Photo/IllutrationNatsuko Imamura (Kazutaka Eguchi)

Natsuko Imamura was a part-time worker when her supervisor told her one day, “You don’t have to come in tomorrow.”

She felt deeply despondent on her way home, unable to cope with the thought of this “idle day” suddenly appearing in her workaday schedule.

“But I told myself to get a grip and do something about it,” Imamura recalled in an interview.

And that was the day she decided to write a novel.

When feeling down, fantasizing and daydreaming can help one regain hope and confidence, Imamura explained.

Her first novel, “Kochira Amiko” (This is Amiko), was critically acclaimed. But she said at the time, “I don’t have anything to write about anymore.”

Imamura certainly has been anything but prolific. However, she has been nominated three times for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, which she won this year with her latest work, titled “Murasaki no Sukato no Onna” (Woman in a purple skirt).

All her novels may be described as scary or eerie. Yet, there is something transparent and even cheerful about them.

Amiko, the protagonist of her eponymous debut novel, is an eccentric schoolgirl. She is infatuated with her primary school classmate, whom she stalks, and gives him a chocolate biscuit after she licks off all of the chocolate.

To cheer up her stepmother who is mourning her miscarried baby boy, Amiko fashions a wooden grave marker for her dead stepbrother. She places it next to the grave of her goldfish, shrugging, “There’s no corpse in there, though.”

Although Amiko’s behavior is spine-chilling, her single-minded candor is actually endearing, and I find my affection for her growing with each turn of the page.

In “Hoshi no Ko” (Child of stars), Imamura deals with a cult, and the impression one gets is similar to that from the award-winning “Woman in a purple skirt,” whose protagonist may be characterized as a stalker.

Imamura once said in an interview that she comes to “gradually understand the thought processes” of her characters while trying to come up with their lines.

Hers is a world that takes shape slowly and hesitantly.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 20

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.