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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hell Screen

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke

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Title: Hell Screen
Author: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Genre: Story
Written: 1918 (Eng. 1961)
Length: 41 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: in The Essential Akutagawa - US
in The Essential Akutagawa - UK
in The Essential Akutagawa - Canada
  • Translated by Takashi Kojima
  • Previously translated by W.H.H. Norman (1952)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : powerful story of an artist's devotion to his craft

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 22/12/1988 Ian Buruma

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The complete review's Review:

       Hell Screen tells the story of the artist Yoshihide. A talented painter ("the greatest painter in Japan"), he is devoted to -- and consumed by -- his art. In particular, he forgets and ignores all else in trying to make his pictures as perfect as possible (calmly sketching rotting corpses when he comes across them, for example).
       The one person important to Yoshihide is his daughter, and he's not too thrilled that she is a Lady-in-Waiting at the court of the Grand Lord. When the Grand Lord offers him anything he wishes, he asks that his daughter be released from his service -- but that the Grand Lord won't do.
       The Grand Lord eventually commands Yoshihide to paint a screen depicting hell. Yoshihide has little trouble in conceiving a good deal of the horror, but the centrepiece -- he imagines it depicting a woman burning in a carriage -- eludes him:

     "Oh, I can't paint it," Yoshihide said once again in a dreary tone, his feverish red lips trembling. But suddenly he changed his attitude, and in dead earnest, made a bold and feverish request in a spirited and snappish tone, "Please, my Lord, burn a nobleman's carriage before my eyes, and if possible ..."
       Yoshihide eventually gets what he wishes for; of course, it comes with an appropriately hellish twist. Such is the price of true art .....
       A fairly simple story, it is daring in the extremes it goes to, and though the end comes as no great surprise it still is fairly powerful.

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Reviews: Akutagawa Ryunosuke: Other books by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (芥川 龍之介) lived 1892 to 1927.

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