For those familiar with the anime Bungo Stray Dogs, you’re most likely aware that the majority of the main cast of characters are all based on famous real-life authors. Among them is Osamu Dazai. In the show, the character of Dazai is best known for his easy-go-lucky attitude, his penchant for trying to commit suicide, and his failure to do so. Dazai’s depiction is one of the reasons I was interested in reading A Shameful Life, which was written by the real-life Osamu Dazai, and, sadly, mirrors his own life. After reading the book from cover to cover I can’t help but pity the man who penned its words.
The story unfolds in first person, and I feel like I have a better understanding of how someone who can appear so happy in life would want to end their own life. In A Shameful Life, the main protagonist, Yozo, describes his “clowning and deceiving” as merely an act which helps him cope with humans in general. Women, he says, are more at ease with his clowning than men; however, they do not understand moderation. Thus Yozo acts the clown while around women until he is utterly exhausted. Ironically, he is able to relax while in the presence of women as he matures, and he feels even more liberated finding comfort in the world of liquor, cigarettes, whores, pawnshops, and Marxism. His is an interesting story.
Yozo’s narration of his own unremarkable life makes it compelling. It’s through his voice that I was able to get a better grasp of his depressing perception of the world. While Yozo depicts his clowning as a defense mechanism against humanity, his prose simultaneously conveys how he appears to the world at large. He himself is a miserable soul internally and this is what makes him such a tragic character. I imagine this is a first-hand account of how mental illness and depression can affect a person, and I feel I gained a better understanding after having read A Shameful Life. This is something I didn’t expect once I’d come to the last page, but am grateful for the unclouded perspective.
A Shameful Life is easily digestible and reflects the time in which it was written: the late 1940’s. Even though the writing style is of a bygone, era Dazai easily blends Yozo’s story through one stage of his life to the next. Dazai’s transitions are seamless, and at one point it amazed me that he’d gone from childhood, to teenager, to young adult merely through describing life’s events. I also need to give props to translator Mark Gibeau as the translation is very smooth. The story is fluid and feels as though it could have been written in English originally and not translated from its Japanese source.
Overall, I feel like I gained a better understanding of not only Dazai, but of the world in which he lived. I’d also recommend A Shameful Life to anyone who’d like to get a better grasp on not only the author’s life, but how depression can truly affect someone’s outlook on life.