Osamu Dazai

Osamu Dazai

Osamu Dazai was born in 1909 into a powerful landowning family of Northern Japan. A brilliant student, he entered the French Department of Tokyo University in 1930, but later boasted that in the five years before he left without a degree he had never attended a lecture. He attempted suicide in 1935, leaving behind an envelope of stories which he expected to be posthumously published as The Declining Years. His early works are filled with invention and wit, but it was after the war that he reached his full stature, first with the short story, “Villon’s Wife” (translated by Donald Keene and published in New Directions 15) and then with The Setting Sun, which created an immediate sensation when it was published in 1947. The phrase, “people of the setting sun,” referencing the phrase “land of the rising sun,” came to be applied to all the Japanese impoverished and dislocated by the war, the succeeding inflation and land reforms. It entered into common usage and even has appeared in dictionaries. Dazai published a second novel, and was publishing a third serially, when he committed suicide by throwing himself into the swollen waters of the Tamagawa Reservoir in Tokyo. His body was found on what would have been his 39th birthday: June 19, 1948.

The Setting Sun

Fiction by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Donald Keene

This powerful novel of a nation in social and moral crisis was first published by New Directions in 1956. Set in the early postwar years, it probes the destructive effects of war and the transition from a feudal Japan to an industrial society. Ozamu Dazai died, a suicide, in 1948. But the influence of his book has made “people of the setting sun” a permanent part of the Japanese language, and his heroine, Kazuko, a young aristocrat who deliberately abandons her class, a symbol of the anomie which pervades so much of the modern world.…
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No Longer Human

by Osamu Dazai

Translated from the Japanese by Donald Keene

Portraying himself as a failure, the protagonist of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human narrates a seemingly normal life even while he feels himself incapable of understanding human beings. Oba Yozo’s attempts to reconcile himself to the world around him begin in early childhood, continue through high school, where he becomes a ’clown” to mask his alienation, and eventually lead to a failed suicide attempt as an adult. Without sentimentality, he records the casual cruelties of life and its fleeting moments of human connection and tenderness.…
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Dazai offers something permanent and beautiful.
The New York Times Book Review
I like Dazai a lot.
—Wong Kar-Wai
Dazai offers something permanent and beautiful…
New York Times Book Review
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