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Edogawa Ranpo

Entry updated 1 January 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Main pseudonym of Japanese mystery author Tarō Hirai (1894-1965), sometimes romanized as Edogawa Rampo, a name derived from the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe, who was his literary idol. An amateur translator of Arthur Conan Doyle during his studies in economics at Waseda University, Edogawa began publishing detective stories and macabre chillers commencing with "Ni-sen Dōka" ["The 2-sen Copper Coin"] (April 1923 Shinseinen, trans Jeffrey Angles in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 2008). His works for adults often included sexual deviance (see Sex) or short, sharp literary shocks, leading to the enduring Japanese genre classification of "ero guro nansensu" ["erotic grotesque nonsense"].

Edogawa's early experiments at the edge of the sf genre involved speculations on the power of optics, including Kagami-Jigoku ["The Hell of Mirrors"] (October 1926 Taishū Bungei, trans James B Harris anth 1956), the protagonist of which is driven mad by the sight of his reflection in a "perfect" and magnifying mirror (see Basilisks). Another meditation on Perception can be found in "Oshie-e to Tabi suru Otoko" ["The Man with the Pasted Rag Picture"] (June 1929 Shinseinen, trans James B Harris anth 1956, trans Michael Tangeman as "The Traveller with the Brocade Portrait" in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 2008), in which inverted binoculars are discovered, or seem to have been discovered, to permit Magic Realist alterations to the world.

During the rise of Japanese militarism in the 1930s, Edogawa fell foul of the government censor when he was asked not to republish "Imomushi" ["The Caterpillar"] (September 1929 Shinseinen), a story about a disabled war veteran. Although, like Jūza Unno, he dutifully contributed patriotic stories to aid Japan's efforts in World War Two, Edogawa spent the period largely writing under other names in order to preserve the integrity of his most famous pseudonym. He was also credited as the co-translator with Ruikō Kuroiwa of Hakuhatsu-ki ["The White-Haired Demon"] (April 1931 Fuji) a Japanese adaptation of Marie Corelli's Vendetta!: or The Story of One Forgotten (1886); he translated several other books, mainly of detective fiction by the likes of Georges Simenon and Eden Philpotts (1862-1960).

Edogawa's most long-lived creation was the detective Kogorō Akechi, a Japanese analogue of Sherlock Holmes who first appeared in "D-zaka no Satsujin Jiken" ["The Case of the Murder on D-hill"] (January 1925 Shinseinen), in which a woman is killed in the course of sadomasochistic games. The Akechi mystery Kyūketsuki ["Vampire"] (September 1930 Hōchi Shinbun; 1973) was the first Japanese novel to mention Vampires, although its pioneer status shares a publication year with a short story and an essay by other authors.

In a concerted decision to appeal to younger readers in straitened times, Edogawa introduced a teenage sidekick for Akechi in 1930, followed in Kaijin Nijū Mensō ["The Fiend With Twenty Faces"] (January-December 1936 Shōnen Kurabu; date of first book version not ascertained), by the titular and subsequently recurring masked nemesis, often presumed to have been inspired by T W Hanshew's "man of forty faces". The same book introduced Akechi's own version of the Baker Street Irregulars: the Shōnen Tanteidan ["Boy Detectives Club"], whose popularity would eclipse that of Akechi himself over forty subsequent volumes in the next two decades. It is these refinements, particularly in the post-war period, that continue to resonate with modern Japanese audiences. Concurrently, much of the original adult sensibility in Edogawa's work was eroded by third-party rewrites of his best-known stories for younger readers, resulting in an enormously complex bibliography of over a thousand variant titles and editions, with many adult Kogorō Akechi stories subsequently bowdlerized and retitled as stories in the Shōnen Tanteidan series, retaining Akechi but foregrounding his juvenile assistants. For reasons of editorial sanity and the marginal Equipoisal relationship of this material to true sf, the Checklist below is hence drastically abbreviated, and limited to extant English translations and the most recent collected works in Japan. As with his fellow author Yasutaka Tsutsui, Edogawa's peculiar themes and sensibilities have enjoyed greater attention in the French-speaking world than in English.

Edogawa has been the source of countless reworkings into other media, including Manga adaptations such as Mitsuteru Yokoyama's version of Hakuhatsu-ki (graph 1970), and the films Kuro Tokage ["Black Lizard"] (1968) co-scripted by Yukio Mishima, Caterpillar (2010) and Barbet Shroeder's Inju: The Beast in the Shadows (2008). Although purportedly based on a book by Sō Kitamura, the film K-20: Kaijin Nijū Mensō-den (2008 Japan, vt K20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces US, vt K20: The Legend of the Black Mask UK) is a Sequel by Other Hands, relocating his most famous criminal and detective to a Steampunk Alternate History 1949 in which World War Two did not take place, and the rise of the Japanese military industrial complex has continued unchecked.

The former head of the Mystery Writers of Japan, Edogawa's name remains on the prestigious annual Edogawa Ranpo Prize for detective fiction (1955-present), which has occasionally been won by sf authors: e.g. Kaoru Kurimoto in 1978. [JonC]

Tarō Hirai

born Nagagun, Mie, Japan: 21 October 1894

died 28 July 1965

works (selected)


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