on Death Sentences

By Bill Capossere
Fantasy Literature

kawamata_death coverHow to describe the copy of Death Sentences, by Kawamata Chiaki (translated by Thomas Lamarre and Kazuko Y. Hehrens) I recently received? Take a heaping helping of Philip K. Dick, a dollop or two of Ray Bradbury, layer into a pan, then frost liberally with my undergrad survey course in artistic movements — particular the week or so on surrealism. Let sit for a few decades (it was originally published in Japan in 1984) — you can pass the time by watching the Japanese horror movie The Ring, which shares a similar plot device. When the timer dings, sit back and read. If you dare.

The “if you dare” is, of course, a reference to the Ring-like plot device. In this case, a text entitled “The Gold of Time” that eventually kills its readers. Written in the 1940s by a young surrealist poet named Hu Mei (or Who May), the text wended its way through the surrealist movement (we get a litany of actually-happened-this-way deaths of surrealist writers and artists), then was buried for some time before reappearing in 1980s Japan, where it began spreading even more quickly. Eventually, it makes its way to a future Mars, becoming of great concern to those with monetary interests on that planet’s successful settlement.

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