In 1999 David Cronenberg made the movie Existenz. In simplest terms, it was the story of getting lost in a virtual reality video game and never being sure of where the fiction ended and the reality resumed. There have been many books and movies that play with this theme of not knowing reality from fantasy. In 1988 Masato Takeno wrote a piece of short fiction titled The Yamada Diary. Predating Existenz, Takeno develops the story of a young student who loses himself in the fiction of a video game called The Yamada Diary.
But in Takeno’s fiction, the video game, rather than transporting the players to new and exciting scenarios of adventure and danger, basically just recreates the somewhat boring life of the player. In this case it is more an amalgam of movies such as Existenz and The Truman Show. Furthermore, the inability to distinguish the video game world from the real world becomes logically consistent (I generally assume when being attacked by dinosaurs, I am probably dreaming, but when I am eating my Cheerios and rushing out the door to not be late for school, I might not notice).
In Existenz, when Pikul and Allegra aim their guns at the Chinese waiter, the waiter first pleads for his life, and then asks if they are still in the game. Pikul and Allegra are frozen in wide-eyed silence, apparently not knowing the answer. How many works of fiction do you know that touch on this theme: what is reality?
The Yamada Diary is just one of the short fiction works contained in the excellent anthology, Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction. Unfortunately, these tastes are not that new anymore since the collection was originally published in 1991 … but that doesn’t make the material any less exciting, just a tad less new and shiny.
Other works in the collection are:
- TV People by Haruki Murakami
- Sproing! by Eri Makino
- Christopher Columbus Discovers American by Gen’ichiro Takahashi
- Mazelife by Kyoii Kobayashi
- Momotaro in a Capsule by Masahiko Shimada
- Japan’s Junglest Day by Michio Hisauch
- Kneel Down and Lick My Feet by Amy Yamada
- Peony Snowflakes of Love by Osamu Hashimoto
- Japanese Entrance Exams for Earnest Young Men by Yoshinori Shimizu
- Girl by Mariko Ohara
- The Yamada Diary by Masato Takeno
The collection was edited by Alfred Birnbaum and published by Kodansha International (a great source of Japanese books).