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A bitterly jealous brother, a cold-hearted husband, a monk who mistakes desire for piety, a fraudulent merchant who meets his match in a supernatural river otter, a samurai who makes the ultimate sacrifice — the motives and pathologies underlying these traditional Japanese folktale characters are explored with haunting results. Prompted by the sometimes illogical and perplexing actions of folktale characters (Why doesn’t the wolf kill Little Red Riding Hood right away?), master storyteller Rui Umezawa revisits eight popular Japanese folktales, delving beneath their baffling plot lines to highlight the psychological motivations behind the characters’ actions. In “Betrayal,” a treacherous husband poisons his wife, disfiguring her horribly, so he can marry another woman. In “Paradise,” a dissolute young man saves the life of a sea turtle, who takes him to a luxurious underwater palace, where his every whim is fulfilled. Tales of addiction, bravery, sex, greed, abuse and control — these stories take their inspiration from the great Japanese storytelling traditions, as well as from Noh and Kabuki. Evocative and haunting illustrations by the stunningly talented Mikiko Fujita add to the eerie beauty of this collection. A detailed afterword outlines the author’s storytelling approach and provides source material for each tale.
Rui Umezawa is a Toronto storyteller and the author of Aiko’s Flowers (illustrated by Yuji Ando). His work has appeared in various periodicals, including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Descant Magazine. Born in Japan, Mikiko Fujita is a young artist and graphic designer now living in Munich, Germany.