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Furukawa Hideo

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1966-    ) Japanese poet, author and playwright, much garlanded with prizes in the literary field, but with roots and interests firmly in the world of Fantastika, with an insistent sense of bricolage, hommage and recursion. In the genre world, he might be most frequently compared to Yasutaka Tsutsui or Yōko Tawada, but teasing his own literary achievements from his constant repurposing of others' has been an exercise in which both critics and readers have either exulted or despaired, for Furukawa is engaged in constant dialogue with his peers and inspirations. Appreciating any one of his books inevitably requires knowledge of the work of several others, dragging the reader into an often-unwinnable game of post-modern recursion (see Postmodernism and SF).

His first published work, Suna no Ō ["King of the Sands"] (1993 Logout; 1994), was a Tie to the computer game Wizardry, printed in a magazine dedicated to Role Playing Games. This has since been redacted from the author's official bibliography, possibly because his repurposing of similar material in a later book made the spin-off origins something of a dirty secret (see also Gengen Kusano). Heavily rewritten and repurposed as Arabia no Yoru no Shuzoku ["The Arabian Nightbreeds"] (2001), it became his first great critical success: a Fabulation in which the Sultan of Egypt, facing overwhelming military force in the French invasion of 1798, hatches a plan to present Napoleon Bonaparte with The Book of Disasters, a cursed tome that brings doom to anyone who reads to its end.

Chūgoku-yuki no Slow Boat RMX ["Slow Boat to China RMX"] (2003; trans David Boyce as Slow Boat 2017) is an extended "remix" of a story by Haruki Murakami, Chūgoku-yuki no Slow Boat (1983; part trans Alfred Birnbaum in The Elephant Vanishes coll 1993). In it, a glum protagonist feels himself to be magically confined within the environs of Tokyo, ruminating on the quirks of the three women in his life. "Comparing a Japanese writer with Haruki Murakami is the laziest move a reviewer can make," noted Iain Maloney in the Japan Times, "but with Slow Boat, Hideo Furukawa leaves critics no choice." This was merely the first of several works of Recursive SF, openly repurposing the work of other authors, including Gusco Budori no Taiyōkei ["The Solar System of Gusco Budori"] (2019), which refashioned the iconic fables of Kenji Miyazawa, and Aoki-na Mori ["Blue Forest"] (2020) which reimagined the detective fiction of Ango Sakaguchi (1906-1955). Notably, both these authors were natives of northern Japan like Furukawa himself. He would revisit this obsession with his home region in the combined memoir and fabulation Umatachi yo, soredemo hikari wa muku de (2011; trans Douglas Slaymaker and Akiko Takenaka as Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale that Begins with Fukushima 2016). Even then, what appears to be a personal reminiscence inspired by the events of the 2011 Fukushima Disaster soon wanders off into discussions of UFOs and Beatles songs, as if Furukawa has taken a bet to write another Murakami hommage. In doing so, however, he also turns a story of north Japan into a story of Japan's capital, noting that all the power from the Fukushima nuclear reactor was intended for Tokyo, as if revisiting the regional politics of Hisashi Inoue.

Several of his stories consider the City of Tokyo, often as a tangle of Club Stories presenting a allegorical picture of a certain subculture. Arui wa Shura no Jūoku-nen ["A Billion Years of Chaos"] (2016), for example, looks ahead to Tokyo in 2026, in a world troubled by radioactive fallout, and where the district prepared for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has already collapsed into a slum (compare to Taiyō Fujii). Mirai Mirai ["Future Future"] (2018) imagines a balkanized Japan in which the northern island of Hokkaido was lost to the Soviet Union in World War Two, creating a north-south split not unlike that in modern-day Korea (see also Ryū Murakami, Makoto Shinkai), but which Japan itself is redefined by political union with a newly independent India in 1952, creating a huge "Indianippon" super-state. "T-gata Frankenstein" (2011 in TYO Gothic; trans Samuel Malissa as "Model-T Frankenstein" in The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction, anth 2016 ed Michael Emmerich, Jim Hinks and Masashi Matsuie), presents the city as an abstraction, seemingly inescapable and endless.

In straddling both literary and genre fiction, modes that rarely share readers, the scope and breadth of Furukawa's allusions often risk being invisible to one faction or another. Critics can be found periodically attacking him for writing literary fiction that is too lowbrow or genre fiction that is too impenetrable, although one suspects they are increasingly fearful of a gotcha game to catch them missing one of several hidden points. Soundtrack (2003) presents a Near-Future fable of youth culture in a Tokyo turned tropical by the heat-sink of its various industries and power-consumption, but for readers familiar with the "conversation" of Japanese literature, also amounted to a response to Coin Locker Babies (1980; trans Stephen Snyder 1995) by Ryū Murakami. His Seikazoku ["The Holy Family / Sacra Familia"] (2008) chronicles the 700-year history of a group of martial-arts Secret Masters in north Japan, although the resonances within it of Baku Yumemakura's "Jōgen no Tsuki o Taberu Shishi" ["The Lion that Eats the Crescent Moon"] (1986 S-F Magazine; fixup 1989) eluded many of his more highbrow readers (see also: Wuxia). Subsequently, Furukawa would set his Horses, Horses both within the world of this novel, but also within the world of his press tour to promote it, thereby flinging the reader into a maze of self-figuration and self-reference.

Similarly in a (Haruki) Murakami vein, this time aping the author's later interests in resonances of World War Two in the modern world, Belka, Hoenai no ka? (2005; trans Michael Emmerich as Belka, Why Don't You Bark? 2012), chronicles the genealogy of an entire family of dogs, descended from military canines abandoned on the Aleutian Islands after the abortive Japanese invasion of Alaska. Much as the ending of Jack London's The Call of the Wild (20 June-18 July 1903 Saturday Evening Post 1903), which Furukawa also subtly acknowledges, suggested descendants of its original protagonist, Belka charts the genes of the original dogs, left on the geographical cusp of the Cold War, throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, as their descendants become participants in, among other things, the Soviet space program and America's war in Vietnam, and interact with a Japanese girl who has developed a telepathic connection with dogs (see Psi Powers).

Late in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Furukawa swerved aside from work steeped in musical references and contemporary pastiche, instead concentrating on several works that applied his magpie methods to true classics. Onnatachi Sanbyaku-nin no Uragiri no Sho ["The Book of the Betrayals of 300 Women"] (coll of linked stories 2016) is a linked collection that amounts to a retelling of Murasaki Shikibu's novel Genji Monogatari ["The Tale of Genji"] (circa eleventh century). Furukawa was credited as the "translator" from classical Japanese of Heike Monogatari ["Tale of the Heike"] (2016), a modern edition of the medieval war chronicle that forms a major element of what might be called the Matter of Japan [for Matter see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] His 900-page epic met with a varied reception, derided by some reviewers as a slipshod and unnecessary rendering of a beloved classic, but praised by others as a welcome vernacular re-imagining. He would subsequently revisit the story with an interpolation of his own making – evocative of The Buried Giant (2015) by Kazuo Ishiguro, Heike Monogatari: Inu-Ō no Maki ["The Tale of the Heike: Chapter of Inu-Ō"] (2020) is framed as a new chapter in the medieval saga, focusing on the relationship between a musician and a Noh performer, each maimed in their own way, but also playing with the original's Buddhist-derived belief that the characters lived in an era that presaged the End of the World. Within weeks of its publication, a forthcoming Anime film adaptation was announced by the director Masaaki Yuasa. [JonC]

Hideo Furukawa

born Koriyama, Japan: 11 July 1966

works (selected)


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