~written by Edogawa Ranpo
~translated by Elaine Kazu Gerbert
Tarō Hirai, better known as Edogawa Ranpo, was an extremely influential author, often credited as the father of the modern Japanese detective novel. His novella Strange Tale of Panorama Island is considered to be his first major work. I actually first learned of the story thanks to Suehiro Maruo's manga adaptation of the tale. I was very excited when I learned that the original novella was being translated into English. Elaine Kazu Gerbert's translation was released by the University of Hawai'i Press early in 2013. Strange Tale of Panorama Island was initially serialized between 1926 and 1927. The English translation is based on the 1992 edition of the novella edited by Betsuyaku Minoru. Much like Ranpo's name (Edogawa Ranpo is a Japanese rendering of and play on Edgar Allan Poe's name), Edgar Allan Poe is believed to be an inspiration for Strange Tale of Panorama Island, particularly his story "The Domain of Arnheim."
Off the coast of Japan at the end of a cape that juts out into the Pacific Ocean is a remote, deserted island with a peculiar history. Known by the locals as Okinoshima, most people make a point to avoid the island and its dangerous waters. But a few years past an immense garden and construction project was initiated by the island's owner, the head of the Komoda family, Genzaburō Komoda. Strange circumstances surrounded Genzaburō as well. After being pronounced dead, he seemingly returned to life but with a drastic change of personality. What very few people realize is that Genzaburō has been replaced by Hirosuke Hitomi, and old classmate of his who shares a striking resemblance to him. It is Hirosuke who has taken advantage of Genzaburō 's death and wealth in order to pursue his bizarre interests and desires on Okinoshima.
Gerbert has done an excellent job with the translation of Strange Tale of Panorama Island. The narrator is very personable, especially towards the beginning of the novella. The reader is addressed directly and there is an underlying sense of humor. The tone is very conversational, but it also very evocative. Ranpo's descriptions of the beautiful, grotesque, and surreal are marvelous. It doesn't surprise me at all that Mauro chose to adapt Strange Tale of Panorama Island as a manga; the story with its fantastic landscapes nearly begs to be visually expressed. A significant portion of Strange Tale of Panorama Island is spent exploring Okinoshima itself and its wonders. The island has been deliberately filled with tricks and illusions. The effect as Hirosuke reveals one of his creations after another is both mesmerizing and disconcerting.
Strange Tale of Panorama Island with its macabre elements and peculiar plot and characters is very reminiscent of the stories by Edgar Allan Poe that I have read. It is an engrossing tale. There is a surprising amount of story in Strange Tale of Panorama Island for such a short work: assumed identities, stolen inheritances, grave robbing, murder, intricate schemes, and more. His characters, particularly Hirosuke, also leave a strong impression. Hirosuke, who even at the beginning of the story was a rather strange man, becomes increasingly unbalanced and unhinged as the novella progresses. While his decline follows a natural progression and isn't at all surprising, the change is still unsettling. Strange Tale of Panorama Island is a fantastic work of psychological drama and suspense. It's actually the first story by Ranpo that I've read but it definitely won't be the last.