Kazuko, Goro and Kazuo are in their last year in Junior High School. Strange goings-on in the Science Lab lead Kazuko into a series of replayed but slightly different experiences as she leaps backwards and forwards over just a few days; Groundhog Day without the laughs. She’ll find herself in a Maths lesson asked to solve a problem she believes she had dealt with the day before, only to find her class-mates have no memory of it. Notes she wrote in her exercise book one day have disappeared because she has slipped back 24 hours. One night, she sees a fire near Goro’s house and even talks with Kazuo as they watch the blaze. But in the morning, the others know nothing of the fire or the conversation. So the three friends go to their science teacher who tells them of mysterious instances of teleportation. The explanation of Kazuko’s bewildering experiences, when it comes, belongs at once to teenage romance and science fiction.
The book has dated over the forty-odd years it has waited for a translation into English. Some of the sense of time gone by lies in the detail – a teacher lighting up a cigarette, the decorum of the young people’s friendships, a narrative style innocent of the streetwise idiom which now marks most YA writing. Some of this otherness may stem from a cultural difference, but the distancing also comes from slight oddities in the translation: ‘Together they jumped for joy at Goro’s lucky escape’ or ‘Mr Fukushima ran off the pavement and shouted, “Run! There’s a steel beam falling!”’
The novella may well seem rather naïve to readers used to the computer-generated, wise-cracking universe of Doctor Who. The publishers’ note that this is one of Tsutsui’s ‘most popular works in his native Japan’, but their claim that Kazuko must ‘push the boundaries of space and time, and challenge the notions of dream and reality’ seems inflated. There is certainly an attractive playfulness at times in the plotting, but this translation may have reached us too late in the day to be more than a literary curiosity.
A second novella, suited to rather younger readers, The Stuff that Nightmares are made of, completes the book. Here, Masuko, just started at secondary school, makes use of everyday experiences to explore memories which lie beneath anxieties suffered by herself and her little brother, Yoshio. It is a kindly series of stories, but over-neat to contemporary eyes. 1967 seems another country where, indeed, they do things differently. Yoshio’s mother tells him, ‘You’re a boy, Yoshio! You need to start acting like one….You know they pick on you because you’re always playing with girls. Why don’t you join in with the boys and play their games?’