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UBC Theses and Dissertations

No longer Dazai : the re-authoring and "character-ification" of literary celebrity in contemporary Japanese popular culture Laturnas, Jaylene


Dazai Osamu (1909–1948) is a celebrated Japanese author who is most known for his postwar novels of despair and decadence, such as The Setting Sun (1947) and No Longer Human (1948). He is recognized as one of the literary greats by the academy and his work has been praised by scholars and critics. However, his star image also has a familiar presence in mass culture and his texts have been labelled as popular literature for anomic youth who are struggling to define themselves. While Dazai’s place in canonical literature is well established, I argue that it is Dazai’s multi-faceted, mutable image as a decadent anomic figure that has been mobilized by popular culture networks to expand his star text, adapt it to new mediums, and generate interest among youths in the historical “original.” I first contextualize Dazai’s literary celebrity in his historical moment of early twentieth-century Japan to highlight how the author self-fashioned himself as a social outcast vis-à-vis the literary establishment, and how the details of his life and death have been “re-authored” by publishers and readers to intensify his image as an anomic figure. Specifically, I engage in paratextual analysis to see how reprints of No Longer Human emphasize narratives of autobiography, suicide, and youth literature; and how this, in turn, has led to Dazai’s star text becoming synonymous with the novel and its protagonist, Ōba Yōzō. Then, through a close reading of the multimedia series Bungō Stray Dogs (2013–) and Bungō and Alchemist (2016–), I explore how Dazai’s “character-ification” has embodied the author’s abstract image in the collective imagination and brought it into in the world of manga, anime, and video games. Because the author-characters are constructed from biographical details with new elements added on top, there is still room for audiences to translate the semiotic signs assigned to each character. This has made Dazai visually “knowable” to audiences and encouraged many fans to seek out the original author. In this fashion, popular culture adaptations of literary star texts have played a significant role in revitalizing youth interest in modern Japanese literature and its authors.

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