We released 3 Short Movies on the occasion of publication of “At the End of the Matinee” , the English version of one of Hirano’s representative works.

And this is the continuation of “1.Writing a Novel on the Theme of Love“.

Please have a look!

(The transcription)

On Staging and Style as an Author

In my view, contemporary society is fundamentally characterized by an excess of information, by complexity. That is my view of the world.  So, if you try to fit a novel into an orderly, regular form, you will unavoidably tend to simplify things, which leads to detachment from reality itself. So, how do you package that complexity in the novel form? Structural aesthetics like this are a constant concern for me when I am thinking about a novel.

For example, suppose some event takes place. If it happens in a premodern village with a highly closed society, you can write about the events that take place in the context of interpersonal communication, and that would make up the story. But with the arrival of mass media, of social media, information is constantly on the move in today’s world.

As a result, that same event might not be confined to a closed space, a closed town or village. It might become an event on a national scale, or be tossed on the rough waves of information on a global scale. Even if your goal is to depict poverty on a tiny scale, within a single town or village, actually, in a globalized world like ours, that poverty might have been caused by events in the world economy, like the Global Financial Crisis. How to write about the people and events that live within these vast structures is one of the things my novels explore, and I’m not sure that the techniques of the novel that came to maturity by the twentieth century are fully up to the task.

My generation in Japan is called the “Dankai Junior” Generation—the children of the Dankai Generation, or Baby Boomers. It’s actually a highly populous generation, and when it came time for us to enter the workforce, the catastrophic post-Bubble economic downturn made it very difficult for us to find employment. But this was also when society was right in the middle of Neoliberalism. So, what did society say to those young people who were unable to find work, unable to prosper? “You didn’t put in enough effort.” If people put in the effort as individuals, those who tried harder would become rich, while those who didn’t try hard enough would stay poor. This was discussed using the language of “personal responsibility.”

No matter how you look at it, though, this wasn’t about individual responsibility. It was misfortune that arose because a certain generation entered adult society amid certain circumstances.  As a result, I am extremely reluctant to accept theories of self-responsibility.

In a novel, you cannot write about categories. You cannot make a category the protagonist. Instead of categories like “men” or “Japanese people”,  the main character must be a single person, an individual. But if the story’s development is overly dependent on individual talent, individual character,  it becomes highly suggestive of this thesis of self-responsibility. It’s as if the success or failure of each person, each life, comes down to the question of character. Since I am strongly opposed to that idea I am forced to write characters situated within larger systems. But those structures themselves are highly complex. That is the reality.

I think of novels as a temporal art. There is an opening page and a closing page, and experiencing the flow of time between the two is what readers do. Events occur within that linear flow of time, and this makes up the plot: this is how novels work. But taking that social complexity and restructuring it as a succession of events, a single line, makes the story, the plot, highly convoluted and complex. This can be fascinating to read, and there are certainly techniques for making it enjoyable for readers, but all that lingers in memory afterward is confusion about what the book was supposed to mean. This is a rather intractable problem.

Worse yet, the more complex the story gets, the more “athletic” the reader must be. Like an alpinist who can climb any mountain, they must be able to keep up with any story, no matter how complex. But not all of today’s readers are like that, and yet there are readers who have an essential and acute need for novels, for literature.

In order to reach those readers, I focus less on linear, successive structures and more on writing novels structured in layers. At the top is the most straightforward story layer. I try to make this layer as simple as possible. The story should be drawn in a single elegant line, with the beauty of simplicity. Beneath this are layers with social issues, historical issues, political issues. Or philosophical questions, perhaps, or ineffable human sensitivities, or even a kind of aporia. Each becomes its own layer added to the design. People who just want to enjoy the story in the top layer can do that without difficulty, but here and there are openings to the layers below for those who want to read more deeply. Then they can appreciate the social issue layer, or the political questions involved. Or they can arrive at the deeper philosophical questions and enjoy those. I’m always thinking of structure in this way.

Meanwhile, within the story, the lives of the protagonists span multiple layers. In a romantic scene, with love as the theme, they might be in the top layer, but when they are drawn into a complex political situation, those same people live in the political layer that lies beneath. By necessity, each protagonist must be depicted as a person with complex situationatlity. In this way, I aim for a style that skillfully unifies the glut of information, a style that encompasses both current phenomena and events within a vast flow of time against a historical background, a style with diversity but not lacking an aesthetic perspective—these are the things I try to achieve in my stories.

Click the link below for the continuation.

3. The future is continually changing the past