December 17, 2017
Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Colorado
This paper examines depictions of women’s bodies in Kirino Natsuo’s 1997 psychological crime thrillerAuto(Out), focusing on the novel’s engagement with the ways in which Japan’s persisting domestic logic has informed contemporary economic structures and, by extension, complicated the question of Japanese female subjectivity. Ultimately, this reading aims to illustrate that the popularity of Japanese crime fiction is embedded not in the genre’s reproduction of literary conventions, but rather in its capacity to politicise the act of reading by offering audiences a critical lens through which to examine reality. Kirino Natsuo’s crime fiction paints a complex picture of contemporary Japanese urbanity. Her portraits of the modern Japanese city are gritty, her explorations of the criminal mind compelling, and her depictions of contemporary Japanese social relations unnerving, and often unequivocally bleak. Yet Kirino’s fiction does not merely present a pessimistic vision of humanity—rather, it calls attention to a number of largely invisible cultural conditions, frequently via the voices of characters representing social groups who have been historically relegated to the margins of public discourse. Kirino’s 1997 novelAuto(Out), which earned the writer France’s prestigious Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, is perhaps the most representative example of this quality of Kirino’s work. Via its intimate exploration of the lives of four women who are housewives by day andbentōfactory workers by night—and who are propelled by desperation into the criminal underbelly of modern-day Tokyo—the novel illuminates some of the particular ways in which women’s bodies have been positioned as instruments of late Japanese capitalism, and in doing so underscores the gendered logic according to which not only private relations but also grander socio-economic institutions in modern Japan operate.
Keywords: gender in Japan, feminism, Japanese genre fiction, women in the workforce.
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Concerning domesticity in Japan, it is important to understand the role of theshufu, or housewife, within the context of the nation’s discourse on labour. As Mariko Asano Tamanoi (1990, pp. 19-20) notes, from a sociological perspective the urban middle-class housewife has, since the number of urban wage earners and their families began to grow in the late nineteenth century, come to be considered representative of the Japanese woman. Japan’s sexual division of labour, she explains, gives women almost total autonomy within the family domain, and marriage in Japan, whether or not it is a romantic union, in many respects continues to be perceived as a "socially valued female career in which a woman finds self-fulfillment (ikigai).”
About the Author
The authoris a doctoral student in Japanese in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilisations at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She holds MA degrees in Japanese and Interdisciplinary Humanities, and a BA in English Literature. Her research interests include gender and sexuality in Japanese genre fiction, gender performance and poetics in medieval and early modern Japanese theatre, and critical theory. She is currently working on her dissertation, which examines corporeality in contemporary Japanese crime, horror, and sci-fi. She is also an instructor at the University of Colorado, where she teaches courses on Japanese literature, cinema, and pop culture.