Terminal Boredom is a welcome introduction to the Japanese writer Izumi Suzuki, translated here for the first time into English. It’s a collection of funny, bleak and surprising science fiction stories that gnaw at the wobbliness of identity, the tense relations between women and men, and extreme alienation. Suzuki peels back the performance of everyday existence, exposing its synthetic textures and laboured connections.
A cult icon in her home country, Suzuki is also known for her performances in Japanese “pink” (erotic arthouse) films and her tumultuous relationship with experimental jazz saxophonist Kaoru Abe.
The stories collected in Terminal Boredom were mostly written in the period after his death from a Bromisoval overdose, when her output mushroomed. Suzuki died by suicide in 1986, at 36 years of age.
Although these stories were written during Japan’s “economic miracle”, all Suzuki sees is decay and degradation. Distrust festers. She shares many fixations with the British writer Anna Kavan, in that governments and other abstract institutions of power make the domestic lives they detail cloistered and oppressive. For both writers, the supernatural extends the language of inner anguish and detachment.
Personal discovery lays bare unending and insoluble suffering. Happiness and pleasure become unknowable. As one woman declares, “I devote myself to the acme of emptiness … Covered in thick plastic – that’s how I’ve made myself.”
Bliss is artificially induced – through pills, pendants and medically programmed dreamscapes. Without these remedies, life drags. In the collection’s title story, mass unemployment has left Tokyo’s young residents in a state of torpor. They collapse from malnourishment and spend days spaced out watching television. Even sex is rendered a chore, only enjoyed by “elderly perverts”.
While grim, Terminal Boredom is not without softness. In my favourite story, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, a former dancer, Reiko, runs into an ex-lover. Reiko is unrecognisable – a drug dependency has caused her sense of time to glitch and her body to age dramatically. Even so, a peculiar bond persists. In a tearful and depressing reunion, she compels her ex to at least pretend to smile. “I placed a finger below each eye and forced my face to look like I was smiling,” the ex-lover recalls.
Suzuki writes with blunt precision, but she’s most fascinating when her sentences swell into gloomy reverie, often in moments depicting dreams and narcotic hazes. “Life might merely be a momentary bolt of lightning in the dark, after which the self melts into infinite darkness,” says Reiko, under the spell of an illicit substance. In the stories of Terminal Boredom, life on Earth is a pit stop plagued by misery and meaninglessness, and liberation from the “pageantries of humankind” is only available to aliens.
Verso, 208pp, $22.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 17, 2021 as "Terminal Boredom, Izumi Suzuki".
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