Imaginary Death

“A man dies. He dies because he must—because without his death, there is no story, and, in the end, no history itself.”

So starts Nagai’s Imaginary Death, a nonfiction book that examines how an ordinary man born in a small village is unmade and remade into a perfect Japanese Imperial soldier by the era he was born into. In the kaleidoscope composed of archival documents, letters, journals, research, interviews, and photographs, Imaginary Death traces a life of a man who fought and died for the empire, whose death, obscured by lack of documentation, must be composited of many possible ways men could die in Papua New Guinea. Only forty out of four thousand men from the regimental unit survived by the end of the repatriation in 1946: his is one small death out of many. In the tradition of Let Us Not Praise Famous Men, this is a work that is partly meditation, history, and partly fragments of memory that tells a story of a Japanese soldier’s life and death during World War II. Imaginary Death is a textual landscape of imagination, fact, history, and dreams all intersect to create a psychological terrain that is not limited, like history books or nonfiction books, but rather unlimited by the mind.