the bride or bridegroom may take a human form but is ultimately the animal.
Chapter 3 discusses another Japanese author, Ogawa Yōko, with a focus on her tales that reimagine “Bluebeard” and use the “forbidden chamber” or “forbidden door” motif. However, the emphasis of the book’s title, referencing conversations with the West, and the title of the chapter itself, which includes the phrase “Bloody Chamber,” means that this chapter could have benefited from further comparison with Angela Carter’s “Bluebeard” tale, “The Bloody Chamber,” and Ogawa’s Hotel Iris (Hoteru airisu, 1996). The reference to Carter’s setting and the liminal topography of the Breton island that is echoed in Ogawa’s work perhaps should not have been relegated to an endnote and could have been used to open a dialogue about how Carter...