Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Bird outside the Cage: An Interview with Yumi Matsuo

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Bird outside the Cage: An Interview with Yumi Matsuo

Article excerpt

Yumi Matsuo was born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, in 1960. After studying English literature at Ochanomizu Women's University, she worked for a major electronic company for several years. Her first publication, Ijigen kafe terasu (Coffee House in Another Dimension), in 1989 was followed by Baruun taun no satsujin (Murder in Balloon Town--an excerpt of which follows), which had been inspired by her marriage and childbearing in 1990 and which was awarded third place in the 1992 Hayakawa SF Contest. The idea of the story involves a very un-PCish pregnant female detective who resolves the mysteries caused within the very network of pregnant women. The series springing from this novella made this new writer so popular that her first collection of stories, Barun Taun no Satsujin (Murder in Balloon Town), was a finalist for the fifteenth Japan SF Award in 1994. Leading SF critic Mari Kotani finds her imagination comparable to those of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, James Tiptree, Jr., and Margaret Atwood. Matsuo undoubtedly helped us recognize the invisibility of a pregnant woman we had never noticed, just the way Ralph Ellison, in the 1940s, made us aware of a black guy as an invisible man in a WASP-oriented country. Yumi Matsuo's other postfeminist works include: Burakku enjeru (Black Angel, 1994), Pipinera (Pippinella, 1996), Jiendaa-jo no toriko (The Prisoner of Gender Castle, 1996), Makkusu Maus to Nakamatachi (Max Mouse and His Friends, 1997), and Runako no kichin (Runako's Kitchen, 1998). She currently lives in Tokyo, where she is completing a new set of stories in the Balloon Town series. (Amanda Seaman and Takayuki Tatsumi)

Larry McCaffery: What was it that got you first interested in SF? Were you reading it a lot as a teenager?

Yumi Matsuo: My father bought all Hayakawa's paperback SF series as they were published, which means he bought all foreign SF books published in Japan at that time. So SF books were all over my house, before I ever got interested. I think many people "discover" SF--by themselves or via friends--when they are young, and they find it as some kind of countermeasure. I mean, for them, SF is "something else," something antitraditional, in many cases not approved by parents or teachers. Maybe this explains how some people get into SF. But in my case SF was tradition. So this might be the reason, or part of it, for my not going too far into SF; later on, when I was in college, I somehow wound up in an SF club.

LM: So at this point, while you were in college, you were reading SF but not yet writing it?

YM: I was writing stories, but I'm not sure if it was SF or not. Most of my writing was really short and not very eventful. Many of them are set in a world almost the same to our reality, only different in a slight, particular way. For example, one story is set in a world where men no longer wear neckties--they do exist, but are regarded as some sort of strange habit of the old days. A woman happens to choose a striped necktie as a gift to her boyfriend, a man she has met accidentally and started to date. But after she gives it to him, she gradually notices something strange, for every time she does the tie for him, the knot comes to a different-colored stripe, as if the size of his neck is always changing. She begins to worry and consults a friend, who immediately concludes that the boyfriend does not really exist--he is a phantom the heroine has made up in her mind. She says it can't be and rushes to meet him. He undoes his necktie, picks her up with his fingertips, and puts her away in the neatly rolled necktie. Most of what I wrote then was something like that--nonrealistic and really short. They appeared in the fanzine of my SF club.

LM: Who were the writers you were influenced by?

YM: As for SF, I read Ray Bradbury or Frederick Brown from my father's bookshelf. When I went to college, my friends at SF club introduced me to newer writers like Samuel Delany, Tom Reamy, or John Varley. …

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