Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Study Guide for “Demon Beasts” (Kichiku 鬼畜, 2002) by Takahashi Gen’ichirō


*Purchase my translation of the story in Volume 4 of Monkey Business! Purchase the original story here!

Takahashi Gen’ichirō 高橋源一郎 (1951–): born in Hiroshima. He graduated from a nationally famous prep school and landed a place in Yokohama National University, but his involvement in the student movement led to his withdrawal. He worked in construction for about ten years, during which time he suffered from a kind of aphasia, and it was as a form of rehabilitation that he eventually tried his hand at fiction. In 1981 his debut work, Sayonara gyangu-tachi (Goodbye, Gangsters), received an honorable mention for the Gunzo New Writer Prize for Novel-Length Fiction. In 1988 he won the Mishima Yukio Prize for his novel Yuga de kansho-teki na Nihon yakyu (Japanese Baseball: Elegant and Sentimental). Drawing on material from literature both Eastern and Western as well as from manga and pornography, and displaying a penchant for both parody and pastiche, he has continued to be one of Japan’s leading postmodernists. The novel Nihon bungaku seisuishi (The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature), based on the struggles of literary giants in the period when modern Japanese literature first took shape, garnered the Ito Sei Prize in 2002; and his collection of stories Sayonora Kurisutofa Robin (Goodbye, Christopher Robin) took the Tanizaki Jun’ichiro Prize in 2012. He is also known as a writer of incisive essays on current events, and as a commentator on horse racing. (Source: J-Lit: Books from Japan)

Study Questions
1. Discuss the character Tanaka. Discuss his background. Discuss his current psychological state.
2. Describe the style of prose.
3. What is the narrative point of view? Where is the focalization point? What narrative techniques are employed in the story (e.g. interior monologue, free indirect speech, etc.)?
4. Describe Tanaka’s first day after being released from prison.
5. What sort of work is Tanaka willing to do? What are his qualifications? What was the result of his first few interviews?

6. Describe the interior/atmosphere of the “swanky office” that Tanaka enters. What is the result of his first conversation with the man at this office?
7. Describe the appearance and demeanor of the man at the office. Describe his tongue.
8. Describe the “tongue splitting” procedure. What is the purpose of this procedure?
9. Describe the appearance of office secretary Maryanne. Describe her tongue.
10. Describe the “tongue lengthening” procedure. What is the purpose of this procedure?

11. What service does this office provide? How does the man describe the concept of “somatic ornamentation aka body modification” to Tanaka? Explain.
12. Do you agree with the concept/practice of “body modification”? Should there be any limits placed on how far we should go with it?
13. Describe the “tongue removal” procedure. What is the purpose of this procedure?
14. Describe the physical appearance of Ken (the young man whose penis is split in two). What act does he in engage in with Maryanne in front of Tanaka? How does Tanaka react?
15. Describe the “penile subincision” procedure. What is the purpose of this procedure?

16. Why does Tanaka talk to his mother in his head? What does he say to his mother?
17. The line between sanity/normal and insanity/abnormal is blurred in this work. Who do you think is on the side of sanity/normality—Tanaka or the office employees?
18. Describe Tanaka’s method for killing each of the office employees. What is his motivation in killing them? How does he justify his act in his mind?
19. Describe the “leg removal” procedure. What is the purpose of this procedure?
20. What do we learn about Tanaka from the following internal dialogue with his mother at the end of the story? How does he justify his previous crime in his mind?

Oh, Mama! These people are demon beasts! No normal person would ever do what they do! What would the world come to if they were allowed to roam free? Don’t you see, Mama? These lunatics are trying to turn the world on its head! It’s like what my doctor told me—you know, that shrink who saw after me in prison. “You’re not a bad man,” he said. “You’re not an animal. You’re not evil. Something just came over you at that instant—a kind of veil fell over your eyes. You had no choice.” Yes, Mama, that’s what he said—and he was right, too. I’m sure of it. How else could I have slit your and Daddy’s and Daisuke’s throats? That wasn’t me then, Mama. That wasn’t my doing. That was some demon beast I didn’t even know. I’m sure of it. Which is why I must see to it that demon beasts like that never roam this earth again. You understand, don’t you, Mama?

21. Discuss the meaning/significance of the story’s title—“demon beasts” (kichiku). Who are the “demon beasts” in the story?
22. Discuss the significance of the two lines at the end of the story: “Suddenly everything came into focus. The veil had been lifted.” What does this “veil” refer to? In what way has it “been lifted”?

Further Group Discussion Questions

1. In what ways are we all a bit like Tanaka? Explain.
2. Where is the story’s climax? How is the structure of this story different from Freytag’s Pyramid?

3. Comment on the violent and sexually explicit episodes/descriptions in the work. What is their overall effect on the reader?

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