Books: Misanthrope from Japon

RASHOMON (119 pp.) — Ryunosuke Akutagawa—Liveright ($2.50).

For a satirist, bile is almost as necessary as ink. Some, like Dean Swift, swim in it; others, like John Marquand, barely wet their prose in it; a few end by drowning in it. Japan's Ryunosuke Akutagawa was one of the hapless few; in 1927, sunk in pessimism and possibly near madness, he took an overdose of veronal and died. He was only 35, but the more than 100 short stories he wrote have since established him as Japan's most corrosive modern satirist.

Last year. U.S. filmgoers made his acquaintance in the sardonic and powerful Japanese...

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