Rampo’s Turn to Grotesque and Horror

English Translation available.

After writing several classic puzzle stories, Rampo soon turned to stories of the grotesque and horror (Saito, 49). Rampo became a popular writer outside of Shinseinen by serializing sensational crime fictions in a major newspaper (Ibid). He thus failed to meet the Shinseinen editor’s expectation to develop the genre into the literature of scientific rationalism (Saito, 64). Here is one story, ”Panorama tō kitan” (「パノラマ島奇譚」; English: “Strange Tale of Panorama Island”), which exemplifies Rampo’s ero-guro-nansensu taste [1]. From this period, Rampo was attacked by social critics of producing “unhealthy” (fukenzen; 不健全) Japanese literature [2] characterized by its grotesque taste, lack of scientificity/logic, and “backward” premodern references, which is deviated from the scientific and analytic spirit—that is, the Golden Age puzzle formula of “whodunit.”

[1] Erotic-grotesque-nonsense media is a print form that was widely consumed in 1930s, which “included elements from soft-core pornography, tabloid news, avant-garde montage,” and horror and mystery fiction (Driscoll, 1).
For a well-rounded analysis of Rampo’s relationship with ero-guro-nansensu (エロ・グロ・ナンセンス) movement, see: Driscoll, Mark W. “Erotic Empire, Grotesque Empire: Work and Text in Japan’s Imperial Modernism.” Ph.D. Dissertation. Cornell University, 2000.

[2] One prominent figure that harshly criticized Rampo is Hirabayashi Hatsunosuke (平林初之輔), who was a firm proponent of scientific civilization.