Last week, I finally finished reading a collection of Fujisawa Shuhei’s short stories. Since the success of period film Twilight Samurai, there has been a resurgence of Japanese samurai novels in translation. These books were hard to find in Chinese translation in Hong Kong and English translations are even more rare. Recently, however, high quality paperbacks of these novels and short stories have reappeared. I managed to lay my hands on a couple of different authors and I have been most pleased with Fujiwara’s works so far.
Fujiwara works are more concerned with low ranking samurai’s and the dilemma they face – namely, the delicate balance of maintaining the code of honour of a samurai and being pragmatic in running a household with a meagre pain. He explores the psychology of his characters, how they perceive the feudal system and how they deal with matters of the heart. Fujiwara does not seem to be concerned with swordplay or how his character’s learn their skills; this contrasts sharply with Chinese martial arts novels which often go into great detail how swordsmen gain their amazing skills.
I found the stories collected in this edition very entertaining. The vary in length, but most are around 40 pages long. The author is not overly concerned with historical detail, not does he crowd his stories with too many characters or overly convoluted relationships (again, a common trait of many Chinese martial arts novels). While the stories feature few scenes of action or intrigue, I did not find them boring or slow. In fact, I finished the entire collection rather quickly. Also, while the movies Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and this year’s Love And Honor (see my short review here) aren’t in any way bad film adaptations of his works, the actual stories offer more depth in character and have less “clean” endings.