Edogawa Rampo Edogawa Rampo

>> by Edogawa Rampo
>> Tuttle Publishing (June 1956) >> 232 pages paperback

One of the most intriguing visuals associated with Gothic Lolita fashion is Ero-Guro, or the erotic-grotesque. This sensibility has its roots in the Taisho era (1912-26), during which the Japanese experienced World War I and struggled to make sense of the West after centuries of isolation. The disturbed mood of the times was captured in the mystery stories of Edogawa Rampo (a pseudonym inspired by Edgar Allan Poe). An English compilation, dubbed Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, includes:

>> The chilling story of a quadruple amputee living in isolation with his perverse wife;
>> The weird record of a man obsessed with optics who creates a chamber of mirrors and descends into insanity;
>> The morbid confession of a maniac who envisioned a career of foolproof “psychological” murders;
>> The eerie encounter with a portrait that appears to be alive;
>> The twisted psyche of a somnambulist who commits murder in his sleep;
>> The bizarre tale of the chair-maker who buried himself inside an armchair and enjoyed a sordid career of “loves” with the women who sat on him.

The fetishistic impulses of Ero-Guro are laid bare in “The Caterpillar,” a story of a lieutenant horribly disfigured by a shell. “His arms and legs had been amputated so closely that not even stumps remained, but only four lumps of flesh to mark where his limbs had been. Often he would lie on his great belly and, using these lumps to propel himself, manage to spin round and round – a top made of living flesh. (P74)” His wife must devote every minute to caring for this fragment of a man, who can only express himself through round, child-like eyes. And she finds herself wrestling with strange and perverse sensations: “The very disgust and ugliness […] seemed to excite all her pent-up passions and to paralyze her nerves. (P75)”

The wife’s reaction is disturbing, but perhaps not so surprising. There is something captivating about a cute, helpless baby doll that is simultaneously grotesque and gory. Guro-Lolita fashion flirts with this tension:

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Dostoyevsky, and Poe, check out Edogawa Rampo’s fast-paced stories. They’ll chill your blood – and give you a glimpse into the cultural background of Gothic Lolita.