The 1970s and ‘80s in Japan were a time of profound change. The nation, after the war, had built itself up in the international eyes as an example of a high-tech consumer society. But, on the ground, the growing pains were felt all too much by the young people, who felt torn by the changes, by the influx of culture, especially from its American suzerain, and by the pull of conservatism that laced the finger muscles of their parents. 

This is the world of Izumi Suzuki’s fiction, a landscape of post-modern cultural signifiers that swirls around the heads of her protagonists: cool, disenchanted youths with remarkable abilities and lonely, unhappy women, who interact with otherworldly forces, drawn seemingly at random out of a variety of sources from folklore to science fiction. With a dry register that fluctuates from poppy teen gossip to eon-spanning prophetic voices, Suzuki weaves the banal into spectacular, candy-coated worlds – and even in the face of wonder, the characters are often so unimpressed and the reader is thrown into something even more horrifying than ghouls or alien, the apathy and psychopathy of culture-rotten people.  It’s Phillip K Dick told in the style of a Japanese teen reality show where the characters are the playthings of time and metastasizing cultural cliches. 

Hit Parade of Tears is the second collection of Sukuzi’s stories, released post-humously in translation by Verso, almost four decades after the passing of the writer, who was also known as a model and a muse to many of Japan’s mid-century avante-garde artists. Hit Parade continues on the themes of the prior collection, Terminal Boredom, which makes sense, as they are all gleaned from a single-volume collection published in Japan by Suzuki’s daughter in 2014. 

Hit Parade takes up the same themes as the first, albeit in a slightly more macabre register. The stories deal with depression, alienation and a culture run through with meaningless signifiers. Like her countryman a generation before, Nobel Prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata, Suzuki is able to glance steadily at a changing culture, infusing the present with an uncanny resonance that makes the banal and traditional seem just as strange as the hard science fiction plotlines that run through a majority of the stories. 

In the middle of the 11-story collection, one story in particular acts as a keystone: “Hey, It’s a Love Psychedelic!”follows a woman reliving her youth, literally, with a plot that weaves between past and present, old albums with present ones, as the narrator slowly realizes, like Hamlet, that “time is out of joint.” Remarkably, and this is a theme that carries throughout the collection, the narrator seems more concerned with the realization of the emptiness of the dreams of her rock n’ roll-laden life more than the apparent jumbles in her memories as she relives them and literal surrealistic changes like salmon roe falling from the sky. Throughout, a dialogue between two slapstick characters, who we later learn are “time criminals”, comment as they mess with Reico’s (sometimes spelled Reiko, it’s unclear if intentionally or not) timeline. “It’s just a little harmless fun Everybody’s doing it” one of the time criminals says, and later,, as Reico becomes more and more aware, that their criminal changes to the timline feel “more real than reality.” 

Whether the melodramatic, unserious tenor of the dialogue is a quirk of the translator – and for this collection there are 4 (!) – or a function of Sukuzi’s desire to write her characters in the slang-laden parlance of 80s teens is unclear. But the effects of the story resonate past this. Time-space is commodified, Reico muses “Maybe it was pretty normal to see the world that way: products over poetry – at least for a self-styled ‘classic beauty’ like Michiko.” The primary markers of the time period are men with washed-up rock bands and albums.  The time criminals act as outside forces that coopt time itself and regurgitate products, fakes, and people, making a mockery of Reico’s delicate interior world and dreams, just like so many powerful people in the art world in which Suzuki surely walked, and not so unlike the postmodern novelists who dominated it. Suzuki even presages the temptation to write the mix-ups and ennui as a problem of the era; “Of course, in the end, the times take the blame,” says Reico. 

Suzuki is a master at mixing high sci-fi concepts with melodrama. She uses science fiction themes to address the interaction between the genders. She blends folklore and marketing language, like in Trial Witch, where a “chatty messenger” informs the wife who is selected to be a witch as a promotion that the witches have “shied away from animal cruelty”, in a touch of irony worthy of the most irreverent shit post.  In another story, “My Guy”, a strange man comes and enchants a young woman, who is horrified by him, but eventually falls for him, because he does all the right things. Early in the story, the author winks through the girlish main character at the audience, saying “This guy must have escaped from a mental asylum. Some wackjobs think they’re living in a science-fiction world” – The man admits to being an alien, and disappears, leaving her with a baby. After she hears news of a tabloid flying saucer crash, she knows he is dead, but instead of fixating on the fact of his extraterrestrial origins, she worries about her son, who is growing up too fast; she worries that he will get the four-year-olds pregnant in the same uncanny, psychic way that he was conceived.  

In another, “The Covenant”, a troubled teenage girl believes herself to be part of an alien race and, along with two human girls, massacres a man who picks them up in a club. The main character ends up in a mental institution, which she escapes from, and her body is found later, charred, near a crashed satellite. Many of the collection’s characters are doomed to institutions. In “Full of Malice”, the narrator’s brother is institutionalized and, wandering through throngs of isolated people with loony smiles, finds him splayed on the wall.


“There was no art decorating the beautiful walls—only some strange specimen. There he was. My little brother, still five years old. Encased in glass, his belly ripped open. I let out a seemingly endless scream and fainted like a damsel in some classical painting.”


The whimsical language wraps around images that are deadly serious and represent art as body horror, as the modern subject,  expressionless. There is only the wall and a body ripped apart, like in Ballard, spectacle – or the artistic cliche in the damsel pose, the movement from identity into cliche, the fiction of pure pain and simulacra. 

More than what happens or to whom, Suzuki seems to be obsessed with the where of fiction, the worlds drawn up by others – like the time criminals – that trap and bind, in horrifying capture, the fictive beings who are bound to the page. In “I’ll Never Forget”, a character from Terminal Boredom who was central in a cross-species love affair and anti-Earth terrorist action, wilts in an insane asylum, her fame and the flame of her epic love passed. In “Memory of Water”, a shy woman realizes that at night a party girl takes over her body, uses her energy and buys flashy clothes; this “Alter-She” struggles for control, but when the narrator dies a sad quiet death, she runs on in a dream: 


“She was so excited that she failed to notice that she’d penetrated another world, plunged into it. She was on the shore of that primordial sea. A mushroom cloud rose up beyond the horizon. That’s how the final war ended. From now on, there would be more time. She was caught in eternity. A pure world with neither sorrow nor sin. 

She stopped running. She knew that someone very close and very familiar was approaching.”


We can only assume that this familiar figure is the reader, the gazer, the other who comes to capture the multi-faceted characters that we create, that emanate and shed from the ungraspable fact of a human life. That Suzuki would be so preoccupied with the afterlives of fiction born from flesh aligns with the author’s own light, of which much is made in the promotional material of the book. 

We read that she was a young Japanese actress who in the 1970s starred in “pink films” and married an avant-garde saxophonist, who died by overdose, driving Suzuki into a depression and poverty that became the workshop for her science fiction work and ultimately led to her taking her own life in 1986. Her life itself became a cult object, as it became the subject of a novel-turned-film that led to her only daughter into launching a lawsuit for a violation of privacy. Like the Terminal Boredom, Hit Parade of Tears features a photo of Suzuki from Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s Izumi, this bad girl, a compilation of images of the writer. 

Cian McCourt, the Verso editor that brought Suzki into English, seems overly aware of the question of merging the cult of the figure with the work, and in a letter on the release of Terminal Boredom, agonizes over the question of legacy. It’s true, like with the complete subsumption of Clarice Lispector into the hands of Benjamin Moser, the woman-as-writer-as-figure continues to be a theme as we revive them to accompany, and ultimately sell, the work. 

“ A second collection of stories(…)which will have a somewhat different focus, is coming down the road. And beyond that there are novels and essays galore. I hope you get the taste, too,” writes McCourt. 

It’s hard to not see the irony here, given the output: the alien femininity and sense of capture and evasion that pervades the book, but, as with the Alter-She whose run towards freedom in paradise beyond time is interrupted, something familiar approaches, indeed. 


Grab a copy of Hit Parade of Tears by Izumi Suzuki from Verso Fiction