The first part of an interview with Japanese mystery novelist Ayatsuji Yukito, well-known for his debut novel The Decagon House Murders and Another, which received an anime adaptation in 2012. The interview was originally conducted in 1999, and published as a preface interview in a special issue of the magazine Hon no Mushi.
Ayatsuji Yukito: “A glimpse of the roots of Orthodox Mystery”
Mr. Ayatsuji has been busy as of late. He announced the long-awaited new book “Don don hashi, ochita”. He also made an appearance on television as the original author of mystery dramas, delighting us fans.
Twelve years have passed since his debuting novel “The Decagon House Murders“. This time we probed the roots of the Ayatsuji mysteries, and inquired about his reading experiences in his childhood.
Did you often read books when you were a child?
I suppose I read about as much as the average person until my third year in primary school. We were of the “manga generation”; as a kid I read a lot of manga, but …not so much when it came to text-only novels. I wasn’t an active reader even if I was assigned to do a book report.
Then what about picture books or children’s books?
I remember reading a full box of complete works called “Hirosuke Douwa Zenshuu” (The Complete Hirosuke Fairytale Collection) by Hamata Hirosuke[ref]Hamata Hirosuke (1893 – 1989) was the pioneer of modern Japanese children’s books. He left behind over a 1000 works like “Naita akaoni” and “Ryuu no me no namida”, and is also known as the “Hans Christian Andersen of Japan”.[/ref] when I was in the lower grades of primary school… It was relatively popular, so I read it because we had it at home.
Were you good at writing book reports?
No way, I hated it!
I read in your essay compilation[ref]”Ayatsuji Yukito 1987~1995″: an essay compilation compiling all writings with the exception of novels, over a span of eight years since his debut novel.[/ref] that you were entranced by two mystery books an older boy in your neighborhood lent to you when you were a fourth grader in primary school.
That probably was the reason I got into it. Because up until then I had an interest in science fiction-like works. I have memories of reading complete sci-fi books in the library room of the primary school, such as “The Time Machine” and “The War of the Worlds“[ref]H.G. Wells authored both works.[/ref], and classic sci-fi works which were rewritten for children.
Name two book titles?
“The Hollow Needle” and “Youkai Hakase” (Specter Professor). The former is a book published by popular and aimed at boys and girls by Maurice Leblanc, and the latter is a Boys Detective work by Edogawa Ranpo.
And mysteries have won you over ever since then?
Yes. In the following year I read all boys-aimed mystery novels that were lined up at the bookstore. Lupin, Ranpo, Holmes, etc. …I probably read a hundred books with ease. When I was a sixth grader, I also read a large number of translated works aimed at adults, such as Sougen Suiri Bunko and the like.
Do you read mysteries by other people too at the moment?
I do! But the quantity is decreasing. I would be good if I can read one book a week. It has become my job, so I am not able to enjoy it without reserve like in the old days. I read reference books for my work, but the time to read a novel has decreased.
So you don’t read as you are busy with writing.
It seems like there are two roads for us writers. There are people who cannot write if they don’t continuously read novels by other people while they are working on a manuscript. Then there are people like me who work separately with a novel writing mode and a reading mode, and cannot read if they switch in between.
Umezu’s manga are my holy scriptures.
Ayatsuji-san, do you have a “long seller book” that you read many times?
If I have to mention it, it would absolutely be Umezu Kazuo’s works[ref]Umezu Kazuo was born in 1936. Since debuting with “Mori no Kyoudai” (1955), he unfolded a characteristic world of horror in works like “Reptilia” and “Orochi: Blood” on one hand, and also in other genres like gag manga, such as “Makoto-chan”.[/ref]. Even among the ones I read a lot, “The Drifting Classroom” is the one I read the most. The story was serialized for about one year when I was in middle school. The volumes I own are already worn-out. I repeatedly read the same book (with pleasure), but I think the amount is below average. In that sense I rarely re-read “The Drifting Classroom”, but it deeply moves me each time I read it.
Have Umezu’s works influenced your Ayatsuji mysteries?
Of course. The horror depicted in Umezu’s manga was permeated within myself the whole time ever since the old days. He influenced me in many facets such as the target of fear, situation, composition and method of direction.
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