Otsuichi won the sixth annual Jump Novel and Nonfiction prize with his debut novel Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse when he was seventeen (he was sixteen when he wrote it). He writes horror novels and short stories as well as novels for young adults, and he is also a filmmaker. Major works include the novel Goth, which was made into a manga as well as a feature film, and his collection Zoo, which was also made into a film. Works available in English include Summer, Fireworks, My Corpse; ZOO; and Black Fairy Tale.
Born Hirotaka Adachi in 1978 in Fukuoka prefecture, Otsuichi graduated from Kurume Industrial College and Toyohashi University of Technology with a degree in ecological engineering. He also took part in the university science fiction club. He enjoys playing American video games, watching movies, reading, and spending time with his children.
What motivates you to write?
A: When I thought about my future, I could imagine myself getting neurotic being upset by relationships at the office. So I wanted to take a job where I can work alone.
Do you revise a lot, or do your stories come out fully formed?
A: I do revise them a lot of times.
What would you do with your time if you did not write?
A: I do play video games, watch movies, read, and take care of my kids.
What message, if any, would you like your readers to take from Zoo?
A: Tragicomics of Life.
What is your writing process: do you wait for stories to come to you, or do you go somewhere to find them?
A: I learn it from script writing of Hollywood movies.
What elements go into creating a good story?
A: Luck, work, and pure heart.
Do you prefer to write in third person or first person?
A: First person narrative.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
A: Not yet. Ghosts scare me.
Can you recommend any novels or short stories that ought to be translated into English?
A: Gyakusatukikan (Genocidal Organ) by Project Itoh, a Japanese SF novel.
Do you read foreign novels? Who are your favorite writers? Do you have any books that you read over and over again?
A: I like the Lincoln Rhyme series by Mister Jeffery Deaver.
Did you write any novels before your first published novel?
A: I wrote one fantasy novel but it failed to pass the initial selection of a contest.
If you could live anywhere other than Japan, would you want to? Where?
A: Italy. The food there looks great.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
A: I’m not good at conversation between characters. Because I don’t have a very good sense of conversation.
Do your characters show up fully formed, or do they start small and then grow?
A: I let them grow little by little while writing.
Is there anything that an American audience should know about you or your work in order to better understand you and it?
A: I think my fiction is negligible in Japan. There are so many better, much valuable and more interesting stories here. So you shouldn’t judge the level of Japanese fiction by Otsuichi stories.
Do you consider your work scary? Do you enjoy scaring people?
I don’t consider them scary. I regard them as comedies. But I love to scare people.
Do you get ideas from contemporary events? Or traditional stories? Or somewhere else?
A: I imagine I get them from traditional masterpieces. I feel bad at borrowing ideas, but maybe I do unconsciously.
Why do you use a pen name?
A: When my name is called at hospitals and banks, people don’t turn their faces toward me if they don’t know me by my own name.
In Zoo, there are a number of characters recovering from mental and emotional trauma and abuse, and possibly the most horrific aspect of this is that these characters don’t seem to believe that they should be treated any better. This seems like something central about the human condition, but is it easier to get this message across by using fantasy and metaphor?
A: Sometimes, telling in the form of fantasy is more permeative than telling it directly. The movie ZOO was wonderfully made, but every time actors read my dialog, I felt some itches on my buttocks.
There is a relatively straightforward journalistic style to stories like “In a Falling Airplane” and other stories in Zoo — have you done much journalistic writing?
A: Never done that.
“Find the Blood!” is very funny — how do you use humor to balance horror in your work. Do you see humor and horror as two sides of the same coin?
A: Yes, I think so. And maybe I was a bit out of my mind when I wrote it.
In Zoo there are a number of characters without given names. Haruki Murakami has also used this technique: would you consider Murakami an influence on your work? Are there other contemporary Japanese writers that your work is in conversation with?
A: I do like Haruki Murakami, but I’ve read only two of his novels. I read a lot of works by Hiroshi Yamamoto among contemporary writers in Japan, but I’m not sure if his works have some echoes in mine or not.
A review on Strange Horizons suggests that the child who has the power to change the world in “Words of God” is possibly “a consequence of the famously repressed Japanese psyche?” Do you believe that the Japanese psyche is more repressed than that of other nationalities? Is it possible for Americans and Japanese to understand one another?
Yes, I think Japanese are repressed. I had a hole in my stomach by stress when I was an elementary school kid. I’ve experienced gastroscope examination more than thirty times. It’s been an everyday life to look at pink colors on displays which was my innards. And it’s possible to understand each other between Japanese and Americans. I do solely play American video games, these days, anyway.