Cogwheels and Other Stories


74 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-88962-177-2





Reviewed by Claudette Young

Claudette Young was a freelance reviewer in Burlington, Ontario.


Akutagawa Ryunosuke, the author of Cogwheels, died at the age of 35 in 1927. His work is timeless, dealing with themes of suffering, crime and punishment, morality. He is a well-known and respected writer in Japan, where the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize is named for him.

Naoko Matsubara, the illustrator, is a prominent Japanese artist, now residing in Canada, whose work hangs in many museums. Her woodcuts capture the sombre feel of the stories, the mystery, the pain and confusion.

Rev. Howard Norman, the translator, spent 25 years in Japan as a missionary and had translations of Akutagawa’s work published there in 1948.

There are three stories in this slim volume. “Cogwheels” was the last story written before the author committed suicide. It seems to have been written as an effort to have others understand why he chose not to go on living the strange life inside his head. There are stories within stories, fantasies, and illusions. One is grateful for the many footnotes which enhance understanding of this piece.

“Hell Screen” is a moral tale of good and evil. The painter, Yoshihide, is graphically portrayed as pure evil, except for his love for his daughter. He can paint only from live models and this creates problems when he is painting the Hell Screen. As his work progresses, he becomes more unbalanced and dreadful nightmares assail him. A classic tale, guaranteed to keep you reading.

“Spider’s Thread” is a beautiful little story of how Buddha tries to save a sinner by dropping a spider’s thread into Hell for him to ascend. A real delight.

It is easy to see why Akutagawa is considered such a major talent in his own country. His writing is often disconcerting, but always compelling.


Ryunosuke, Akutagawa, “Cogwheels and Other Stories,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,