11/30/2016 - update: thanks to my love for foreign films, British comedy and other shows which for some reason we cannot get here, we have multi-regio11/30/2016 - update: thanks to my love for foreign films, British comedy and other shows which for some reason we cannot get here, we have multi-region dvd capability & so I was able to watch the movie based on this novel. Scroll to the bottom of this post if at all interested in the film.*
Kokoro is,as I discovered, one of those novels where a second reading and a bit of research can completely change what you thought about it after the first time through. The second read was spurred by 1) discovering that a scholarly controversy had arisen over this book and 2) deciding to pick up and read another translation along with an introduction that explained said controversy. After much time to focus, think and absorb, well, the second time around actually clarified things I had trouble zooming in on after the first time.
The novel is structured in three parts. In part one, the narrator meets and attaches himself to an elder man he calls Sensei, and is soon "yearning for the possibilities of all he had to offer." However, Sensei, who reveals that he distrusts humanity, is reticent to open up about himself, and our narrator often finds himself frustrated when, as he says, "I failed to gain what I sought from him in matters of the mind." However, Sensei also reveals that while he is "suspicious" of most people, he realizes that the narrator seems "too straightforward and open for that," and that Sensei, before he dies, wants to "have trusted just one person." If the younger man could "be that person, ... sincerely in earnest," from his heart, then he will reveal to him the story of his past and leave nothing out, but not right away, since "It requires a suitable moment." What he wants in return is left unspoken for the moment. Eventually the narrator will learn all, but not before part two, which finds him back home with his parents. While there because his father's health is failing, he abandons his own family at a critical moment due to some disturbing news from Sensei, which sets up part three, where all is revealed. Sadly, since everything sort of turns on the revelations in part three, I have to keep silent, since to tell would be to spoil, but this is actually the part where we come to understand Sensei and where we learn exactly what it is he expects from the narrator -- it isn't expressly stated in so many words, but trust me, it's there.
I wish I could make this post less cryptic, but there's a lot happening in this novel that a reader really needs to experience and sort out on his/her own. Look for thematic elements such as the formation of bonds, relationships, betrayal, individual vs. social responsibility, love, and above all, what it really means to bare one's soul/psyche to another. What I will say is that after the second reading, Kokoro became an even darker book than it was the first time through, which I didn't think was possible.
Highly recommended for readers of Japanese literature; it probably won't take everyone two readings, but I got a lot more out of it by doing it that way.
* the movie:
Big differences between page and screen abound here, many of which are covered in the dvd liner notes. As just one example, it's easy to see just how the movie "simplifies" Soseki's novel, "reorders its plot and eliminates some of its subtext while playing up the homosexual implications that are merely latent in the original." I have to say that since the subject doesn't actually come up labeled as such in the novel, I was quite surprised to see a scene in this movie where Mrs. Sensei starts wondering out loud whether or not there's some sort of attraction between her husband and Hioki (the novel's narrator, given a name here) which Hioki quickly denies with an "it's not what your thinking!" response. On the other hand, there's a lot that's left out as well.
Much of the story is revealed through flashbacks, which I think is the best way to have done it, since so much of the novel turns on what happened in the past, which seems to be the overall point of the film. I've seen people criticize this approach used here, but I really don't see how else it could have been done. To tell it in a linear-narrative, chronological style would have wrecked things (as it would have in the novel as well). While the movie is certainly worth watching, the book is much, much better, and should definitely be read first.
The synopsis of this novel sounded like something right up my horror-reading alley, and it had potential to become a definite s brief plot etc: here.
The synopsis of this novel sounded like something right up my horror-reading alley, and it had potential to become a definite spine chiller had I not felt like I was reading a twisted Japanese version of the movie Poltergeist. Not only was this book a "been there, done that" sort of thing for me, but it moved at a snail's pace -- while some weird things happened, they did so sort of piecemeal, with a lot of space in between which for me only deadened any sort of creep factor I was looking for. Acknowledging that it did have its moments, these were not enough to make the sense of horror at all sustainable over the course of the novel. By the time the "last thirty pages" came along, which were supposed to have readers "holding your breath" according to the back cover blurb, I was just ready to be done and to leave the Kanos to their fate. I'll also say that there was a major opportunity to make this a stronger horror novel that was missed and if anyone wants to talk about it after reading, let me know. (view spoiler)[It has to do with the so-called "dark secret" alluded to on the dustjacket blurb (which actually, everyone except the Kanos' neighbors knew about already so it wasn't actually a secret at all - who writes this stuff?) and a certain memorial tablet and shrine that somehow forgot to be taken care of... (hide spoiler)]
Once again, I see that I'm the proverbial fish swimming upstream against the tide, since this book seems to be making horror readers everywhere happy people. I really, really wanted to like it, but the truth is that it just didn't wow me. I had decided to read a more modern horror story to prove to myself that I wasn't a one-trick pony taking pleasure only in vintage chills, but it just wasn't the right one for me. That doesn't mean it might not be someone else's cup of cha, but in this case, it just wasn't mine....more
I'm late to the Lafcadio Hearn party, having only read two stories in this collection before picking up this book -- "The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi" and "Yuki-Onna," which have long been personal favorites. There are seventeen actual "Kwaidan" in this book, and then a section by Hearn called "Insect Studies," three compositions that in their own right are definitely worth reading. Ranging from out-and-out creepy ghost stories to monks roaming the countryside where various monsters, demons and other creatures seem to abide, there is never a bad note struck throughout the entire collection.
At seventeen stories, I'm not about to go into each one, but my favorites in this volume are "The Story of Mimi-nashi Hoichi," "Yuki-Onna," "Rukoru-Kubi," and "The Dream of Akinosuke." All are intense, and all are simply excellent.
The stories are short but their length doesn't affect their potency; by virtue of being stories that have been handed down over several centuries, the reader also gets a look at ancient Japan from different angles, from the world of the samurai on down to that of the lowliest peasant. It is a world of constant upheaval in terms of the physical world and also vis a vis the traditional social order. One major exception is "Hi-Mawari," a story that takes place in Wales, obviously penned by Hearn himself. After the kaidan section is finished, the reader moves into Hearn's "Insect Studies," where he dwells on butterflies, mosquitoes and ants. While you might be tempted to skip them, don't. They're absolutely fascinating, drawing on traditional folklore, etc. from Japan and China.
I realize that not everyone is going to admire these stories like I do, but I love all things Japanese and this collection was simply superb. It might just be a good opening into all sorts of kaidan for a novice reader, and there are several works available in English that would make for great follow-up reading.
I absolutely loved this book and I can't recommend it highly enough. ...more
Seriously I have never in my life felt so off kilter during and after reading a book as I did with this one. It is truly a masterpiece of darkness likSeriously I have never in my life felt so off kilter during and after reading a book as I did with this one. It is truly a masterpiece of darkness like I've never seen before. You can read my discussion of this book here. My advice: go get a copy now.