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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)