Paquita Maria Sanchez's Reviews > Hell Screen

Hell Screen by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
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Mar 16, 12

bookshelves: literature

Somebody turn the lights on, please. My brain is a dark and dreary place after reading these two stories. It is cold, the pipes are dripping a foul-scented liquid, and the wind is screaming curses at me. To boot, there are spiders.

Hell Screen: definitely the most powerful and painful Akutagawa story I have yet to read, and I read that rapey one, and that other one where the thief steals the clothes off the back of an old woman who steals hair from strangers' piled up and forgotten, rotting and robbed corpses in order to scratch out just enough handfuls of rice to not die from starvation. You know, if that tells you anything. This world is hard, man.

The story involves a villainous painter, a more sociopathic Scrooge, whose only love in the world--aside from and to a lesser extent than his art--is his kind-hearted daughter. This charming and visually stunning girl works in the Emperor's palace, and in that time has managed, despite her lowly status, to ingratiate herself to this young Lord by showing kindness to an abused monkey, and adopting him as her devoted pet. Our unreliable narrator, another lady in waiting in the Lord's palace, attempts to present the argument that this is the extent of the good Lord's thoughts on the painter's daughter, despite having come upon the young lady late one night in a panicked and disheveled state...you know, a rapey state, or perhaps an attempted rapey state. Maybe? Akutagawa likes to leave little oubliettes of speculative horror in his already dark castles. He's not just going to pass out the answers like a litter of kittens or anything. He's going to make you work for it a bit, so get ready to grind those gears when you read him.

Back to the painter, the Lord has requested that he paint on a screen a searing, elaborately detailed image of hell which, as described, materialized in my mind as what would have occurred if Dante and Bosch had collaborated on the planning for panel three of The Garden of Earthly Delights. In pursuit of absolute perfection, the diabolical painter abuses and shames his various apprentices in a number of vile ways involving chains and snakes and even one of these guys. Yeesh. The painter requires one final touch for his masterpiece, and makes an extravagant request to the Lord which is perversely granted. Tragedy ensues, lies are told, people suffer, the heart is sliced open and the depths of human depravity and self-obsession are prodded and explored, and eeriness and feelings of dread and cynicism fill you to the brim. Bleak stuff, there's no doubt.

The Spider's Thread is a much shorter, but also quite Dante-esque story plucked straight from Japanese folklore, and involves a criminal and all around bad guy sentenced to one of the deepest rings of hell. One day, the Buddha summons the knowledge that this man had at one point in his life neglected to crush a spider after realizing that it was, like himself, a being deserving of life. Touched by this, Shakyamuni casts a thread of webbing down to the damned man so that he may attempt to climb out of hell and up into paradise. Of course, the thief is not the only man suffering in the seas of compacted sinners, and the terrifyingly solipsistic survival instinct of the human species once again ensues pandemonium like it's a goddamned Who concert. Madness and sadness are heaped on your already overfilled plate. This is a warning, folks.

Akutagawa takes you down, and then down a little deeper. And then kicks you while you are down, because he's just really mean like that.

I think I love him.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 313) (313 new)


message 1: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) I think I love owls. And your writing. And owls.


Paquita Maria Sanchez That is one of the creepier images of that type of owl I could find. You know, for da drama. In the book, it is described by an apprentice as looking like an evil cat. My best friend Aly hated images of owls, though, which had something to do with the reservation she spend her whole childhood visiting. They terrified her for reasons she couldn't quite explain, and anything owl-related I own had to be boxed up for all the years that we lived together. It takes all kinds to make the world go round, yeah?


message 3: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) you done good. that's one creepy fucker.


Paquita Maria Sanchez I would never be so cold as to show her that picture. She wouldn't sleep for a year.


message 5: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) No way, show her this little guy instead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-LIfV...


Paquita Maria Sanchez I want to pet an owl. Right now, please. NOW! I know for a fact that the video would definitely freak Aly out, though. The music wouldn't help.


message 7: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) Ha ha!

I guess I can understand the owl-phobia; I feel similarly about clowns. They creep me out


Paquita Maria Sanchez Shan, we are in total agreement. Jennifer, a recurring nightmare I had as a child was the clowns in PeeWee's Big Adventure stealing my mom. Was I learning about death? I don't know, but it happened for years, and it sucked. I'm not afraid of clowns per se, but I was definitely taunted by horrifying visions of those clowns for whatever reason. Fortunately, I don't generally remember my dreams anymore. Whew.


message 9: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) frickin' clowns. they terrify me. I blame Stephen King.


Paquita Maria Sanchez I blame Tim Burton and Gacy.


message 11: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) Gacy! Now I'm definitely having nightmares tonight.


Paquita Maria Sanchez I don't know what's scarier...Gacy's life or Gacy's art.


message 13: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) I will have to google the 'art' part


message 14: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) Oh no. I shouldn't have done that *shudder*


message 15: by Joel (new)

Joel Paquita Maria wrote: "I don't know what's scarier...Gacy's life or Gacy's art."

life.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Life in general, which includes Gacy and his art and Burton's mother-napping clowns. Scary stuff, that.


message 17: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie children seem to have an instinctive revulsion to clowns - and adults hate them... yet...they walk the earth


Paquita Maria Sanchez Well, between Pee Wee and Tim Curry and that evil toy in Poltergeist, is it really any wonder?


message 19: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) I'm going to bed, and Pennywise better not try to lore me into any gutters in my dreams! I'm scared, guys. ;)


Paquita Maria Sanchez Definitely don't think about the Joker, then. Either version, whether it be the one who fell in a vat of acid and now defaces women with a surgical knife, or the one who defaces himself and anyone else with a dagger. Not that.


Paquita Maria Sanchez I blame the Insane Clown Posse. For everything. Ever.


message 22: by Kristen (new)

Kristen How is that still a thing? I remember hearing of them in 7th grade and nothing else until maybe two years ago and it turns out that was totally a thing all this time? I fear for the future of our planet.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Apparently, they are devout Christians. Or something. I never realized it until now, but I guess I sorta do hate clowns on the whole. Fucking clowns.


message 24: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Is there is anything more terrifying than devout Christian clowns?!?!


Paquita Maria Sanchez Devout Christian clowns on meth?


message 26: by Esteban (new) - added it

Esteban del Mal Kristen wrote: "Is there is anything more terrifying than devout Christian clowns?!?!"

I thought all devout Christians were clowns?


message 27: by Esteban (new) - added it

Esteban del Mal Kristen wrote: "Is there is anything more terrifying than devout Christian clowns?!?!"

How about people that joke about the Holocaust? Devoutly?


Paquita Maria Sanchez Would it be people "that" joke about the Holocaust, or people "who" joke about the Holocaust? I can never seem to get that part right. I mean, don't lose your last strands of hair explaining it to me, but I would still like to know. Because I am a whore.


message 29: by Capsguy (last edited Mar 13, 2012 01:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Capsguy It's abominable to joke about the Holocaust, but completely fine to whistle away jokes about the GULAG and reign under communism in Eastern Europe.

Right...


Paquita Maria Sanchez What am I missing here? I am so confused. The abominable snowman is no laughing matter, though. I will certainly grant anyone that as absolute, irrefutable fact. That fucker is like a devout Christian clown on meth, composed solely of equal parts icicles and hate. Icicle crystals...crystal meth...coincidence?


message 31: by Kristen (new)

Kristen I agree with the charming prepubescent boy: Esteban is a scumbag and should be locked in a gulag somewhere and beaten mercilessly.


message 32: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) Paquita Maria wrote: "What am I missing here? I am so confused. The abominable snowman is no laughing matter, though. I will certainly grant anyone that as absolute, irrefutable fact. That fucker is like a devout Ch..."

great. now I'll be dreaming about a guy who looks like jesus dressed as a clown beating down Walter White's door in the middle of the night for some meth


message 33: by Esteban (new) - added it

Esteban del Mal Kristen wrote: "I agree with the charming prepubescent boy: Esteban is a scumbag and should be locked in a gulag somewhere and beaten mercilessly."

Yes! Punish me! I've been bad! Very bad!


Paquita Maria Sanchez Esteban wrote: "Yes! Punish me! I've been bad! Very bad!"

Whore.


message 35: by Mariel (new)

Mariel In soviet Russia the holocaust jokes about you.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Well, that made me laugh/snort/cough/wheeze.


Capsguy If it wasn't an overdone to death joke I may have as well.


message 38: by Kristen (new)

Kristen If I wasn't an insufferable douchebag I may have as well.


message 39: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Paquita Maria wrote: "Would it be people "that" joke about the Holocaust, or people "who" joke about the Holocaust? I can never seem to get that part right. I mean, don't lose your last strands of hair explaining it to me, but I would still like to know. Because I am a whore."

Hahaha! I think it's supposed to be "who" for people and "that" for objects.


message 40: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) Kristen wrote: "If I wasn't an insufferable douchebag I may have as well."

I think I just LOL'd. :D


Paquita Maria Sanchez Wow, I honestly thought that was a misunderstanding, but it appears I actually WAS being scolded on my comment thread for something I personally didn't even say...ON MY BIRTHDAY. Oh internet, you're so confusing it's adorable.


message 42: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I like how many people I've encountered here are equal opportunity jokers, where everything and anything is open to be used for ribbing and therefore nothing is sacred or feared. Then there are the tskers and douchebags, who may have personal reasons, but should probably absent themselves from tiny corners of the internet if they're bothered since they'll only draw more fire.


message 43: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) Paquita Maria wrote: "Wow, I honestly thought that was a misunderstanding, but it appears I actually WAS being scolded on my comment thread for something I personally didn't even say...ON MY BIRTHDAY. Oh internet, you'..."

on her birthday, people! have you no shame! sheesh.


Paquita Maria Sanchez That Kristen. Every time I hang out with that bitch, she gets drunk and starts a fist-fight with somebody. I don't even know how many times I've bailed her outta jail.


message 45: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) I just re-read this whole thread, cos you know, I got time.. and what the what? what did I miss.. who was whistling jokes about whom?


Paquita Maria Sanchez I still don't understand it either, to be honest. I think other things happened in other places at other times between other people? You have to have eyes in the back of your head up in here.


message 47: by Kristen (last edited Mar 14, 2012 10:55AM) (new)

Kristen I think there is a misunderstanding, I should explain myself. The thing is I completely agree with the point that prepubescent boy was trying to make, about the arbitrary nature of the value we assign to human life, at least that's how I read it, of course I could have misinterpreted because capsguys is vastly superior to me, to all of us really, you can tell by the olive oil. So while I agree with his point I still have a visceral hated for caspguy, that I realize is only vaguely based on maybe one other thing he might of said that made me think he was beaten up a lot as a child, but somehow not quite enough.


message 48: by Kristen (new)

Kristen And Happy Birthday.

Even on your birthday capsguy is still superior to you.


message 49: by Esteban (last edited Mar 14, 2012 11:27AM) (new) - added it

Esteban del Mal Kristen wrote: "I think there is a misunderstanding, I should explain myself. The thing is I completely agree with the point that prepubescent boy was trying to make, about the arbitrary nature of the value we as..."

It's always the olive oil. Always.


Paquita Maria Sanchez The gulag thing still makes no sense to me. This knowledge, I reach for it, but I can never really get a solid grip. All the same, Esteban is not the olive oil, but rather the olive oiled. I think we all know that much. Wait, is it okay to make butt-sex jokes? Where the hell am I, and where are my shoes?


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