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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tales of Moonlight and Rain

Ueda Akinari

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To purchase Tales of Moonlight and Rain

Title: Tales of Moonlight and Rain
Author: Ueda Akinari
Genre: Stories
Written: 1776 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 219 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Tales of Moonlight and Rain - US
Tales of Moonlight and Rain - UK
Tales of Moonlight and Rain - Canada
Contes de pluie et de lune - France
Unter dem Regenmond - Deutschland
DVD: Ugetsu - US
  • A Study And Translation by Anthony H. Chambers
  • Japanese title: Ugetsu monogatari
  • Previous complete translations into English of the collection include: Tales of Moonlight and Rain (Hamada, 1971), Ugetsu Monogatari (Zolbrod, 1974), Tales of the Spring Rain (Jackman, 1975), and Ueda Akinari's Tales of a Rain'd Moon (Sasaki, 1981)
  • Two of the stories were made into the film Ugetsu monogatari, directed by Mizoguchi Kenji (1953)

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Our Assessment:

A- : excellent presentation, making the collection (more) accessible

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 27/1/2007 James Lasdun
The LA Times . 26/12/2006 Susan Salter Reynolds

  From the Reviews:
  • "Anthony H Chambers's new translation of these tales is a lucid addition to the handful of previous versions. His introduction and copious notes are diligent -- sometimes to a fault: the presence of footnotes and endnotes for each story gives them a cluttered feeling that isn't exactly conducive to the casting of a spell. On the other hand, these are sophisticated literary works, embedded in often quite complicated historical situations, dense with cultural allusions, and a little guidance doesn't go amiss." - James Lasdun, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ugetsu monogatari is among the most famous works of classical Japanese fiction, a collection of stories that, as the translator of this edition (Columbia University Press, 2006), Anthony H. Chambers, writes is: "the most celebrated example in Japan of the literature of the strange and marvelous." The collection has been translated -- in parts and whole -- numerous times, so the obvious first question when faced with a new edition is what justifies it or suggests it should supersede what has previously been available.
       In the case of the Chambers edition what sets it apart is not only the translation (closer to Ueda's original in style) but specifically the presentation of the stories. Beyond the useful Introduction, each story is preceded by introductory material:

with information on its title, characters, places, time, background, and affinities. I have presented this information in a format commonly used in no texts, partly because it is a convenient arrangement and partly because Tales of Moonlight and Rain reminds me of a collection of no plays.
       In addition there are also foot- and endnotes:
Information that is immediately useful for understanding the text is provided in footnotes; longer notes, of interest primarily to students and scholars, appear at the end of each story.
       It is soon apparent why the thorough approach and extensive use of material to supplement the texts themselves is, though perhaps not absolutely necessary, both welcome and extremely helpful. Tales of Moonlight and Rain may appear at first glance to be relatively simple supernatural stories, but there's considerably more to them -- much of which is obvious to Japanese readers but is lost not only in translation but also because English-speaking readers simply aren't familiar with the references and allusions, both in language and subject-matter, that the texts are built on.
       Like much classical Japanese and Chinese literature, Tales of Moonlight and Rain is almost a game of literary allusion, constantly using suggestive echoes of older, familiar work to achieve effects and lead the reader on. Most of the effects -- especially the poetic echoes -- are, essentially, lost in any English version, but Chambers' notes and explanations at least give some idea of what Ueda is doing, and, at least as far some of the story-elements and historical references, allow the reader to share the experience a Japanese reader might have.
       The reliance on allusion and literary precedent make Tales of Moonlight and Rain a rather different reading-experience than most 'ghost'-stories (or, indeed, most Western fiction), and Chambers' critical apparatus makes, at least at first, for an even more removed read, but his effort to recreate the actual texts as closely as possible in English ultimately is worthwhile. As he mentions in his Introduction:
Some of the existing translations strike me as wordy and insufficiently dignified , because they have gone too far in accommodating the Western reader and so fail to convey the tone, pace, and elegance of the original.
       Chambers goes at it quite differently -- and readers may well at first be struck by a sense of true foreignness in Chambers' translations. They read fluidly enough, but the presentation of the stories -- from how they unfold to how some of the significant elements are handled to the language itself -- is quite unlike most Western fiction. If the supernatural elements in some of these stories disappoints -- the presentation perhaps seeming too straightforward and not nearly eerie enough -- the different approach to story-telling should make up for it. And several of the stories come across even in English with impressive power.
       Central to each of the nine stories is a supernatural and/or ghostly element. In 'The Chrysanthemum Vow' a samurai pledged to return to his scholar-lover's home on a specific date but can't physically do so -- so he commits suicide in order that his spirit can fulfill his vow. In 'The Reed-Choked House' a husband returns home and is reunited for one night with the wife he has been separated from for years -- only to wake up and find she has been long dead. In the powerful 'A Serpent's Lust' (one of the tales used in Mizoguchi's film -- as well as an earlier one which Tanizaki Junichiro wrote the screenplay for) a man keeps encountering a beautiful woman who turns out to be a demon (a giant snake with "a lascivious nature").
       Among the most appealing of the stories is 'A Carp of my Dreams', in which a painter-monk named Kogi is allowed to feel what it is like to be a carp. Among the nice touches:
As his end approached, he took the many carp that he had painted and released them into the lake, where the fish left the paper and silk to swim about in the water. For this reason, none of Kogi's paintings survived.
       Some of the stories may seem a bit anti-climactic or even abrupt or understated in part, but they're all quite powerful. It's a different sort of reading experience, but there are considerable rewards to it. (The stories themselves are also very short, and re-reading them -- first with (or without) Chambers' supplemental material, and then vice-versa, for example -- is easy to do.)
       One may be tempted to ignore yet another translation of familiar tales, but Chambers' edition of Tales of Moonlight and Rain is well worthwhile even for those who have read earlier translations -- and certainly now the first choice for those new to the Ugetsu monogatari. Highly recommended.

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Tales of Moonlight And Rain: Reviews: Ugetsu monogatari - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Ueda Akinari lived 1734 to 1809, and is best known for the story-collection Ugetsu monogatari.

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