Hell Screen by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa


A friend of mine recommended Akutagawa (famous for the stories Rashōmon and In a Grove, the former which provided the name and the latter which provided the plot of the film adaptation of Rashōmon) and I ordered this tiny pocket book from the library.

I have since become minorly obsessed with these tiny pocket books and subsequently bought four of the Penguin Modern line.

Hell Screen is an excellent introduction to Akutagawa and his work, featuring the title story and The Spider Thread. His work is so well know that The Spider Thread is on most school syllabi.

And it was this I read first. The Spider Thread tells the story of a lord who lowers down a gossamer of thread to help a man damned to hell escape, because he had done a redeeming good deed. I won’t spoil what happens, but this is Saumrai-era folk tales with a moral (and a sting) in the tail.

Hell Screen which is much longer, is almost like an expansive version of The Spider Thread: it details Japanese feudal life, a lord who commands an artist to make a beautiful screen for him, that is covered with images of hell. But this artist cannot imagine, he must see…

All in all, a great primer that has led onto me reading more of his work.


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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