Born into a near-aristocratic family whose declining world he depicts in The Setting Sun (1947), Dazai had the means to become an accomplished dilettante and rake. Around 1933 he began to think seriously about writing, but his life was complicated by drug addiction, a string of affairs, and two attempts at suicide. The end of the war brought a change in Dazai, and he produced his finest works, even though his own life was ending because of alcoholism and tuberculosis. The darkness of his works reveals his tortured existence, which he ended by suicide.
Donald Keene is an expert on Japanese literature and culture who was educated at Columbia University. Currently he is the Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. Keene's books include The Pleasures of Japanese Literature and Essays in Idleness. His translations include Three Plays of Kobo Abe and Twenty Plays of the No Theater. His awards include the Kikuchi Kan Prize of the Society for the Advancement of Japanese Culture, the Japan Foundation Prize and the Tokyo Metropolitan Prize. He has honorary degrees from Cambridge University, St. Andrew's College and Middlebury College.