Hiromi Itō Interview: Writing about Death and Sexuality

Meet the ‘shamaness of poetry’, Hiromi Itō, who is regarded as a defining force in Japan’s literary world. In this video portrait, she talks openly of writing unflinchingly about her own body and how she experiences – and is even excited by – the connection between sexuality, death and pain.

When Hiromi Itō started writing about controversial feminist subjects, such as her sexuality, her menstruation, and her uterus, her father expressed his acceptance but asked her not to continue for the sake of her mother – who in turn did the same. But Itō continued nonetheless, writing about all aspects of her own body – including the sexual organs – in the same way as if she was “simply writing about her hands.” In response to the male-dominated manga she had read, she wanted to be at the center of her writing as ‘the hero.’ Since then, Itō has continued to write honestly about her experiences, like in the famous poem ‘Killing Kanoko’, where she describes how she struggled with postpartum depression – a subject which not many addressed at that time: “When I was holding Kanoko, I was thinking: If I drop her now, she will cry… stuff like that,” However, Itō emphasizes that she never harmed any of her children.

“Death was always my interest.” Since childhood, Itō was attracted – even excited – by death and people’s suffering. She began reading Shakespeare because she was interested in the bloody parts of the plays, and she spent a lot of time fantasizing about death. Later, when people around her started dying it fascinated her: “Death at that time kind of became my reality. The real death is much more interesting than the fantasy-death.” Death and sexuality, Itō continues, have always been closely intertwined: “Death was always some kind of erotic feeling for me.”After she had written a book about the Japanese ritual suicide ‘harakiri’ (also known as ‘seppuku’) as something erotic, Itō was invited to interview a doctor who was going to perform the ritual on himself – without the intention of dying, however: “The room was filled with the blood smell,” she says about witnessing the whole thing in complete amazement and excitement. The powerful experience gave way to a poem, which she also reads in the video.

Hiromi Itō (b. 1955) is a considered one of contemporary Japan’s most important writers, and has written several poetry collections, novels and essays. Itō is known for writing about subjects such as female sexuality, menstruation, pregnancy as well as the fantasy of killing one’s newborn child. Her many collections of poetry include ‘Killing Kanoko’ (2009) and ‘Wild Grass on the Riverbank’ (2015). Itō is the recipient of major literary awards such as the Noma Literary Prize (1999) and the Tamaki Jun Prize (2006).

Hiromi Itō was interviewed by Christian Lund at the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2018.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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