Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Terayama Shuji's Red Riding Hood

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Terayama Shuji's Red Riding Hood

Article excerpt

Translator's Introduction

Terayama Shüji (1935-1983) is best known for his work with the experimental theater group Tenjö Sajiki; he was also a poet, photographer, essayist, and filmmaker. 1 Terayama was also the author of innovative but critically neglected short stories collected as Terayama Shüji meruhen zenshü (The Complete Märchen of Terayama Shüji). Born in the remote mountainous region of Aomori in northern Japan, Terayama frequently drew on the folk traditions, myths, and superstitions of the area, and, in addition to exploring premodern Japanese folktales and legends in plays such as Yamamba (The Mountain Witch, 1964), Aomori-ken no semushi otoko (The Hunchback of Aomori, 1967), Inugami (The Dog God, 1969), and Jashümon (Heresy, 1971), he also borrowed openly and extensively from the European fairy-tale canon and other disparate sources. In 1968 he published an illustrated version of The Thousand and One Nights (Alf Lailah Oua Lailah: ehon senichiya monogatari) and in 1973 his skewed versions of Aesop's fables were recorded by the popular singer and children's entertainer Tanaka Seiji. Terayama also translated Arthur Rackham's Mother Goose (published in three volumes as Maza güsu, 1977-1978), and in 1979 he not only premiered his play Aohigekô no shiro (Duke Bluebeard's Castle) but also published two collections of fairy tales.2

The first ofTerayama's 1979fairy-tale collections, Boku ga ökami datta koro: sakasama döwa shi (When I Was a Wolf: Topsy-Turvy Fairy Tales), is a radical retelling of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Carlo Collodi, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Charles Perrault. These classical fairy tales are juxtaposed with revisions of fables, legends, nursery rhymes, and reconstructed masterpieces by Gottfried August Bürger, Miguel Cervantes, Henrik Ibsen, and Jonathan Swift. In his postscript Terayama describes When I Was a Wolf as his "revenge" (229) on classical fairy tales. His aim with this book was, in part at least, to write an exposé that would reveal the truth about fairy-tale classics. He describes the emperor in Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" as a "metaphysician" (229), Pinocchio as "pornographic" (229), and Red Riding Hood as a "nymphomaniac" (229) . Despite their at times disturbing content, Terayama is aware of and draws attention to the fact that fairy tales are used as "teaching materials" (229) to socialize children or, as he puts it, to make them more "convenient" (229) for adults. In other words, while exposing and exploring the darker and more erotic aspects of the tales, Terayama is aware of the ways in which they are used to inculcate children with accepted social and sexual mores. The very idea of using fairy tales to teach or socialize children was anathema to Terayama, who deliberately set out to disturb and disrupt social norms. The postscript goes on to warn readers to beware of the seemingly harmless fairy-tale classics that are in fact "sleeping pills" (229) or opiates that reduce rather than stimulate critical thinking.

Terayama is quick to deny that When I Was a Wolf has anything to do with what he describes as "recent popular psychological studies of fairy tales" (229).3 He insists that he is not proposing a new theory of the fairy-tale genre and goes on to claim that his idiosyncratic readings of the tales are the product of an "impoverished childhood" (229). He maintains that the poverty he experienced as a child deprived him of classical fairy tales and suggests that if his story were retold by Aesop, his role would be like that of the hungry fox who tries in vain to reach some grapes hanging temptingly from a vine. In the fable the fox eventually gives up trying to reach the grapes and comforts himself with the thought that they are probably sour and inedible. Terayama admits that the seemingly always-out-ofreach fairy tales also lead to feelings of "sour grapes" (229), but rather than simply dismissing the tales, his anger and frustration ultimately turned his desire to read them into a desire to "disgrace" (229) them. …

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