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Ryunosuke Akutagawa: Writing in the shadows of Japan’s literary giants

We are not sure of the exact date, but we know it happened on a Thursday in the fall of 1915.

That morning, Ryunosuke Akutagawa was extremely excited, but also nervous and perhaps even a bit queasy. Then 23 years old and still a university student, he had yet to make his mark as an author. All he had to his credit were a few translations of short works by Anatole France and W.B. Yeats and a small number of original stories of his own, none of which had attracted attention. In short, he did not have much of a resume.

By comparison, the people he met later that day were confident intellectuals with established reputations — most were at least a decade older than him. They knew each other well and, for a while already, had been gathering weekly at the house of one of their peers to discuss literature and the arts, philosophy and politics. Joining them would have been an intimidating prospect even for a confident man, something Akutagawa definitely was not. But this was also a unique opportunity to meet the individual hosting this salon, the most celebrated author of his generation and a man Akutagawa deeply admired. His name was Natsume Soseki.

It turned out to be a mesmerizing experience. Akutagawa later wrote that he had been so impressed by “the master” — he always referred to Soseki in this manner — that he had been almost unable to relax. The encounter also marked the beginning of a relationship, unfortunately cut short when Soseki died the following year, which was extremely meaningful for Akutagawa. With the help of his new mentor he was able to republish “The Nose” (1916), which Soseki greatly admired, in a well-known magazine. This brought him fame almost overnight.

Though their friendship spanned only a few months, the lives of Soseki and Akutagawa cover a critical period in the history of Japanese fiction. In the twilight years of the Edo Period (1603-1868) the genre was in a sorry state, a mere shadow of its former grandeur. …

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Satyajit Ray’s Prof. Shonku is ready for the big screen

Satyajit Ray’s eccentric character is being turned into a film by his son Sandip.

When Sandip Ray read the first draft of his father’s stories based on fictional scientist Professor Shonku in 1961, he was not even 10 years old. The character appeared to him a “bit eccentric and over the top.”

Soon after the stories on the old scientist created by Satyajit Ray were published in a Bengali periodical, accolades in the form of letters and phone calls started coming in.

Five decades later, Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku retains undiminished appeal, prompting Sandip Ray to bring the character to life on the big screen.

The film, Professor Shonku O El Dorado, produced by SVF Entertainment, one of eastern India’s largest production houses, is likely to hit the screens by the end of 2018.

“I have been thinking about making a film on Professor Shonku for a long time. With so many developments in the visual effects field, I think this is the right time,” Mr. Ray said. The film is based on one of the spell-binding stories in the Professor Shonku series, called ‘Nakur Babu O El Dorado’.

The main character, Professor Shonku, is a scientist-inventor, and along with the visual effects, the plot takes the audience to the forests of South America. The bilingual production in Bengali and English will be shot in both West Bengal and Brazil.

The director has made a number of films on Feluda, the iconic detective, and another of Satyajit Ray’s creations. The new venture will be both a “challenge and a nice change of pace after so many Feluda films,” he says.

Ray created Feluda, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, giving the character a resemblance to everything about the muse: physical features, methods and the chronicling of his adventures. But Professor Shonku is different. He is inspired by George Edward Challenger, better known as Professor Challenger, also created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Shonku is an eccentric inventor, living in Giridih with his servant Prahlad and cat Newton.

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