This is a very difficult read, not as in 'dense' but as in 'unpleasant'. And made no easier by the author's resolve to lead the narrative to the most...moreThis is a very difficult read, not as in 'dense' but as in 'unpleasant'. And made no easier by the author's resolve to lead the narrative to the most intentionally uncomfortable places he can imagine; there is to be no outlet or uplift at any point in the novel, and we can tell from the first few pages. For the rest of the book we will be encircled by fear, constraint, control, fate and deep mood swings.
We're led down the emotional plumbing along with a kind of numb / punchdrunk narrator, whose brief time describing his life to us comprises a chamber of horrors and an unending set of even-worse consequences. A list of same would be too much in a review, but pick a form of violence, a human failing, a deformity of nature, an offense against society, against family, incest, suicide-- it's here, but meant in a broader, umbrella sense. His concerns are the philosophical structures of the Japanese national persona, and the inherited national flaws he sees.
The Japanese in 1967 were still trying to make sense of the links between the hyperloyalist shogun tradition, the authoritarian cult of empire, and the cabin-fever shock and guilt that made the postwar era so unstable. We feel the infantilized shame and post-fascist surreality of Witold Gombrowicz in the proceedings. And maybe some Beckett, as well; there is a sleepwalker's logic to the course of the book, in fulfillment of what can only be said to be pre-ordained. The failures here, though, are the inability to balance the shock of the distasteful with the familiarity of the obvious, in the way that Beckett was able to do, at once deft and disarming. Mr. Ōe wants no such pretty 'balance' in his attack on the senses. ( Also on the negative side of the equation, there is plenty here that is kind of wifty-cosmic ala Vonnegut, or deliberately obtuse, grotesque in a way we'd now recognize as the tactic of director David Lynch.)
The onslaught of intimidation and dread the narrator feels bounces back and forth from an internalization of events to the formation of a complex analogy of those same, or similar, outside occurrences. The string of disaster and violence our author observes from day to day becomes a kind of personal 'disgrace loop' for which he blames himself. And in analyzing and agonizing about that blame, the dishonorable flaws of the society are reflected. And in taking the blame, back around the loop again.
There are worlds within this novel that this reader can't claim to know about; the rebellions & disturbances in Japan in the 60's were different from other places, and so was the nation. It must also be noted that the author's own biography mirrors at least some of what goes on. A disabled child wasn't just a fiction for this book; the author was father to a similar case. Ōe knew Henry Miller and Sartre, and aspects of their viewpoints appear throughout. He met with Mao Tse Tung. A thorough study of the novel would include at least some familiarity with the author's intriguing biographical details.
There is a desolate sense here that the more reasonable the man, the worse and more relentless the nightmares he must internalize. And Hiroshima towers blackly above the entire conception here, mentioned only once or twice, but crackling like an electric current at the edges.
Closing the back cover on this book, emerging from the 'disgrace loop', feels like walking out of a prison. A prison of blunted, hurtful ambiguities. Aaarrgh. (less)
I kind of liked this in spite of itself. And by itself I mean the unnecessarily self-loathing bits about bondage and humiliation.
Ogawa has a writerly,...moreI kind of liked this in spite of itself. And by itself I mean the unnecessarily self-loathing bits about bondage and humiliation.
Ogawa has a writerly, palpable sense of the physics of things, the tone, texture and color things that we absorb but don't necessarily process.
And uncharacteristically, for fiction that can manage that kind of understanding of things, this also has an unerring sense of pace and timing that unfolds naturally, with perfect ease and conviction.
That the conception here required those in-spite-of-itself aspects-- left this reader feeling that 'should I just close the book here' impulse, in passages where the proceedings were overly violent, overly self-destructive. I'm not sure that the story really, really required those extremes. (less)
Begins as a plausible Japanese mystery novel, on a dark and stormy night. The normal elements start to fall into place-- the protagonist is a newsman...moreBegins as a plausible Japanese mystery novel, on a dark and stormy night. The normal elements start to fall into place-- the protagonist is a newsman who hasn't had luck in love, sleeps little, and is trying to quit smoking for the fourth time. Fine, ultra generic, but let's go; maybe some cultural wrinkles will appear to make this different...
Atmosphere is gritty and the story unfolds mysteriously enough, but all isn't well. After a bit, we're treated to an unusual character who is both teenaged and psychic. Worse still, there are signs that his family tree has also been home to other, gifted practitioners. The first dealbreaker in the book appears when we find our original psychic teen has a friend. And unfortunately for us, the author has opted to make the friend a psychic as well. A sidekick psychic.
The uncanny and the seemingly impossible do battle for the next few chapters, and finally the dagger is plunged in, to the hilt. The Sidekick Psychic can do tricks. Major tricks, even beyond the usual mindreading hijinks. The sidekick can teleport.
And this is the moment, on page 132 of 301, where this book ends. At least for this reader, and anyone else over the impressionable age of about twelve. What was most annoying about all this is the tell-tale presence of that staple of Young Adult writing, the sensitive, emo-loner teen with paranormal powers. I'm a mystery reader, I've read hundreds of detective novels --- why didn't I detect that ?
When you have misunderstood, hyper-intuitive teenagers mooning all over the place, and then someone teleports ... make no mistake-- you're in a YA Pulp Novel. And if you're beyond middle school age, you'd better get out of there instantly. Your brain is at stake. I did, but I could use a cigarette. (less)
Tight, understated mystery that does what a lot of mysteries seem incapable of-- staying internally coherent, keeping up intensity while narrowing in...more Tight, understated mystery that does what a lot of mysteries seem incapable of-- staying internally coherent, keeping up intensity while narrowing in on its goals. So much else is really optional if the author can keep the story travelling along as he has launched it, at the right tempo and pitch... Landing at unforseen but inevitable places, moments of brief certainty in an uncertain world.
This is one of those first person stories where the author doesn't quite concede the character (or maybe the integrity) of the protagonist, until things are well underway. Definitely influenced by outsiders ala Bowles, Simenon, and Camus, our hero here verges on both darkness and light, so there's an internal hierarchy at work. The confidence tricks and scams that are the day-to-day operations here are the baseline of the story, but the real clash is way overhead, in the realms of morality and, ultimately, meaning itself.
With that double set of primary concerns, what suffers in the book is the atmosphere; the clean, pared-away prose has not enough room for rendering locale, and that is unfortunate. For Japanese readers, it is presumed that they can imagine a clandestine chase through the Tokyo underground, or the environs of Shinjuku at night. For the reader who can picture the detail and rush of modern Japan, there are signposts enough-- but as an investigation of that world, for the unfamiliar westerner, we are left more or less alone.
What makes this such a great book, though, is not what is abbreviated in the description of locale; after all, rendering an intriguing, taut narrative is much more difficult than describing location. By keeping to a spare and almost dreamlike prose, Mr. Nakamura delivers what many western mysteries seem to miss. Which is that the story must follow not just a character as he makes his way through a crisis, but the logical extremes of that character's persona as those sensibilities navigate, perhaps even predict, the way through the inferno. This can be seen as a direct inheritance from pulp and noir; wherein the tragedy, the discontinuity of the environment is mirrored in the tragedy of the character, who reflects that struggle in his misadventure, in a life on the bent side.
What I can't wait to see is what Nakamura does next; this is so nearly-perfect in the basics, that the sky's the limit on how much further he may go. The Night sky, of course. (less)
What we have here is a group of stories written between the teens and thirties of the 20th century, about Edo Japan of the 19th century-- wrapped up i...moreWhat we have here is a group of stories written between the teens and thirties of the 20th century, about Edo Japan of the 19th century-- wrapped up in 'detective' clothing. Mr Kido was something of a literary entrepreneur, and like Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins, was a serials writer in the then-newly-popular vein of detective fiction.
The actual crime and detection aspects are pretty much secondary, though, in a compilation easily enough seen as nostalgia for a bygone era. It's a difficult compromise to hit on, since the nostalgia thing immediately nullifies any suspense generated in a 'crime' genre, and anything that promotes chaos & jeopardy too much ... well, fairly abolishes the cherry-blossom & tea ceremony setting. So what is left is a gentle, "Cautionary Tales" sort of thing, as told by a kindly uncle.
A bit like when Kurosawa allows his plots to go a little goofy (samurai getting drunk on saké, say)... in order to balance out his otherwise earth-shattering crisis points. It doesn't always work.
Nothing really un-likeable here, though, and if you'd like to take a breezy, carefree holiday in Meiji era Japan, this has it's moments. If you're looking for something a little suspenseful or haunting ... no.(less)
In his influential Access guide books to American cities, Richard S Wurman integrated a trendsetting array of features that showcased both a modern /...moreIn his influential Access guide books to American cities, Richard S Wurman integrated a trendsetting array of features that showcased both a modern / minimalist graphic interface with a concentration on urban architecture and design.
Julian Worrall takes his cues from that and narrows the focus even further, catering to a new class of Architectural Tourism travellers; his guide makes Tokyo tantalizingly visceral and appealing.
This survey of Tokyo's recent projects renders a city that is untethered from its now distant and chaotic past, once something of a blank slate and now a wandering soul searching out a new identity. Meditations in solid form, on the seemingly confrontational topics of symmetry & tranquillity versus the obligatory sweep, bandwidth, and speed of the modern-- still preoccupy the national psyche, as ever.
The Floating World of Edo is still in the frame, complicated just a little by those gothic lolitas, new shoji curtain-walls of led luminaires, and the very Japanese concept of the cantilevered plane reimagined, re-engineered.
Inspirational for anyone that is interested in 21st century Asia and its new guiding lights. Start with the flicker of the jewel-box that is the flagship Chanel building on the Ginza, and just get lost from there.... Nice.(less)
Adelstein seems to have looked back on his abbreviated career in the Japanese print media and determined that it wasn't just "crime beat" but actually...moreAdelstein seems to have looked back on his abbreviated career in the Japanese print media and determined that it wasn't just "crime beat" but actually Noir. Okay, well enough, but this leads him down a peculiar prose path: rather than saying, for example, that he just interviewed someone with possible Yakuza connections, he noirishly sketches out the loner journo leaning his stark frame against a shattered doorway whilst lighting the millionth cigarette of the morning --before getting down to the connections. That kind of thing.
Let's not be too hard; this is all based on a real adventure in the seamy milieu of Japanese organized crime, murder, sex-slaving, cosplay and kink, along it's intersection with otherwise normal society. Though it can tend a little to self-aggrandizement, it's also got it's eye on the culture, the atmosphere, and the little details that make this kind of narrative come alive.
And unpredictably, the haircuts. There is Takeshi Aida, owner of a chain of adult clubs, who sports "a punch perm-- tight curls all over his head, a thin mexican mustache, and photochromatic oval shades." Or "Saeki, the head of Saitama homicide... running the press conference. He had bad skin and thick glasses, and even though he was at least twenty pounds overweight, he still managed to find suits that were baggy on him. He was growing bald, so he combed his hair, grown long on the sides, over the bald part on top, producing the hairstyle known in Japan as bar-code".
This kind of cross-cultural slang and shorthand is the real foundation for the book; when bad guys do bad things, it's just cowboys and indians, but when they've been tatooed from head to foot first, or do it with a bow beforehand, it can only be Japan. All in all, an intriguing ride. doːitaɕimaɕi̥te. (less)
Stunner of a biography, from an era before xenophilia became fashion.
First, its well worth seeing the film Kwaidan, for the wider impression. Somehow...moreStunner of a biography, from an era before xenophilia became fashion.
First, its well worth seeing the film Kwaidan, for the wider impression. Somehow the film version sets the stage really well for the lifelong passions of Mr. Hearn, bewitched and entranced by other cultures just beyond his grasp. But by all means see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafcadio...
An exotic from the era when exotics emerged on the strength of their own willpower, not parentage or whim. (less)
Not a mystery, not even a very complex story, but somehow has a subliminal, addictive quality. Maybe a bit like Strangers On A Train, this grim busine...moreNot a mystery, not even a very complex story, but somehow has a subliminal, addictive quality. Maybe a bit like Strangers On A Train, this grim business insinuates it's way into your consciousness. Determination & desperation at a Mildred Pierce pitch. (less)
Of the several books on tradition in Japanese carpentry and design that I've read so far, this one is hands-down the most comprehensive, and perhaps f...moreOf the several books on tradition in Japanese carpentry and design that I've read so far, this one is hands-down the most comprehensive, and perhaps for the reason that it meant to communicate to the Westerner. Coaldrake was a child of missionary parents living in Japan in the Occupation years after the war.
As historian and anthropologist Coaldrake conveys the evolution of the Japanese mindset toward both shelter as well as craft, developing into a discipline unlike anywhere else. There are passages delineating the procedural practices, the apprenticeship and journeyman positions, and the ritual and secret milieu of the Master Carpenter ... Who neither saws nor measures, but inhabits a desk and draws the important parts for his assistants to render into reality, step by cautious step.
There are excellent diagrams, historical images, and on-site photos of the Tradition and its accomplishments; there are also some color plates of the iconic Japanese hand-tools, worn smooth at the edges and full of "the bloom of time" invested by long use and care.
Lots more here than I can cover or survey-- recommended as an all-around introduction to the subject.
Useful academic discussion of the influences and origins of the highly refined joinery practices of Japan. Strange mix of a book, though-- there is Dr...moreUseful academic discussion of the influences and origins of the highly refined joinery practices of Japan. Strange mix of a book, though-- there is Dr. Seike's very comprehensive text on the one hand, but then maybe forty pages of lush monochrome closeup photos, on the other hand, of complex joinery examples in stark limbo settings.
For an impressionistic coffee-table book, the photos are too clearly technical, if luxurious. For a technical manual on joinery, way off the charts on the stark /arty photo side.
For the student of Japanese Carpentry, the thorough text is worth the price of entry. An early passage covers the critical fundamental of ma-- the space, the interval-- from which shape and tempo and flow eventually derive.
From there, we branch out to the science, methodology and philosophy of how to interconnect a collection of spaces, a structure. And right down into the detail of the lap-joint, the dovetail, and the many variations. Quite often in traditional Japanese buildings, the complexity of the structural build belies the zenlike simplicity of the resultant sense of place.
Don't get overly involved in the (rather abstract) photo content, there are other sources for more grounded, more integrated views ... but pick this up for the read.
The average lifespan of buildings in Japan is only about twenty years or so. (It says so, right here, in this book, which may itself last hundreds of...moreThe average lifespan of buildings in Japan is only about twenty years or so. (It says so, right here, in this book, which may itself last hundreds of years, if certain other books are any gauge of success). The authors of New Japan Architecture credit this unreasonable circumstance to high land prices, a hyperactive construction industry and "a preference for the new".
At first blush this survey/ coffee-table book looks to be leaning a little hard on the necessity of The New, with buildings that are more performance art and flash than substance, but a more in-depth look reveals that there's more here than just the attention grabbers.
There is a sense that grasping for Monumentality, the Iconic and the Disconcerting .. design-- is taking over, though. "Brandtecture" for Prada, Tod's, Dior, and other Shibuya-Ku denizens outlandishly reaches for unattainably distinctive results. And results that may well shout "2003", and perhaps sooner than later, in as little as ten years hence.
Buildings that quietly carry the Dna of the place, conservatively suit their purpose, and aren't so stuck in a millennial timeframe-- are the rarities here. But they're here. The MVRDV firm's Gyre Building, a dark presence in the Shibuya-ku, conveys the confidence and modernist impulse better than the super-transformer structures elsewhere in the neighborhood, it seems. The renovations documented here by Kengo Kuma & Associates also have the look of being ageless and yet still very modern.
On the senseless-corporate-gigantism tip, we have the Tokyo Midtown Project, a kind of Rockefeller-San plaza and office complex overseen by Skidmore Owings Merrill, that seems to have employed every last architect and contractor from several continents for years. Jury's out on this without a more elaborate case study, but it looks like another mega-cluster of anodized alloy and uv-treated glazing from the glimpses here.
Not every entry here is an epiphany in three dimensional form; still it would be fair to say that nothing here is filler or simplistic. An interesting standout is the International House Of Japan, a nice renovation of a 1955 design by Junzo Yoshimura, Junzo Itakura, and Kunio Maekawa, the last of whom was a student of le Corbusier and a teacher of Kenzo Tange, a founding father of Japanese postwar architecture. This massive building and garden has earmarks of the International Style, of course, but with all the harmonious aspects of the Japanese sense of flow, interval and, what to call it -?-- horizontality ? A low center of gravity, maybe.
A culture that condenses it's building to twenty-year spans-- and voluntarily, as an expression of its vitality and spirit-- isn't the average climate for designers and architects. Absolutely worth a look, if only for the fact that as Architecture becomes more and more borderless and international, east is still east.
When I saw the basics here-- Japanese Murder Mystery circa 1947-- I couldn't wait to read it. But there's something wrong. This comes across as discon...moreWhen I saw the basics here-- Japanese Murder Mystery circa 1947-- I couldn't wait to read it. But there's something wrong. This comes across as disconnected, disjointed, and at the same time kind of homogenized for general acceptance.
Seems like it's one of three possibles: It strains to be generic and polite. Maybe something in the very recent war and conditions of Occupation under which it was written ..? The depiction of the locations and the cultural locale are simply too broad and smoothed-over to be of interest. Period particulars are notably absent. It's just not very good. A bit pulpy, maybe, and not the last word in characterization, but the story is good enough on its own merits that something more involving could have resulted ... Translation. Maybe so. Impossible to know without seeing a different translation or reading the Japanese original, but the above could all be shortcomings of the translation.
Occasional slips into contemporary idiom ('a day at the beach'... 'hate it when that happens') and the overall Universalisation of a milieu that shouldn't feel universal at all... It would appear that the translator had a go at editing and revising some of the material here, in order to make it more contemporary, more commercial..
Less of a window in time (into a very strange era in Japan, a recently-postfeudal but credible world-power, reduced to new humiliations every day), and more of a market-competitive genre mystery circa the present, rather than 1947.
All of which points to the translator. And which is borne out by the fine print on the verso of the title page, which says, near the bottom : "translated and adapted by".
In the sense that locale, period particulars and art direction in general would certainly be main attractions for this kind of novel, what's missing amounts to the donut and what's present is the hole. Give it a pass.
There is a sub-genre in the Memoir Department, having to do with staying in a notable place for a period of time. It can be really wide-ranging and co...moreThere is a sub-genre in the Memoir Department, having to do with staying in a notable place for a period of time. It can be really wide-ranging and complex as with VS Naipaul's The Enigma Of Arrival, or narrower and concerned with an specific aspect of 'notable' --as in Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House by S Gable; both are valuable documents, even if the concerns of the latter are narrowed to the life and design of the villa, etc. And I'd recommend both of them for different reasons.
I coincidentally knew the term 'minka' --Japanese farmhouse-- before picking up John Roderick's memoir, and had seen numerous photos in several books about the Japanese design. Even more of a coincidence was that one of the books I'd seen was the beautiful volume of Japanese Country Style containing lush color photography of the houses restored by Mr Roderick's partner, Mr Takishita, including the one which the book chronicles.
I'd highly recommend pairing the two for a read of this account, since the small b&w photos allowed here don't really do any justice to the subject. John Roderick's "Minka" might even be so narrow as to deter the general reader; other than the descriptions of the massive beams and the struggle to translate Japanese cultural habits, the story doesn't quite come to life until you've seen the color photo book, which is from Kodansha International press.
With both at hand, it quickly becomes apparent that this tradition of building is a very early pairing of technology & aesthetics coming to terms, balancing at the level of practicality, indelibly Japanese in character. And beautiful, in ancient and austere wabi-sabi terms, which extoll the singular, the non-reproduceable quality of "the bloom of time".(less)