War and Peace and Love
There has been a renaissance lately in the samurai genre, from directors like Yamada Yoji (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, Love and Honor) and Kurotsuchi Mitsuo (The Samurai I Loved). All of these films have something in common, in that the stories and style are drawn from the same source, namely the short stories of Fujisawa Shuhei.
Fujisawa was something of a romanticist, writing stories of a distant past that he never personally experienced. Born in 1927 and dying in 1997, Fujisawa was a personal witness to the rise and fall and rise and fall of Japan, both in WWII and the Bubble Economy era. As opposed to these eras of conflict, Fujisawa’s stories generally take place in the 200-year span of peace known as the Edo period, a time when the military ideals of the samurai had faded, and when only a few still held on to the principals of the aristocratic warrior class.
“The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales” collects eight of Fujisawa’s short stories in this genre. It was the sixteenth collection selected for the Japanese Literature Publishing Project, a Government-funded project that encouraged the translation and publishing overseas of works of literature that were considered to be core to the understanding of the Japanese people and contributed to world culture. The title story of the collection, “The Bamboo Sword” became the basis for the Oscar-winning “Twilight Samurai.”
Instead of the great movers and shakers, the power players, Fujisawa focuses on the low-ranking pawns, the members of construction crews and horse groomers, those who technically held samurai status but without the money and prestige of their lords. He has the ability as an author to take us back into this time, to open the hearts of characters torn between their stated duties and the need for personal honor and integrity. There are comedic stories (All For a Melon) and touching stories (Kozuru), and stories of honor lost and regained (The Runaway Stallion).
Translator Gavin Frew has done and excellent job here, and deserves props as well. Like the very best of translated works, one quickly forgets that this was not originally written in English.
Every story in the collection is, in a world, brilliant, and some of the finest Japanese literature that I have ever read. I have been impressed by the recent movies I have seen based on Fujisawa’s work, and I am even more impressed by the original stories themselves.
The only sad footnote to this collection is the holder of the rights to the remainder of Fujisawa’s stories is refusing to allow translation and publication, for whatever reason. Hopefully, as the renaissance in Fujisawa-based samurai films continues to gain popularity in the West, they will see the benefit in releasing these beautiful works of fiction to an appreciative audience, regardless of nationality.