The book: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
The music: Anything by Ningen Isu
YouTube’s algorithms know my tastes pretty well by now, so when a new band is recommended, I watch the video. I think I was watching something by Babymetal and YouTube was like, “Hey, J metal [Japanese metal] is cool, but you’re not a kawaii metal [Japanese metal + Jpop [Japanese pop]] person. Check out these guys instead.” So I did.
Ningen Isu’s music is pretty standard metal. Wikipedia tells me they’re influenced by Black Sabbath and Kiss, which comes across – nothing groundbreaking, but still good to listen to in the background. They’re also fun to watch: the singer/guitarist looks like he should be yelling at you to get off his lawn, the bassist has this ghost-monk look going on, and their current drummer appears happily stuck about 30 years in the past.
Where they do distinguish themselves, however, is with their lyrics, with references to H.P. Lovecraft, Buddhism, and classic Japanese literature. Their name, for example, which means “Human Chair,” comes from a story by Japanese mystery/horror writer Edogawa Rampo. So, I decided to read a book of his short stories.
First, some notes about the author. His pen name is the Japanese pronunciation of his favorite mystery writer (say his name aloud if you can’t figure it out). His stories are “Ero guro nansensu,” which comes from the English words “erotic, grotesque, nonsense.” And that really captures his stories that I read, which gives them a creepy vibe that you don’t find very often in straight-up mystery or horror.
Of the stories in this particular book, they seemed to fall into two categories: creepy body horror, and the psychology of murder. There’s nothing supernatural in these stories (with maybe the exception of “The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture”), which only adds to the horror, because any of these stories could actually be real, taking place right now. He also has some pretty ingenious murder methods, in case you’re looking for inspiration for your own murder story that you’re definitely just writing and not actually acting out.
I don’t have much familiarity with Japanese literature (or much Asian literature overall, unfortunately), so I was glad to find this book. I’ll definitely be reading more of his works and those of similar authors.
If you’re familiar with Japanese literature, what other authors would you recommend?