#88 = Volume 29, Part 3 = November 2002
Horror and Machines in Prewar Japan: The Mechanical Uncanny in Yumeno Kyûsaku’s Dogura magura
Very slowly ... slowly ... all the machines in the factory, piled on top of one another, begin to awaken. Their steam spreads from one corner of the factory to another. They move faster and faster ... my eyes can no longer follow them, and illusions of steel swirl around me.... Cruel, dark groans fill the room. They have the power to entrap any great soul in a hallucination of fear and death in an instant. How many countless bodies have the machines torn apart? Their echoes mock the ghosts of female workers and children who were shredded and beaten by them. (Yumeno, “Kaimu” 96-97)
Images of machines were ubiquitous in the literary landscape of Taishô (1912-1926) and early Shôwa (1926-1989) Japan. Some writers praised the beauty of machines and others explored their darkness. Yumeno Kyûsaku (1889-1936), an early science fiction writer known for his bizarre narratives and avant-gardism, belonged to the latter category. He envisioned machines as fearful entities tearing apart human bodies and often evoked mechanical imagery to strike fear into the heart of the reader. This paper focuses on the discourse of horror and the mode of the uncanny that governs one of Yumeno’s last novels, Dogura magura (1935, also called Dogura Magura in English).
Yumeno worked in Fukuoka as a journalist for Kyûshû nippô (The Kyushu Daily) before delving into fiction. He was also a master of Nô theater and a Buddhist monk. Yumeno’s father was Sugiyama Shigemaru, one of the leading figures of the proto-nationalist political group “The Society of the Black Sea” (genyôsha), leading many scholars to focus on the nationalistic ideologies embedded in his works.1 From 1926 on, Yumeno published detective fiction and numerous short stories in the popular journal Shin seinen (New Youths), and quickly became a representative writer of what was understood in Taishô and early Shôwa Japan as “irregular detective fiction” (henkaku tantei shôsetsu), so called because it differed from the more objective and rational methods of “regular detective fiction” (honkaku tantei shôsetsu).2 Because of its frequent scientific themes, this category of “irregular detective fiction” is now treated as the forerunner of contemporary Japanese science fiction.3
Yumeno’s Dogura magura is representative of this “early science fiction”—a group of texts dealing with science and sf tropes before the introduction of the American sf genre in the 1950s.4 The strange title of the novel, according to both critics and the text itself, means “trickery” in Nagasaki dialect (Williams 190). Because of its enormous length—1500 pages in manuscript form—Yumeno published the novel from Shôhakukan with his own funds. It narrates a tale about a paranoid mental patient who is told by two psychologists, Masaki and Wakabayashi, that he may be a murderer named Kure Ichirô. The patient searches for his identity throughout the novel, and in the end, he discovers that not only is he Ichirô, but he is also a fetus dreaming inside his mother’s womb.
Dogura magura is valuable not only for its literary qualities, but also for the considerable historical insight it provides into the development of psychoanalysis at Kyûshû Imperial University.5 SUGIYAMA Kura, Yumeno’s wife, noted his frequent trips to the psychology department of the university in order to collect materials for the novel (112). Kyûshû Imperial University, which also provides the setting for the novel, was the center of the study of psychoanalysis in the 1920s and, although psychology was as that time considered to be little more than a form of popular science, scholars there were conducting extensive research on Freud, Kraft-Ebbing, and Otto Rank.6 According to his diary, Yumeno spent approximately a decade on this novel: “I have written a draft of the psychological study [seishin shinri gaku]”—a study now understood to be an early version of Dogura magura.7 Although Yumeno thought of this bizarre novel as the culmination of his literary career, the epic novel puzzled critics at the time of its publication and failed to receive any critical attention until after the end of World War II.8 Since then, however, it has been praised by literary critics as Yumeno’s magnum opus and, because of its treatment of psychological themes, has even been regarded as an important contribution to the fields of child psychology and embryology.9
Critics have also praised the novel’s exploration of the theme of “doubling” in the midst of Japan’s golden “Age of Machines.”10 During this time, when the impact of mechanical reproduction was making itself felt in all aspects of Japanese life, Yumeno exploits scientific culture as one of the essential ingredients of his particular brand of horror. Though many critics have picked up on the notion of the mechanical age as an important theme or subtheme in the text, none has explored the potential that this interpretation holds. One scholar, for example, observes that the doppelganger and the doubling in Dogura magura reflect “the Tokyo that Yumeno feared and the mass production and consumption associated with that Tokyo.”11 Cultural critic Tsurumi Shunsuke has gone so far as to read the figure of the protagonist Ichirô as an “anti-robot,” one who searches for the human spirit lost in the mechanical age (261). I generally agree with these critics that a critique of the mechanical age underlies the text. I contend, however, that the text does not merely subvert the ideologies of the machine age. Ichirô is not simply an “anti-robot.” The scene is much more complicated than this, for bodies in Dogura magura are imagined through metaphors of machines and portrayed as possessing certain machine-like qualities. In other words, the distinction between robots and humans, between the mechanical and the biological, is constantly blurred in the text. It is precisely through this mechanization of the human body that Yumeno succeeds in producing his own discourse of fear in order to defamiliarize “the age of machines” in which he lived.
The theoretical model of the uncanny will prove to be useful in our analysis of Dogura magura. I shall begin by discussing the significance of machines in prewar Japan and how Yumeno came to regard mechanical images with fear. I will then develop the idea of “the mechanical uncanny”—the literary mode that blurs the line between what is perceived as natural and what is perceived as artificial.
The Mechanical Uncanny.
People of today, since they were born, have grown up seeing steamships, telegrams, telephones, moving pictures, and airplanes. For these contemporary people, these things represent the natural environment, just like trees growing on mountains and water occupying the oceans. These things are not considered to be strange at all.... The contemporary age is the age of machines, in contrast to the people at the turn of the century, who feared machines.—Hirabayashi Hatsunosuke, “The Social Basis of Modernism”
Taishô and early Shôwa-period Japan saw a rapid development in the fields of technology and modern media. This period, often referred to as Japan’s “age of machines,” witnessed the birth of consumerism and mass production, not to mention the introduction and the popularization of new media such as film, photography, and radio. The social effects that this new mechanical age brought about became the focus of numerous essays and literary works in prewar Japan.
Machines became a dominant image in the texts of this era. Such Marxist scholars as Itagaki Takaho (1894-1966), for example, explored the relationship between “machines” (kikai) and “art” (geijutsu). Envisioning a Marxist utopia, Itagaki claimed that “machines are ... a gift from God that promises the happiness of the proletariat” (452). With the Japanese release of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in 1929 and the publication of translations of such early Western science fiction as Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (1920), mechanical objects such as robots and cogwheels became ubiquitous in literature. Japan saw a “robot boom” during which such popular science magazines as Kagaku gahô (Illustrated Magazine of Science) and satirical writers as Mizushima Niou began to feature robots in their texts (Yonezawa 52). The image of jinzô ningen (literally, “artificial humans”) also became popularized through works such as Mizushima’s “Jinzô ningen jidai” (1923, “The Age of Artificial Humans”).
Machines and technology in prewar Japan, however, did not simply represent social progress; they also came to be associated with fear and degeneration. In the words of one scholar, prewar literature depicting machines was in “a constant flux between a utopian dream of machines on one hand and a pessimistic nightmare of them on the other” (Unno 477). After the release of Metropolis, machines and robotic figures became inseparable from the image of the proletariat in the popular imagination. Numerous texts of proletarian literature (puroretaria bunagaku) began depicting machines as threatening forces that brutally murder factory workers, and it is this type of fearful imagery that came to be appropriated by the Shin seinen (New Youths) detective fiction writers such as Edogawa Ranpô and Unno Jûza—often referred to as “the father of Japanese sf”—not to mention Yumeno Kyûsaku himself (Aramata 30). Although their works differ significantly, these Shin seinen writers were all associated with the erotic-grotesque-nonsense (ero-guro-nansensu) movement, “the prewar, bourgeois cultural phenomenon that devoted itself to explorations of the deviant, the bizarre, and the ridiculous” (Reichert 114). The erotic-grotesque-nonsense texts were targeted mainly at adolescents and were perceived as avant-garde and trendy. In other words, a huge consumer market for the bizarre was being established in prewar Japan, and this undoubtedly affected these popular writers’ decision to depict a “nightmare of machines” rather than a “utopian dream.
For Yumeno Kyûsaku, especially, it was imperative that the mode of fear, of the uncanny, be deployed in the detective fiction that is now regarded as early sf. Discussing the direction of future detective fiction, Yumeno declared:
Humanity is like a small insect writhing at the bottom of scientific culture [kagaku bunka].... Detective Fiction must be the ultimate popular literature [taishûteki na yomimono] that makes one fully taste the flavors of pleasure, intensity, and the gruesomeness that exposes this humanity through the mode of absolute fear [zetsudai no kyôfu]. It must make one shudder. (“A Response to Mr. Kôga Saburô” 74).12
Yumeno saw fear (kyôfu) as the ultimate mode of expression at the heart of popular fiction. This fear must capture the humanity “writhing at the bottom of scientific culture”; it must capture the disappearing human conscience threatened by science. This binary opposition between something “human” or biological and something scientific appear repeatedly in his works, and what I will refer to as “the mechanical uncanny”—a mode of fear that captures the incursion of the mechanical into the biological—becomes an important aspect of his writing.
Science, for Yumeno, is often translated into mechanical metaphors, such as the factory scene described in the epigraph to his “Strange Dreams.” In his later works, mechanical metaphors are also applied to descriptions of human cognition. In the same year as the publication of Dogura magura, Yumeno declared in a letter to the writer Kôga Saburô:
Science disregarded all things that were sacred, beautiful, and mysterious.... It investigated these mysteries to their cores and laughed at the fact that they were just calculations that can be reduced to electronic functions [denshi no sayô]. It thoroughly analyzed people’s religious beliefs and declared that they were just egotistical expressions governed by +/-/0 [plus minus zero] logic.... Religion is a fraud. Art is self-centered. And love is nothing but a sex drive. It proclaimed this and was delighted. (73)
What Yumeno terms science is a force that reduces humans to mere numbers, turning them into “statistical persons”—bodies that can be converted into statistics and surveillance, into numbers and cases.13 Like Yokomitsu Riichi’s similar story that was conspicuously titled “Kikai” (1930, Machine, 1962), in Dogura magura there is no physical machinery (robots, factories, and so on); instead, the text uses mechanical metaphors to capture the functioning of the human mind. This equation of human cognition with machinery is already hinted at in “Strange Dreams,” where the narrator shifts from scenes of factories to insane asylums, drawing a connection between physical and psychological mechanisms, which Yumeno will further develop through the mental institution of Dogura magura, where the protagonist becomes incapable of distinguishing between the mechanical and the biological within himself, finally becoming automaton-like.
Sigmund Freud addressed fears about the mechanical in his renowned essay on “The Uncanny” (1919). Criticizing Ernst Jentsch’s definition of the uncanny as an effect that leaves “the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton” (qtd. in Freud 227), Freud argues for a more complex model of the uncanny that takes into account psychological factors. Whereas for Jentsch an automaton represented the fear deriving from the uncertainty of whether something is human or mechanical, Freud reads the figure as a materialization of the protagonist’s “feminine attitude towards his father in his infancy” (232). In other words, Freud takes figures such as automatons or doubles as representations of the subject’s infantile desires and fears and the return of these familiar, repressed feelings. Although he succeeds in adding a psychological layer to the uncanny, Freud’s interpretation is oftentimes too restrictive and does not leave room for the subject’s own interpretation.14
Although, as many parts of Dogura magura demonstrate, Yumeno was certainly influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, Yumeno’s mechanical uncanny is quite different from the Freudian uncanny. Yumeno’s discourse of fear is strongly linked to his own sense of nationalism. In his letter to Kôga Saburô, Yumeno defines science as a Western import that has destroyed “Japanese culture.” The supremacy of Western science in Japan was precisely what destroyed “all things that were sacred, beautiful, and mysterious” and created “mechanical puppets” like Dogura magura’s protagonist Ichirô. Also falling into the broad category of science were two types of literature—Japanese Naturalism and regular detective fiction, which were deemed more valuable than irregular detective fiction by literary critics, precisely because they were more “rational” and “scientific.”15 For Yumeno, these works reinforced the dominance of Western science in Japan, and his letter can be read as a nationalistic critique of Western influence on the Japanese literary and cultural milieu. In his texts, “Western science” becomes a dark force pitted against “Japanese culture.”
The mechanical uncanny, therefore, is marked by a certain loss of both individual and national identity and a certain nostalgia for a pre-Westernized Japan. As we shall see, in Dogura magura Ichirô’s identity—or national identity—becomes uncertain as a result of his mechanization. Yumeno plays with such Freudian themes as Döppelgangers to portray this loss of identity. As Freud points out, an individual’s uncertainty about self often manifests in the figures of doubles: “the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own.” In other words, there is “a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self” (234). Unlike in Freud’s analysis, however, the double for Yumeno does not merely represent the manifestation of one’s ego or an “uncanny harbinger of death” (235). Yumeno will add a twist by inscribing onto the double a completely different national identity. The uncanny will occur when Ichirô realizes that he is not a “pure Japanese,” as he had previously assumed, and when he is “split” into two nationalities.
Moreover, the fusing of the mechanical and the biological applies strictly to the individual’s own awareness of self, not to the individual’s uncertainty regarding another mechanical object. That is, it is not that the characters are unsure if a robot is really a human; they are uncertain about whether or not they might themselves be mechanical, mere reproductions of other objects. The mechanical uncanny arises from this particular uncertainty that manifests itself in the psyche, this fear that points to the main question in the novel as posed by Dr. Masaki: to what extent do people actually have control over their minds and bodies (181)? Can any human thought pattern, in the end, be reduced to a program, thus reducing humans to mere “statistical beings,” similar to automatons?
Yumeno’s conceptualization of human cognition as a machine is actually closer to the definition of the automaton given by systems theorists: a “self-organizing system”16 or control mechanism that is “designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations or respond to encoded instructions,”17 an object that represents the programmability of the human psyche. Automatons threaten “the metaphysical conception of the autonomous human subject, endowed with consciousness and free will” (Dupuy, “Autonomy” 62). It is not surprising, then, that Dogura magura has been described as a text that foreshadows the coming of cybernetics and biotechnology.18 The mechanical uncanny occurs when Ichirô discovers the program underlying his own mind and realizes that he is under its control. It is a process by which something “non-human” is revealed within what was considered to be wholly human, and one’s ideas about the natural and biological are disrupted by the existence of the programmatic within oneself (see Dupuy, “Autonomy” 69). The following section will use this metaphor of the automaton to explore the mechanical uncanny in the novel.
The Automatons in Dogura magura
I promise you that if you read Dogura magura five times, it will give you a different feeling each time.—Yumeno Kyûsaku19
The subheading of Dogura magura—“a fantastic strange detective fiction” (genma kaiki tantei shôsetsu)—presents a fairly accurate description of the text. The strange story takes place in a mental institution at Kyûshû Imperial University and involves three main characters. Dr. Masaki and Dr. Wakabayashi are rival psychologists. The story is told in the first person by their patient, who has no recollection of his true identity. Throughout the novel, he searches for his identity, and he becomes understandably worried when he learns that he may be Kure Ichirô, a serial killer who has murdered both his own mother and his fiancée. Ultimately, we discover that he is indeed Kure Ichirô, but the novel’s conclusion betrays the classic whodunit narrative. For, in the final scenes, Ichirô realizes that he is a fetus who has just dreamt the entire history presented in Dogura magura. Simply put, the unborn Ichirô has just had a long nightmare in his mother’s womb.20
The bulk of Dogura magura is set up as a scientific experiment performed by Masaki and Wakabayashi. Their academic reputations depend on the success of their experiment, on whether or not Ichirô can remember his past. It is imperative for Masaki, especially, that Ichirô remember who he is, for that would validate all of Masaki’s theories on human psychology. In order to help Ichirô remember his past, Wakabayashi hands him a collection of Masaki’s writings that includes newspaper articles, eye-witness accounts of the two murders, a dissertation on the heredity of psychology, Buddhist sutras on insane asylums, and even a film about the experiment, that is, Ichirô himself.
Ichirô learns that Masaki has been working toward a theory of “hereditary psychology” (shinri iden), which asserts that each cell in an individual’s body possesses a memory bank of his ancestral past and that this memory can be recalled when a certain trigger (anji) is activated in the individual. If his ancestor were an insane serial killer, and if someone knew the trigger, then the individual could be used as a weapon. This is indeed, as Ichirô discovers, how the murders have been committed. The trigger turns out to be a scroll depicting six decaying bodies of beautiful women, drawn by Kure Ichirô’s ancestor Go Seishû, a Chinese painter turned serial killer. Masaki, it turns out, has gotten hold of the scroll, fathered Ichirô, and framed Ichirô for the murder of his own wife Chiseko—Ichirô’s mother—all in the name of science.
This complicated pastiche—jumping back and forth between Ichirô’s account and the “clues” given him—is held together by one main narrative: Ichirô’s search for his true identity. Although Ichirô sees this as a personal endeavor, at the same time it becomes a crucial proof in support of Masaki’s scientific theories. In his monograph entitled Zettai tantei shôsetsu: nôzui wa mono o kangaeru tokoro ni arazu (The Ultimate Detective Fiction: The Brain is Not the Site of Thought), Masaki reconfigures the human body and goes so far as to say that human beings’ reliance on the illusion of the brain as the center of the body lies at the root of various social ills:
“The brain that thinks things” successfully effaced God from the human world, and made human beings oppose the natural world. It began to construct a material culture for humans. The brain first thought up various weapons for humans and made it easier for people to kill each other.... It made various machines move about and turned the world into a smaller place. It invented a multitude of lights and expelled the sun, the moon, and the stars. It put human beings, the children of nature, into houses of steel and stone. It had them breathe gas and electricity and made their arteries solidify. It applied cosmetics of lead and dirt and made people amuse themselves with mechanical humans (kikai ningen). (184)
Masaki’s quote echoes Hirabayashi’s comments on the “age of machines.” The brain is a world of material culture and technology, from which the “natural” world has been expelled. Once again, machines replace the biological and people become robots themselves, breathing artificial air and living under artificial light. Masaki tells a story of loss, where the natural world has been effaced by machines, and it becomes clear that his ultimate goal is to recover what was lost. As he never fails to remind Ichirô, if the experiment is successful and Ichiro remembers his past, then this natural world can be regained.
Such scholars as Tsurumi Shunsuke have come to interpret the figure of Ichirô as an “anti-robot,” one who resists the dominance of the artificial and the mechanical:
Artificiality may succeed in creating a cognition that is more complicated than the one life created. [In the future], there may be people with useless bodies who become loyal servants of intelligent robots and serve these artificial brains.... However, there will still be anti-robot humans who would believe that these slaves are living solely out of the necessity of life itself.... I want to situate the protagonist of Dogura magura as one of these rebellious anti-robots. (261)
It is true that Ichirô’s search for his identity parallels Masaki’s search for the lost natural world. I contend, however, that what makes Dogura magura a disturbing text is that, even when Ichirô remembers his past in the end, the “natural world” cannot be recovered. Ichirô becomes a mechanized being, and the natural and the mechanical in the text are not separate. As such, the existence of an “anti-robot” is rendered impossible in the world of Dogura magura.
Even Masaki, a steadfast opponent of “artificiality” who tries to restore the line between the authentic and the artificial, cannot escape from the insidious vocabulary of the machine. He imagines the human body through mechanical metaphors and ultimately fuses the biological with the mechanical. In his dismissal of the brain as the site of thought and memory, Masaki describes the operation of the brain as follows:
Let us take a look inside this foolish, automatic, and reflexive phone company that we call the brain.... Large groupings of nerve cells, as you can see, turn themselves into phone lines, switches, codes, switchboards, relay stations, or antenna, vacuum tubes, dials, and coils. At the same time, they each have a certain sense of consciousness within themselves and separate themselves into specific specializations─one in charge of crying, one in charge of laughing, one that sees, one that hears, one that remembers, and one that falls in love, etc. (225)
Masaki pictures the brain as an automatic system in which every organic cell becomes a mechanical object. These objects, however, still possess a certain consciousness and specific “human” behavior (remembering, falling in love, and so on). Thus, an organic substance can be divided into mechanical parts, and, at the same time, the mechanical parts can act in a human manner. The text of Dogura magura constantly fuses the biological mode of the body with descriptions of machines. “The natural” or the authentic aura is already a non-recoverable entity in Dogura magura, just as auratic sounds have already disappeared, and so it becomes more and more difficult for Ichirô to regain his complete identity. In fact, as the narrative progresses, the reader becomes more and more aware of the mechanical aspects of the characters. Even elements normally understood to be specific to an individual—memories, family history, individual experience—are rendered in the text as mere repetition of events over which the individual has no control. Ichirô himself is a repetition of his ancestor, Go Shûsei, the painter of the gruesome scroll. Every male member of this family line, when triggered by the painting, must kill women around them. In the words of Dr. Masaki, “They say that history repeats itself, but the human body [nikutai] and spirit [seishin] also advance by repeating themselves” (572). This strange evolutionary process, however, fails in Dogura magura. Ichirô, after all, is an insane murderer, hardly what one would call “evolutionary advancement.” He is already programmed from the moment of his conception to follow and mimic the acts of those before him, even if they should be gruesome murders. The individual here is no longer autonomous in the sense of having his own free will. He simply repeats the actions of his ancestors.
Repetition, in fact, plays a large role in the text, and it is here that we find a strong Freudian influence. In Freud’s essay, the compulsion to repeat the same thing—“the repetition of the same features or character-traits or vicissitudes, of the same crimes, or even the same names through several consecutive generations” (234)—is an uncanny phenomenon. Lacan later envisioned this compulsion as the “senseless functioning of a machine, the unconscious henceforth being identified with a cybernetic automaton” (qtd. in Dupuy, Mechanization 19). It is a recording of a narrative, which “by virtue of being recorded, enables the narrative to be repeated endlessly.”21 Ichirô’s inheritance of the murderous genes and his ancestors’ repetitive crimes certainly fall into this category, and in the novel even memory becomes reduced to a compulsive repetition. The narrative form adopts this repetition, as if to make the reader experience the Freudian uncanny. Toward the end the novel especially, each time Ichirô reaches a conclusion about the murders, his theory is undercut by a new clue. As he himself states, “My head is turning around and around in the same place ... like an electric fan” (732). Memory here is a recorded program that cannot be overwritten, and the characters are trapped in their repetitive lives.
As the narrative advances, the realization grows that Ichirô’s search for a coherent self will end in failure. This is confirmed by the fact that Ichirô himself becomes a replicable object. From the moment that he wakes up in cell number seven, Ichirô is haunted by images of himself. He looks at his reflection in the window, in a doorknob, and later, in a mirror, all the while trying “to recall some kind of memory by looking at the reflected face and figure” (4). The text becomes an investigation into Lacan’s mirror stage—the moment when one’s identity emerges and is confirmed by connecting individual consciousness to a specific, physical body. In Ichirô’s case, however, this developmental stage ends in failure and he cannot connect any memory or personal history to the reflections he sees.
These images of himself later take on the more concrete form of a Döppelganger. One of the more intense scenes in the novel occurs when Masaki forces Ichirô to face his Döppelganger. Masaki points to Ichirô’s double standing outside the window, and Ichiro wonders: “That [person] and I ... Kure Ichirô ... and I ... Which is Kure Ichirô?” (517). In classic narratives of the double, the double behaves almost like the protagonist’s evil twin and threatens his existence.22 Here, however, Ichirô refuses to accept the fact that the Döppelganger is really a copy of himself, and he continues the search for his own identity. He convinces himself that it is the double who is the real murderer Kure Ichirô and that he himself is just an innocent look-alike. When this scene, like earlier “mirror stage” scenes, inevitably ends in Ichirô’s failure to recognize his duplicated image, we begin to lose hope that he will remember anything about his past. Ichirô’s dream in the womb, in his own words, is like a “frighteningly long serial film” (218) where he is forced to watch a copy of himself performing gruesome acts of murder. He continues to insist on the distinction between himself and the replica until the very end.
As the narrative progresses, other characters are also reduced to the status of reproductions and begin to lose their identities. Moyoko, Ichirô’s fiancée and the only female character in the novel with a voice, ends up as a part of Ichirô’s memory, as a reproduction of Go Shûsei’s wife. It also becomes evident as well that Wakabayashi and Masaki are in fact reproductions of one another. Masaki even proclaims at one point that he and Wakabayashi are the same. The novel’s form, as if to correspond to this split self, is divided into two halves—the first half dominated by Wakabayashi and his theories and the latter half belonging to Masaki’s experiment. Ultimately, the two individuals are reduced to two symbols, M and W, inverse images of each other. No character in the entire novel possesses a stable, singular self. Every person is a reflection or a reproduction of another, as hinted at by Wakabayashi’s first name—Kyôtarô, which literally means “mirror child.” The text itself is duplicated, as Ichirô discovers a copy of Dogura magura on a table and experiences a strange sense of familiarity.
The mechanical aspect of Ichirô is drawn out further by the fact that the text takes away his human side. Ichirô never regains his love for his fiancée Moyoko and is incapable of human relationships. Even though Moyoko calls out to Ichirô from the next room, she fails to evoke any emotion in Ichirô’s heart:
I [Ichirô] could not answer her call. No, I should not answer her call. I am someone who doesn’t even know if she really is my wife. I can’t even remember her face, even when I hear her deep, painful, and sincere screams. The only thing I can remember as part of my past’s real memory is the sound of the clock “booooon” that I just heard.... (10-11)
In the words of one literary historian, the characters in Yumeno’s works “disintegrate as if their train of thought were burnt off, when discussing things like a woman’s true feelings, or those things that cannot be converted into data” (Waki 399). Human relations, especially those with women, hold no meaning for Ichirô. The only relation he can have with women is the one that is already programmed into him: he kills women to complete the scroll. Thus, all we know about Ichirô’s relationship with Moyoko or his mother and aunt must come from secondary sources (newspaper articles, Masaki’s account, and so on), and although Ichirô’s narrative consumes countless pages, he never discloses this type of information himself. He trusts the sound of the clock more than the voices of people, and it is highly significant that Yumeno chose the onomatopoeia of a clock for both the first and the last lines of the novel. Ichirô’s mind, from beginning to end, is haunted by mechanical sounds, and although he can process these sounds and the information contained in articles, films, or the voices of his two doctors, he remains deaf to the cries of his former lover.
The epitome of Ichirô’s mechanization process takes place, however, when Ichirô’s body literally becomes a new weapon. Ichirô’s recovery of his past signals the end of the experiment, but portends a grim future. It is clear from the text that if the experiment is successful, humans like Ichirô will be transformed into a new type of weapon. References to Ichirô as a weapon appear throughout the text. Wakabayashi expresses concerns about the experiment, knowing that its success will result in a weapon surpassing even Nobel’s dynamite, “that which escalated all wars in the world” (36). Masaki likewise confirms the destructive potential of the experiment, stating that, “If one is able to deploy this horrifying trigger mechanism ... one would be able to perform crimes that not even the best detective could solve” (312). What Ichirô achieves in the end is not free will, but rather a programmable body, the ultimate criminal tool. Yumeno will continue to exploit this issue further in works such as “Rekôdo ningen” (1936, “Record-man”), a story about Russian spies whose brains are replaced by tape recorders in order to capture every word uttered by the enemy. In Dogura magura, however, the focus remains not on the application of the weapon but rather on its creation and its cognitive mechanisms.
Ichirô’s search for his own identity ends in failure. The more he searches, the more he realizes that he is a reproduction of another and, as a result, the more he loses his claims to agency. Masaki’s central question—“To what extent do people actually have control over their own bodies and minds?” (181)—is answered at the very end. As the face of Go Seishû appears in front of Ichirô and laughs at him, Ichirô finally seems to give in to the fact that people have no control over their own minds. The strange ending of the novel has traditionally been interpreted as Ichirô’s realization that he is a fetus and must return to the infantile world. Actually, however, the ending is quite ambiguous. Ichirô can still hear the cries of Moyoko from the hallway, as he imagines himself to be a fetus. In other words, Ichirô may not really be a fetus, but may only be imagining himself to be one. If we take the latter interpretation into account, we can read the ending as Ichirô’s desperate attempt to return to “the natural world,” and his ultimate failure. Though the novel is centered on Ichirô’s attempt to regain his subjectivity, in the end both he and the reader realize that the attempt is a futile one. Ichirô realizes that his fate has already been decided for him, that he is going to be a murderer like his ancestors. He cannot write his own experiences, as they are already written for him.
In the end, then, Ichirô, rather than being an “anti-robot,” actually behaves quite like an inhuman “automaton”—a mechanized being that performs only those actions for which it has been programmed. His existence consists solely of a programmed past, and he is trapped in the nightmarish repetition of having to kill those around him over and over again. He is not even capable of human feelings and can only exhibit repetitive behavior. The oppositional binary of the biological and the mechanical is ultimately effaced, with the text only able to envision human bodies as another type of machine. Nowhere in the text do we find a coherent, purely “natural” subject.
The Uncanny Revisited. The uncanny can be located in several places in the text. A textbook definition of the uncanny as “the return of the repressed” appears in Dogura magura in the form of the return of Ichirô’s memory of the crimes of his ancestors. The entire narrative is centered on the discovery of Ichirô’s repressed memories of the murders, and when he actually remembers them, he realizes that he is living in a dream:
Everything is a dream of a fetus ... I am still in my mother’s womb and am suffering from this fearful “dream of a fetus.” Booooon ... the sound of the clock trailed from the end of the hallway. (736)
It is almost certain, given his studies at Kyûshû Imperial University and his mention of Freud by name on several occasions in the novel, that Yumeno was aware of the Freudian psychoanalysis of dreams. The Freudian manner in which Ichirô’s suppressed unconscious reemerges, and the “fearful” truth that comes to light, is thus not very surprising. The sound of the clock, toward the end, functions as yet another trigger mechanism, and Ichirô recalls his “fearful memories” and sees dead faces from the past with each chime of the clock.
The mechanical uncanny, however, comes to the fore when the biological body is reconfigured as a mechanized one. As we have seen, Ichirô realizes that his search for his identity is futile, for he himself resembles an automaton. What is more, it is clear that the “authentic” that both he and Masaki are seeking can no longer be retrieved, for everyone around Ichirô, including himself, is but a copy of another. The biological body, in the end, becomes a product of science, an object controlled only by the “mad scientist.” In Yumeno’s words:
Countless scientists, the founders of modern civilization, were all fearsome bureaucrats who opposed God and morals.... The medicines and machines they created were all criminal weapons [hanzai yôgu] that undermined God and nature. (“A Response to Mr. Kôga Saburô” 73)
This passage can be read as an abstract, of sorts, for the novel as a whole. Once Ichirô comes to the conclusion that he can never be cured and that he is just a programmable “criminal weapon,” he stops searching for the authentic self that never existed in the first place. As if to acknowledge his transformation into a mechanical object, Ichirô even goes so far as to describe himself as a “mechanical puppet” (kikai ningyô) (687).23 The narrative “tricks” the reader into believing that the text is a detective novel about a man and his search for his true identity. It creates the expectation in the reader that there is, in fact, something like a coherent self. But this expectation seems to have been created only to be betrayed; in the end, order is not restored and in its place is the assertion that the artificial/authentic dichotomy never existed in the first place.
The mechanical uncanny emerges, then, the moment one realizes that what one considered to be “foreign” has appeared within oneself. In the case of Ichirô, it is the realization that he is an unnatural, mechanized being—the result of a destabilization of the artificial and the authentic. Furthermore, it is also the moment when he realizes that the man in the courtyard—whom he constantly denies as himself—is indeed his double. Toward the very end of the novel, Ichirô discovers a newspaper clipping reporting several murders that took place at the mental institution on the day that he saw the double in the courtyard:
Ichirô began to smile, and lifting again the bloody hoe, approached the two women who were standing there. He first cornered the girl who was dancing earlier and smashed her forehead. He then approached the older woman who was dressed like a queen and was calmly observing her surroundings. But when she yelled, “Insolent fool! Don’t you know who I am?,” Kure Ichirô was shocked and halted with his hoe in his hands. “Oh, you are Empress Yang Guifei,” he shouted, and knelt upon the sand. (719)
Ichirô himself has no recollection of this event, but is completely frightened and bewildered at this discovery. What is defamiliarizing here is not only the murders he has committed, but the fact that Ichirô’s double is inscribed as “Chinese,” and that he bows to the reincarnation of the legendary Chinese empress Yang Guifei. Just a moment ago, however, arguing with Masaki, Ichirô had claimed: “What about academia? What about foreign scientists? I may be crazy, but I am Japanese. I know that I have inherited the blood of the Japanese race” (674). In other words, Ichirô the narrator believes strongly that he is of the “pure Japanese” race, but his Döppelganger is clearly marked as “Chinese.” There is obviously a strong nationalistic discourse at work here. The ease with which the novel distinguishes between what is “foreign” and what is “Japanese” is astounding. The text, after all, narrates a tale of a “Chinese” man killing Japanese women, and sciences like biology and mechanics are constantly marked as “Western.”24 All the negative things in the novel, such as Ichirô’s murderous genes and modern science, are conveniently situated in the foreign sphere. In fact, there is something strangely “foreign” about Ichirô from the beginning. Ichirô’s ancestral past, after all, narrates a Japanization of a Chinese man, who, we are told, was painting the morbid scroll as a patriotic gift for the Chinese emperor. This devotion to China that Ichirô exhibits is evident from the fact that all the women he murders are Japanese, and that the one woman who can actually control him claims to be the reincarnation of Yang Guifei. This foreignness of Ichirô is drawn out by the fact that he is described by Dr. Masaki as a hybrid of myriad races, who has the skin color of “a white race,” the inside of the nose resembling that of “a Mongol,” a “Latin” facial structure, “Ainu-like” eyes, and a “Greek” nose (320-21). Masaki’s descriptions echo the novel’s discriminatory tone against the “Chinese,” when he declares that all of these nationalities existent in Ichirô have docile characteristics, except for one: “the brutal, cruel blood of the Continent [mainland China],” “the Mongolian genes hiding in the youth’s nose” (321).
The uncanny in the novel, then, is linked to “a foreign threat”—a force epitomized by monstrous figures (such as Dracula in Franco Moretti’s famous analysis of the 1897 novel ) that threaten the freedom of the individual and ultimately the nation as a whole. Whereas in Dracula, the threat is embodied by an outside force and the British conquer the monster in the end, in Dogura magura, Ichirô himself must realize that the monster lives within himself, that he himself is the “foreign” killer attacking his own nation. Not only must Ichirô realize that there is something unnatural and automatic within himself, he must also become aware that what controls his programmable body is precisely the “foreign blood” that flows within himself. This is precisely why Ichirô is rendered as a threat. He is both Japanese and Chinese and threatens the distinction between the two nationalities. Even worse, he is a menace to his own country. It is not coincidental that Ichirô’s realization that the man in the courtyard is indeed himself takes place right after he finds the newspaper article. Once he admits that the murderous “Chinese” Doppelgänger has been himself all along, the illusion of his being an innocent, “pure Japanese” citizen crumbles. The narrator Ichirô loses to his double. He becomes an object controlled by his Chinese blood, and he is traumatized by the fact that he himself is the foreign mechanism, the weapon programmed to kill the women of his country.
The mechanical uncanny in Dogura magura thus functions at two levels. First, as we have seen, Ichirô realizes that what he considers to be natural (such as his memory) is actually mechanical, and that he has something unnatural within himself and can never become the whole, coherent being he imagined himself to be. Second, this unnatural, mechanical aspect is marked as foreign and disrupts the notion of pure race, undermining Ichirô’s “Japaneseness.” Although Ichirô tries to resist his foreignness, ultimately he fails to do so and becomes a “criminal weapon” controlled by foreign powers. Unlike typical detective fiction, in Yumeno’s irregular detective fiction order is never restored, the monster is not conquered, and the mechanical uncanny remains triumphant.
Conclusion. In this study, I explored the mechanical uncanny in Dogura magura, a mode of fear that stems from the mechanization of the human body, and examined how biological bodies came to be imagined in the novel through metaphors of machines. The mechanical uncanny threatens what we perceive to be “natural,” including personal memories and personal identities as a whole. The idea of a coherent self comes under attack, as bodies become both divisible and mechanical, and as characters are duplicated and become reduced to statistical beings. Dogura magura and the mechanical uncanny represent the text and the literary mode that epitomize Yumeno’s literary endeavor to render the terror of what he conceptualized as “science” and to destabilize its place in society.
I would like to thank Mark Gibeau, Michael Ouyang, James Reichert, Christopher Bolton, and the editors of SFS for their insightful comments and suggestions regarding this article. I would also like to thank Jean-Pierre Dupuy for sharing with me his own theories on automatons and systems theory.
1. See, for example, Tsurumi Shunsuke, 69-84, and Junko Williams, especially 158-211.
2. For an excellent analysis of what was then considered “regular detective fiction” as opposed to what was “irregular” and “deviant,” see James Reichert.
3. Ishikawa Takashi makes this connection between irregular detective fiction and early science fiction in SF no jidai (134). Robert Matthews claims the same in Japanese Science Fiction; see especially 13.
4. For more information on the genre of early science fiction as irregular detective fiction, see Matthews, especially 13-38.
5. Oda Susumu cites Dogura magura as an important record of psychoanalytic studies at the university; see especially 17.
6. For background on psychoanalysis in Japan and on the role of Kyûshû Imperial University, see Yasuhiko Taketomo. Ôishi Masahiko also notes that psychology was a science that did not fit into Japan’s modernization schema (24).
7. This entry is quoted by Nakajima Kawatarô in the afterword to the reprinted edition of Dogura magura (3). All citations are taken from this edition of the text and all translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
8. For information about the 1930s reception of Yumeno’s work, see the first section of Nishihara Kazumi’s compilation of essays from that period.
9. See, for example, embryologist Miki Shigeo’s Taiji no sekai [The World of the Fetus], especially the section on “the dream of the fetus” (143-51). Miki discusses how Dogura magura invents the concept of “cell memory” (saibô kioku), meaning that each individual cell in the human body can contain certain memories. He builds upon this theory and perceives the novel as a work that foreshadows today’s biotechnology.
10. See Hirabayashi’s comments below.
11. Ôishi 121. Ôishi unfortunately does not expand this observation into a developed thesis.
12. This passage is cited by many scholars and is one of the most famous quotations from Yumeno’s essays. Edogawa Ranpô, for example, cites it in his obituary for Yumeno and uses it to show Yumeno’s flexibility toward the term “detective fiction.” See Edogawa Ranpô 31-42; see also Tsurumi Shunsuke 235.
13. This terminology is taken from Seltzer’s Bodies and Machines, 91-118.
14. I would like to thank Christopher Bolton for sharing with me his own reading of Jentsch and Freud.
15. See, for example, Yumeno’s essay on the future of detective fiction and his critique of its “regular” form, “Tantei shôsetsu no shinshimei” (1935, “The New Mission for Detective Fiction”).
16. For a discussion of automatons as “self-organizing systems,” see Dupuy.
17. For an interesting analysis of Freud’s automaton and its relationship to modern communication machines, see Johnson. See Notes 29 and 31 (p. 134) for his definitions of the term “automaton.”
18. Tsurumi Shunsuke describes the text as “foreshadowing cybernetics” (259); and, as mentioned earlier, Miki Shigeo describes it as a text presaging the coming of biotechnology.
19. This is quoted in Ishikawa Ichirô’s “Wakare” (“Parting”), 118.
20. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the role of the female bodies in Dogura magura, I believe that if any human body in 1930s Japan could be described as “mechanical,” it was the female body, specifically in the context of the reproductive organs. Ishimoto Shizue, the famous activist of the birth control movement, for example, remarked in her autobiography—coincidentally published the same year as Dogura magura—that the women in Japan were “automatons afraid of their own shadows” (273). What underlies this statement is the eugenics movement that dominated prewar Japan’s scientific discourse and that promoted the idea that female bodies must be manipulated through scientific methods in order to produce “healthy” offspring, untainted by physical and mental diseases. Female bodies in prewar Japan were becoming what Mark Seltzer might call “statistical persons” (see 91-118).
21. See Kittler’s similar reading of Dracula, especially 51-52.
22. I am thinking of classic stories involving Döppelgangers such as E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” (1817) and Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” (1839). Yumeno is often compared to these two writers.
23. In other parts of the narrative, we can also find Ichirô’s movements being compared to mechanical objects like electric fans.
24. This reflects Yumeno’s own criticism that science was a Western import that came to dominate Japan; see Williams 202.
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