While we’ve all read stories about a kid and their dog, there aren’t many that chronicle the special bond that only exists between a kid and their vampire. Well, except for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. But while Kazuki Sakuraba’s mosaic novel A Small Charred Face (paperback, digital) features three connected stories that explore this unique connection between kids and bloodsuckers, it turns out it was somewhat inspired by the special bond between a Japanese writer and her dog.
Photo Credit: Mika Sudo
A Small Charred Face is about a kid name Kyo who’s saved by a vampire called Bamboo. Where did you get the idea for it?
In March of 2011, a large earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan. Everyone evacuated from the area surrounding that nuclear power plant, leaving the city deserted. I took in a dog who was left behind. I was only intending to take care of it until the owner showed up, but six years have passed since then. That area was also hit by the tsunami, so I have no idea who the owner might be, or whether or not they are still alive.
Before I took the dog in, I thought that animals led such short lives. However, the more time I spend with it, the more I start to think that from the perspective of animals, they must think we’re such odd creatures, living as long as we do. This novel was born from me pondering the lives of dogs and the odd creatures we call humans who take care of them.
As the Twilight series and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book showed, not all books about vampire are scary. Do you think A Small Charred Face is scary?
The horror in this novel is not about scaring the reader. Instead, it functions as a catalyst to spur growth and change. It’s the story of a boy coming into his own through the horror he experiences. I think that could describe my experience growing up.
I think there are two types of coming-of-age stories. One type is where a young person sets out on an adventure, succeeds, and becomes an adult. Perhaps he might claim victory over a dragon and inherit the throne, or something along those lines. The other type would be those who fail on their adventures, and mature into adulthood through the setbacks they experience. The Greek tragedy Oedipus, for example, or the movie Stand by Me. I really enjoy the latter type. As for myself, I believe I matured through the setbacks, sadness, and disappointment I experienced more than I did through my accomplishments or victories.
Are there any writers or specific novels that you feel were a big influence on what you wrote in A Small Charred Face, as well as how you wrote it, but ones that were not big influences on your other books?
I was really captivated by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The main character lives for centuries while bearing witness to the evolution of English literary history. I love how she changes from male to female partway through the story. That’s what inspired me to have the main character in the first story grow up as a woman, even though he’s a boy.
There’s also a legend in Japan that you can become immortal by eating the flesh of a mermaid. A girl named Yaobikuni is said to have lived a thousand years by doing just that. In the manga Mermaid Saga by Rumiko Takahashi, the main character eats the flesh of a mermaid and lives from the Sengoku period until the modern era. It’s not about vampires, but it is about an immortal human.
Poe No Ichizoku [The Poe Clan] by Moto Hagio is also a beautiful shojo manga about vampires. I love how they drink the extract of red roses instead of blood.
What about non-literary influences? Are there any movies, TV shows, or games you think were a big influence on A Small Charred Face?
I love the movie Interview With The Vampire. In particular, I really like Kirsten Dunst’s character, Claudia, who became a vampire while she was still a child. I actually modeled the heroine of [Sakuraba’s light novel series] Gosick after her.
The movie Moon Child has two lead characters, both played by famous Japanese visual kei rock stars. These two beautiful men play vampires, but it’s a very different movie than Interview With The Vampire. Its focus on affection and consideration for others makes it a distinctively Japanese take on the genre.
Then there’s the dark vampire movie Thirst about a male/female couple who put their own lives on the line. However, the final scene where they both meet their fate reminds me a lot of Moon Child. I think both movies are fantastic.
One of the big things in publishing these days — at least in America; not sure about in Japan — is that a lot of horror and sci-fi novels are not stand-alone books, but are the first in a series. Is A Small Charred Face a stand-alone novel or the first in a series?
In the East, we have a concept called “karma,” which is similar to the the Western concept of “cause and effect.” For example, “I left on a journey (cause), which is why I met you (effect).” These two things are connected. Not like a bridge from one place to another, but like a loop, similar to the ouroboros. As the head and tail of the snake are connected, so are “cause” and “effect.”
The third story in A Small Charred Face, “You Will Go To The Land Of The Future,” is the “cause,” and the second story, “I Came To Show You Real Flowers,” is the effect — the end of the events which take place within the story — forming a self-contained loop within a single volume. Thus, I don’t plan on turning it into a series. I have already exited the loop of creating this book.
Ah, gotcha. You mentioned earlier some vampire movies you like. But has there been any talk into making a movie out of A Small Charred Face?
There are no plans to do so at this time.
If someone did want to make A Small Charred Face movie, which do you think would work better, live action or anime? Because your Gosick books have been made into animes.
I think anime might be more fitting than live action. However, in Japan, “2.5D” adaptations are very popular right now, and I think such an adaptation might work perfectly for this title. “2.5D” refers to a live-action stage performance where they attempt to reproduce anime, manga, or game characters to a tee. Famous examples adapted in this format include The Prince Of Tennis, Yowamushi Pedal (both manga), and Touken Ranbu. I’m always really amazed by what they can pull off. I really think they should try to do 2.5D movies or TV shows as well, and I encourage everyone to please check out one of these 2.5D stage adaptations next time you visit Japan.
Finally, if someone really enjoys A Small Charred Face, what Japanese vampire novel would you suggest they read next and why?
Ephemera The Vampire by Mariko Ohara is a feminist science fiction story where aliens meet vampires. Intelligent life forms which have existed since ancient times attach themselves to human hearts and take over their bodies. In the middle ages, they were known and feared as “vampires.” Now, in the 22nd century, the confrontation between humans and vampires begins. The whole thing feels very “Hollywood” and it’s a fantastic read.
Also, Emanon: A Reminiscence by Shinji Kajio isn’t about vampires, but it’s a science fiction story about a girl named Emanon who holds all of the memories passed on from parent to child ever since the Earth’s inception. It’s a sad, but heartwarming story.