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Tales of the Ghost Sword

by Elliott Samuels

Staff Writer

There are so many ghost tales floating around Japan that it’s somewhat surprising there’s any space left over in bookstores here for actual accounts of the living. In “Tales of the Ghost Sword,” horror novelist Hideyuki Kikuchi presents nine bloodcurdling historical stories that depict the pathos of lower-class samurai who live for — and are held captive by — the sword. There’s “Shadow Wife,” the tale of a cantankerous swordsman who unwittingly helps a pair of young lovers take revenge on a skilled samurai who had murdered them.

Tales of the Ghost Sword, by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Translated by Ian MacDonald.
Thames River Press, Fiction.

Metamorphosis,” meanwhile, tells the story of a stubborn accountant with a penchant for cleanly severing his opponents ankles before dispatching them to nirvana. Truly frightening stuff. The contents of each tale is about as grisly as one might expect from the steely subject matter, with men’s chests being split in two with ease and countless heads being removed from shoulders. Ian MacDonald does a decent job translating the material, and seems to revel in including dialogue that reeks of masculinity. “Since you say it was my sword that led you to this conclusion,” one samurai says to another who has his weapon, “then let me use my sword to disabuse you of it.”