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on 15 December 2013
I have not seen Kurosawa's film, so I came to this book uncontaminated with preconception. Akutagawa's prose is so fluid and he catches you with such beautiful quirks of description, such sharp whips of humour, and so many revelations of his humanity and depth in a short space that it's no wonder he is considered one of Japan's greatest writers. An effortless read packed with variety and pleasure. You have to buy it and see.
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on 25 August 2017
The original of the film is great, but the other stories are great too.
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on 26 March 2016
I read Rashomon and 5 of the short stories included in the book more than 20 years ago and to this day they are among my all time favourite written works. Excellent example of the Japanese literature.
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on 24 January 2017
very happy with product
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on 14 August 2016
Great collection of Akutagawa stories by Penguin!
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on 11 January 2017
Gift for someone
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on 17 June 2013
A collection of tales/folk lore from Japan, a good read but some of the stories get a little long winded
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on 29 March 2010
"Rashomon" tells the story of a "lowly servant" sheltering from the rain on the steps of a rashomon (outer castle gate). He has recently been laid off and sits pondering his future. He hears a sound and ventures inside the rashomon to see what it was. Inside are heaps of dead bodies from the recent plague and a strange old woman wandering about, going through the corpses' clothes. The servant attacks the old woman, strips her of her clothing, throws her onto the heap, and runs off.

"In a Bamboo Grove" features a married couple and a robber. The story is told from the perspective of all witnesses and it emerges that the husband was murdered but who did it and why is the mystery.

These are the two most famous Akutagawa stories and are an excellent start to the collection. However, afterwards they become quite mediocre and even a bit tedious. The forced gothic of "Hell Screen" plods along until a near hysterical ending that undermines the seriousness of the story, that of obssession and the artistic mind. "The Nose" is a very odd story about a priest with a very big nose, has it shortened, and it grows back again. It's one of those "be grateful for what you have, accept who you are" type tales and not nearly as brilliant as Gogol's "The Nose" (Gogol being one of Akutagawa's influences and, frankly, a better short story writer).

As the title suggests there are 18 stories here but those are the only ones I can remember. The last couple in the section called "Akutagawa's Own Story" are interesting, with "Life of a Stupid Man" playing with form and presenting an interesting take on autobiography through small snippets of a life glimpsed in passing. "Spinning Gears" is the final story he wrote before his suicide (pills) and is about the slowly disintegrating mind of Akutagawa. The desperation and mounting paranoia give the reader an insight into Akutagawa's fragile and fractured mindset. The strange imagery is also fascinating. The spinning gears he sees around his eyes confuse and scare him while at every turn he sees signs of death - a decaying animal corpse, dying people in hospitals, and above all his morbid fear of going insane like his mother.

I won't say I didn't enjoy the book as there were some stories here that were excellent, and whether it's Jay Rubin's translation or not, the writing was always of a high standard. And students of literature will find reading "Rashomon" and "In a Bamboo Grove" very rewarding as will film students who are interested in the work of Kurasawa who based his film "Rashomon" on those stories. But compared to other short story writers and other Japanese writers, Akutagawa isn't nearly on their level.
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on 17 March 2007
Just to avoid any potential confusion, it should be noted that there are two separate volumes containing a selection of Akutagawa's shorter fiction in English translation, both entitled "Rashomon and Other Stories". Firstly, there is a slender but excellent volume of six tales translated by Takashi Kojima, originally published in 1952 but reissued in 1999. This contains the bulk of Akutagawa's most widely known and most accessible short stories: as well as the title story, the selection includes "In a Bamboo Grove", "Dragon", "The Martyr", "Yam Gruel" and "Kesa and Morito".

Secondly, there is a more recent and much more comprehensive collection of eighteen short stories translated by Jay Rubin, and issued as a very handsome Penguin Modern Classics edition in 2006 with a fascinating introduction by Japanese literary lion Haruki Murakami, as well as copious background notes by the translator. Again we get the popular Heian Period tales "Rashomon", "In a Bamboo Grove" and "Dragon", but also the chilling "Hell Screen" - arguably Akutagawa's masterpiece. Then there is a group of three unexpectedly moving tales set around war-torn seventeenth-century Nagasaki, including the surprisingly touching story "O-Gin" involving failed (or is it failed?) martyrdom. Another fascinating collection of three stories under the heading of "Modern Tragi-Comedy" shows that Akutagawa was capable of surprising (though admittedly dark) comedy: try the touching but determinedly anti-romantic "Green Onions", for instance. Finally, a collection of six autobiographical tales gives us very different perspectives on Akutagawa's own life, from childhood to his tortured, barbiturate-addicted twilight years before his eventual suicide. Two of these, both posthumous manuscripts, are utterly fascinating and unsettling, both in terms of style and content: "The Life of a Stupid Man", which consists of 51 short, hallucinatory, almost haiku-like episodes which must make up one of the shortest but most effective autobiographies ever written; and the haunted confessional "Spinning Gears", written just before Akutagawa's suicide, in which his disintegrating mind starts to see portents and supernatural connections everywhere around him, all pointing him towards the grave - the really unsettling aspect of this is that the reader obviously knows that this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Hell Screen", the other long vision of hell in this collection, makes a good contrast: written at the absolute height of Akutagawa's powers, it is a stylistic triumph, and powerfully communicates his pessimistic view of human nature in its depiction of an artist who is prepared to sacrifice everything and everyone he loves to his art, and his nobleman patron who is equally ruthless and inhuman, with perhaps the most movingly "human" part in the tale being given to a pet monkey.

Although Akutagawa's vision was unquestionably a dark one, both collections show his lighter, more humorous side too. The Penguin Modern Classics collection probably has the edge in terms of comprehensiveness, but Akutagawa's stories are surprisingly habit-forming, and readers may well find themselves wanting to acquire both volumes.
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on 23 April 2008
You have to read this book. It contains some of the most stunning writing I have ever encountered. You dont have to be a fan of the short story or of Japanese literature to appreciate this masterpiece!! You may be familiar with some Kurosawa films based on these short tales. Probably my favourite historical tale is 'The Hell Screen' about a maniacal artist who will go to any extreme in order to complete his depiction of hell. I also love 'In the Grove.' It is very inventive in the way it is told, as we read many different viewpoints on an apparent murder. It is hard to see the truth of the matter and I just love the way the different people's viewpoints contradict and mingle (filmed as Rashomon I believe).
There are also contempary tales in this collection. I feel the best ones are the ones written towards the end of Akutagawa's life, which are basically autobiographical. Anyone who suffers from depression and migraines will empathise with him. From reading these tales of anxiety, pressure, paranoia and failure, you can see how he felt in the months leading up to his suicide at the age of 35. There are also tales of bitterness towards his family and of being not being able to be with the woman he truly loved. And I find some of the writing in these stories to be utterly beautiful. Read this now, you will not be dissapointed! Amazing.
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