Alien To Her Worlds
With the release of Izumi Suzuki’s second book, the misanthropic mother of Japanese science fiction has established a cult following more than 35 years after her death.
By Kristian Burt
Izumi Suzuki has reemerged. With her newly released second book, Hit Parade of Tears, the dissident author has cemented a posthumous revival outside of the Japanese science-fiction world that tried to keep her down for decades.
The collection of short stories reads akin to her first book, Terminal Boredom, with a mix of journeys through space in the wake of a war between various alien races and deft depictions of a futuristic world with the same patriarchal pressures Suzuki herself lived through. But Hit Parade of Tears is composed of 11 stories, compared to the seven that make up its predecessor, allowing for a greater breadth of work from the mother of Japanese science-fiction feminism.
Suzuki was born in Itō, Japan in 1949. Prior to publishing her first story in SF Magazine in the early ’70s, she worked various jobs. Some have said she worked in a factory and a bar; others have said she was a keypunch operator for the city hall; all have said she was a nude model and actress in softcore “pink” films, or Japanese erotic cinema. Her first major literary breakout was “The Witch’s Apprentice” in the 1975 women-authors-only special edition of SF. At the time, science fiction in Japan was male-dominated, but Suzuki continued to publish and was able to work as a writer full-time.
She wrote throughout the ’70s and most of the ’80s, up until her suicide at 36. Her writing created universes blending the antiestablishment, rock-and-roll-heavy Japan of the ’60s and ’70s with timeless intergalactic conflicts, mythical beasts, witches, and extraterrestrial beings. The result is Suzuki’s main characters, all of whom are women, giving no credence to the men at fault for the atrocities of their present and future—but not letting women, themselves included, off the hook either.
The only known photos of Suzuki, primarily taken by Nobuyoshi Araki and published as a book in 1986, have defined her legacy. The black-and-white photos are the first you’ll come across when looking into her life and work, her hands in front of her face as she lays on the floor or leans against an open window.
But the color photos are slowly resurfacing along with her work, one the cover of Hit Parade of Tears. A white-paneled cabinet with a flower design, an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts, a bed in disarray, a gray rug with a yellow flower pattern, and a cut in the side of her blue, seemingly mushroom-patterned pillow often form the setting. Suzuki is sitting on the bed, sometimes lying, looking as though she just got back from a night out, her eyes circled in dark-blue eyeshadow, always staring straight into the camera with a misanthropic gaze.
Suzuki’s writings are brutal. Three stories in Hit Parade of Tears depict a woman on a fantastical search for her younger brother. By the time all three stories conclude, a little boy is mutilated. In “The Walker,” a boy is crushed by a car; in “After Everything,” a boy is stabbed in the eye; and in “Full of Malice,” the potential brother is encased in glass with his guts exposed.
Reactions to the deaths reveal all. The boy’s parents laugh as his decapitated head rolls to their feet. The mothers of the two boys (one with his eye gouged out) blankly stare at a group of snakes ruled by a “merciless eyeball” engulfing a road. The sister shrieks before having her brain taken out—removing her “malice.”
Suzuki uses science fiction to create a battleground of the mind. The combatants are loneliness and desire. A lonely main character makes up almost all of Suzuki’s writings, some of whom fall in and out of their mental isolation and are ultimately killed. Desire remains potent within loneliness, the result of which is often indifference.
In “Memory of Water,” the unnamed main character is left empty of her past, unable to remember the touch of a hand she knew she felt before. That’s because the parts of her that loved life were separated into her alter-self, who went on dates, hikes, and job interviews. The two halves create gaps in memory, the timid side unable to understand why she has desires and certain feelings about things she believes never happened. This frustration grows until her room is full of gelatinous water, drowning and killing her. Her alter-self, full of desire and contentment, falls into a timeless void, “a pure world with neither sorrow nor sin.”
Indifference often reigns supreme in Suzuki’s main characters, be it two teenage girls killing a creepy older man without a second thought in “The Covenant” or a woman keeping two men who tried to go against her authority as part of her intergalactic crew in “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.” Even a woman who gains powers from a group of witches and turns her husband into salmon jerky in “Trial Witch” only becomes upset when his stretched-out limbs don’t fit in the chiffarobe. But otherworldly powers often force this lack of feeling onto the characters, from an alien messiah demanding sacrifices to simply an “evil thing’s will.”
One of the most intimate looks we get into Suzuki’s life comes not from her own writing, but from Kōji Wakamatsu’s 1995 movie, Endless Waltz. The film portrays the surreal, intricate, and oftentimes cruel relationship of Suzuki and free-jazz legend Kaoru Abe. The film begins with Suzuki hanging herself next to her sleeping-daughter Azusa in 1986. It chronicles Abe and Suzuki first meeting each other, Abe’s abuse, their constant fights, Suzuki’s struggles writing her manuscript, Abe’s struggles consistently making performances, their divorce, and Abe’s death from a drug overdose.
At first glance, the movie’s interpretation of Suzuki’s life has nothing in common with the futuristic, cyber-feminist worlds of her novels. But one scene contradicts that idea. Abe is standing on the desk Suzuki is often shown slouching over, constructing worlds beyond our own. He is holding her manuscript and criticizing her for writing about her ex-boyfriend—for making money off of her private life. Suzuki’s response is revealing, even though she may have never truly said it:
“Good for me, I have no imagination. I can only write about real events.”
The events in her books resonate to this day since, at their core, they blend the farthest reaches of fiction with the nonfiction of Suzuki herself. The opening story in Hit Parade of Tears, “My Guy,” reads almost identically to the movie of her life. While being out and harassed by a creepy man, the narrator meets a different man with an odd complexion and an even odder disposition. Though he creates an immediate layer of protection, the man is demanding and even rude. In the movie, he takes her drink and smokes her cigarettes; in the book, he breaks into her home and forces her to let him stay.
But she falls in love with him nonetheless, convinced he is a being unlike all others—alien to this world. They argue, they make sacrifices for each other, and they want to run away together. But they don’t. He ends up institutionalized. And eventually he runs away and dies, leaving her behind forever.