This is a kind of omnibus collection of stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, most famous for his two stories “Rashomon” and “In a Grove” both of which became the inspiration for the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, which won the first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Those two stories are the first two stories in the collection. “Rashomon” refers to the large red-lacquered gate under which a few travelers find themselves meeting during a large rainstorm. “In a Grove” is written in a series of interviews with several people concerning a violent event, a murder for sure, and maybe a rape depending on how the witnesses bear testimony. This is what the bulk of the film is about.
These are by far the best of the stories. The rest are a mix of sort of modern stories and somewhat ancient feeling stories. These other stories feel very transitional in their approach. I think it’s a combination of the time period — the switch from different eras in Japanese political history, and a switch from 19th to 20th century writing and worldview.
I wonder though if without the author’s death, and his immortalization through Kurosawa’s work if he would be held in such high esteem. He might end up being a little more like Junichiro Tanizaki or other writers of this same period, some of whom have gone on to a kind of classic status, and some of whom are a little more of footnotes. One additional very interesting part of this whole collection is the addition of a longer set of autobiographical writings in this edition.