I’m sitting on top of the parliament building, resisting tear-gas attacks from air force helicopters that circle above me like flies. I will soon enjoy my very last cigarette, my last show of resistance. My comrade, the painter Kusakabe, fell to his death just moments ago, leaving me alone as the last smoker remaining on earth. At this very moment, images of me — highlighted against the night sky by searchlights down below — are probably being relayed live across the country from TV cameras inside the helicopters.
I’ve got three packs left, and I refuse to die before I’ve finished them. So I’ve been chain-smoking two or three at a time. My head feels numb, my eyes are starting to spin. It’s only a matter of time before I, too, fall lifeless to the ground below.
It was only about fifteen or sixteen years ago that the anti-smoking movement started….
And so begins “The Last Smoker,” one of the stories in Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Salmonella Men on Planet Porno and Other Stories. The story chronicles the growth and ultimate triumph of the anti-smoking movement from the point of view of a chain-smoking writer. Desperate though his plight is in the opening paragraphs, an even more dire fate awaits him.
I first became aware of Tsutsui while reading about Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which is based on one of Tsutsui’s novels. Paprika was ultimately disappointing — spectacular though much of it is, the whole is less than the sum of its parts — but the premise, more fully developed in a book, could be interesting. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, a better movie, is a sequel of sorts to another of Tsutsui’s novels. I was curious about him, so I checked Amazon.com to see what was available. Although he is called Japan’s Isaac Asimov, little has been translated into English. There’s a series of Telepathic Wanderer manga, an out-of-print collection of “psychic tales” and Salmonella Men. ((Checking Amazon.com just now, I discovered that there is a newly translated Tsutsui book out, Hell.))
Tsutsui’s stories aren’t much like Asimov’s. In “Rumors About Me,” the narrator finds that his daily activities are the subjects of newscasts and televised panel discussions and are written up in newspapers. In “Don’t Laugh,” an inventor devises a time machine and can’t stop laughing. In “Hello, Hello, Hello!” a self-apppointed financial advisor exhorts the inhabitants of a block of apartments to greater frugality, emerging without warning from the next room, the wardrobe or the toilet to confront the narrator before he wastes any more money. In general, there is little extrapolation and plenty of absurdity. Tsutsui is primarily a satirist in this collection.
The title story is the closest approach to conventional science fiction. Explorers journey at great personal risk through the unnatural hazards of Planet Porno, where “only indecent life forms are allowed to exist.” There is considerable discussion between the narrator and the prudish Dr. Mogamigawa about evolution and devolution. During the Second Green Revolution, we learn, the “obnoxious hippies” were herded onto spaceships and banished from Earth. Perhaps their descendents live in the settlement of Newdopia.
Some of the stories are better than others. The least interesting to me is “Bravo Herr Mozart!”, a nonsensical biography of the composer: “Mozart was born at the age of three. The reason for this is not known. He was born in his father’s house in Salzburg — probably because he didn’t have a mother.” Etc. YMMV. There are several others I’m not likely to revisit. Most, however, are quite readable.
It should be clear by now that Salmonella Men is not the least bit like TokiKake, and that however dark Paprika might be, Tsutsui’s writing is darker. It’s also funnier, with absurdities, slapstick and surprise endings. If you enjoy satire and black humor, Salmonella Men on Planet Porno might be worth your time.
I’m pleased see that The Kawaii Menace is now included at Anime Nano. I’m also a bit embarrassed that my first post listed there had nothing to do with anime, and that this one is only tangentially anime-related.