The Setting Sun
The Setting Sun (斜陽 Shayō) is a Japanese novel by Osamu Dazai. It was published in 1947 and is set in Japan after World War II. Principal characters are Kazuko, her brother Naoji, and their elderly mother. The story shows a family in decline and crisis, like many other families during this period of transition between traditional Japan and a more advanced, industrial society. Many families needed to leave their old lives behind and start anew. Throughout the story, mostly through the character Naoji, the author brings up a number of social and philosophical problems of that time period.
The novel was adapted into a film, also called The Setting Sun, which was released by Kaerucafe on June 13, 2009. Directed by Masatoshi Akihara and with a screenplay by Yukie Ochiai, the film starred Eriko Sato as Kazuko. Other cast members included Yōichi Nukumizu, Yosuke Ito, Sera Rinka, Kota Masago, Ichiro Ogura, and Hitomi Takahashi as the mother. The novel has been translated into English by Donald Keene.
After World War II, a small aristocratic family in Japan has lost all of their money. The family consists of three people: Kazuko, her brother Naoji, and their mother. Naoji is a soldier in the South Pacific and is absent throughout much of the beginning of the novel. Kazuko was married once before, but she divorced.
In the family's old house, Kazuko's mother eats rationed food. Kazuko recalls a time when she tried to burn snake eggs, thinking that they were viper eggs. It is revealed that at the time of Kazuko's father's death, there were many snakes present. Therefore, snakes have become ominous in her mother's eyes. After recalling the time Kazuko burned the eggs, she reveals that she feels a snake is growing inside of her own chest.
The family eventually moves to the countryside. Kazuko begins working in the fields. She claims to be growing into a "coarse woman". Naoji eventually returns. He is addicted to opium and treats his mother and sister cruelly. He also goes out every night drinking. Kazuko finds Naoji's "Moonflower Journal," which he wrote when he had narcotic poisoning. It consists of pages upon pages of unconnected gripes about the world, and how people always lie.
Kazuko falls for a novelist named Mr. Uehara. She writes three letters to him, claiming to love a man named M.C., while addressing the letter to him with two combinations of M.C. after his name. “My Chekhov” and “My Child” indicate that he was in fact the one she is referring to in the letters. He does not respond.
Soon after, her mother is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Kazuko sees a black snake on the porch and remembers how her father died when one was present. She yells at it, claiming to have already felt its vengeance. It does not retreat. Her mother eventually dies.
After an outing with Mr. Uehara six years after she met him, Kazuko realizes that he also is not in the best health and calls him a victim. That morning, Kazuko finds out that Naoji has committed suicide. His suicide note reveals his reasons for not wanting to live anymore. Naoji believed that humans have the right to choose whether they want to live or die. He confesses his weakness and anguish out of his birth in noble class. But he protests the idea "all man is same", insisting that Marxism affirms the priority of workers, and democracy that of personal dignity. He also tells Kazuko about a woman once loved, but had difficulty writing her name. He finally reveals that her name is Suga. His last request is that he be buried in his mother's hemp kimono, something he had wanted to wear the next summer.
In the last chapter, Kazuko claims that people keep leaving her. The story ends with a letter to Mr. Uehara. She reveals that she is pregnant, and that she will happily raise the child on her own. She has thrown away the old morality and is embracing a new revolutionary way of life, like Rosa Luxemburg and Jesus coming to bring a sword in Matthew 10 that she has read, very much like what all of Japan was undergoing. She says that they are "victims of a transitional period", and ends the letter addressing Mr. Uehara once again as M.C., this time "My Comedian".
- Kazuko – Daughter of an aristocratic family that loses all of their money, likely that in The Cherry Orchard, after World War II. She used to be married but divorced after an affair with another man. She moves with her mother to the countryside and takes care of her.
- Kazuko’s mother – elderly, sickly woman who becomes lost and depressed after losing all of her money and having to leave her old life behind. She eventually dies of tuberculosis.
- Naoji – a soldier in the war, was addicted to narcotics and opium. Has a very negative view of the world, especially on the nobility class and hypocrisy as evident in his “Moonflower Journal”. Eventually commits suicide.
- Mr. Uehara – a novelist who is married with a child. Kazuko is in love with him, and he claims to love her back but never responds to any letters Kazuko sends him.
- Uncle Wada – Kazuko’s uncle. He financially supports Kazuko’s family for a time until he is unable to do so anymore.
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The Setting Sun refers to how Japan, the "Land of the Rising Sun" was in a period of decline after World War II. In her last letter to Mr. Uehara, Kazuko says that Japan is struggling against the old morality, "like the sun".
The black snake can be seen as a symbol of death. There was a snake present when her father died, and also a snake present when her mother died. Also, at their old house, there was a snake present, symbolizing the death of her family’s old life and the coming death of her mother.
Fire is a motif which appears throughout the novel, and it symbolizes many different things. When Kazuko unintentionally cause the fire right after she moves into the countryside, the fire represents the downfall of Kazuko's family, and that of Japanese aristocracy as a whole. Later, when Kazuko describes her feelings as "a bridge of flames" in her letter to Mr. Uehara, the symbol now represents Kazuko's strong, almost desperate, dependency on him.