Monday, 28 January 2019

The Forest of Wool and Steel


Set to be published in translation  imminently is the 2016 best selling novel by Natsu Miyashita, The Forest of Wool and Steel received the Japan Booksellers Award and has in 2018 appeared in a film adaption directed by Kojiro Hashimoto.

The main protagonist, Tomura, a high school student hears the sound of a piano being tuned which evokes the forest that surrounds the small town of the novel's setting. Having not read the novel as of yet the story feels very much to be one that sees the centeal character as he confronts the challenges and obstacles of pursuing your true calling. Although not being able to see much information about the translator on various websites, I'm pretty certain it's by Philip Gabriel, both the film and the novel I'm looking forward to catching up with.


The Forest of Wool and Steel at Penguin

for the film's website.http://hitsuji-hagane-movie.com/sp/


Saturday, 26 January 2019

Love at Least



As Yukiko Motoya's Picnic In the Storm has recently been published in a translation by Asa Yoneda it seemed apt to give another of Motoya's books a mention. Yukiko Motoya has been awarded just about every major literary award in Japan so hopefully more of her writing will eventually be forthcoming in translation. Among the novels and plays of hers that have already seen adaption to film include Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!, directed by Daihachi Yoshida, Third Window Films,  and also her play Vengeance Can Wait which has been translated into English by Andy Bragen and Kyoko Yoshida and is published by Samuel French, if you fancied giving that a read.

The film Love At Least directed by Kosai Sekine released last year is adapted from Motoya's novel from 2006, Ikiteru dake da, ai follows a couple as their relationship faces falling apart as Yasuko retreats into depression. Here is where I redirect you over to Mark Shilling's review over at the Japan Times. It's a movie I'd love to see and further more a novel that again hopefully might appear in translation, more spaces to watch eh?.


The Lonesome Bodybuilder translated by Asa Yoneda at Electric Literature.


Friday, 25 January 2019

Fumiko's Legs


In a slightly gratuitous bid to speed up the number of posts I thought it time to take a brief glance at some recent film adaptions of literary storys, maybe over the next week or so. First up is a film directed by Ueda Atsushi, Fumiko's Legs, from 2018 is an adaptation of Tanizaki's short story Fumiko no ashi which first appeared one hundred years ago in 1919. Although a quick glance on the Internet and shelves indicate that the story perhaps hasn't appeared in English translation, I'll be pleased to be proved wrong, the novella though has been translated into French and also Spanish, although a quick search over at Folio gives the impression that it too has slipped out of print in the French edition.

Through the trailer the story appears to display themes Tanizaki explored through his fictions, that of obsessive infatuation pursued to the extremities, centering around the painting of a portrait of Fumiko. I'm guessing it's doubtful that the film will ever see broader distribution in any way outside of the country, in spite of it looking an intriguing adaption.


Thursday, 10 January 2019

Stand - in Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi




Perhaps if you've recently finished Yoko Tawada's The Last Children of Tokyo and wanted to continue with a book that follows along some similar lines of enquiry that that novel traces, Stand-in Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi recently published by Red Circle might be of interest. Part of their recent Minis series this short story was translated by Raj Mahtani who sadly passed away last year. Taking place over 43 pages or so the two main characters are Hayato and Yutori the narrative skips between present and past episodes and as the story begins to unfold comes the realization that the reader maybe dealing with a multiple of Hayato and Yutori, old and new, original and copy?. The initial dilemma the pair are facing is their inability to conceive, they turn to IVF and as the narrative curates their slip into dysfunction and separation, the reader is slowly immersed into a world of android stand-in's, when this occurs questions arise of how far is the story set in the future?, Shiraishi's story leaps us into a future where when relationships break down we can turn to a technology of convincingly accurate replacements as an alternative. The story dips into the ethics behind this new android/human world and also the logistics needed with memory transplantation into the replacement android being written into divorce settlements, the story posits a scenario that obviously may arise in the not too distant future. Stand-in Companion is a really compelling and cleverly constructed story that echoes the writings of Yoko Tawada and Tomoyuki Hoshino, a great introduction into the Red Circle Minis series, very much worth tracking down a copy.


Stand-in Companion at Red Circle

        

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

books for the reading diary - 2019


a brief glance at some titles bookmarked for 2019, more forthcoming -



January -

Murder in the Crooked House - Soji Shimada trans. Louise Heal Kawai - Pushkin Press
The Beauty of Everyday Things - Soetsu Yanagi trans. Michael Brase - Penguin Books
The Little House - Kyoko Nakajima, trans - Ginny Tapley Takemori - Darf Publishers
Sacred Cesium Ground and Isa's Deluge - Kimura Yusuke trans. Doug Slaymaker - CUP

March -

Prefecture D - Hideo Yokoyama trans. Jonathan Lloyd Davies - Quercus

April -

Star - Yukio Mishima trans. Sam Bett - Penguin Classics
The Forest of Steel and Wool - Natsu Miyashita - trans. Philip Gabriel - Doubleday
The Frolic of the Beasts - Yukio Mishima - trans. Andrew Clare - Penguin Classics

June -

The Ten Loves of Nishino - Hiromi Kawakami trans. Alison Markin Powell - Europa Editions

July -

Inhabitation - Teru Miyamoto trans. Roger K. Thomas - Counterpoint Press

August -

The Memory Police - Yoko Ogawa Harvill/Secker


Monday, 24 September 2018

The Cat in the Coffin by Mariko Koike




Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm, The Cat in the Coffin originally appeared in Japan back in 1990, Vertical Inc published the translation in 2009 along with an interesting Chip Kidd cover. It's a little surprising, traversing the internet, not to have stumbled upon reading lists of Japanese cat related fictions as the list now in translation must number quite a few, maybe that's something for another day, or maybe they are out there. The Cat in the Coffin is related as a narrative within a narrative, the main character, an aspiring artist, Masayo, takes a job as housekeeper to a successful artist - Goro Kawakubo. In exchange for housekeeping duties, she receives a weekly lesson from Goro as well as financial payments. Additionally Masayo acts as tutor to Goro's daughter Momoko, who after her mother Yuriko's death has become withdrawn, her only confidant and companion being her white cat, Lala.

As the novel progresses Masayo contemplates her relationship to Goro, his flamboyant reputation as a bit of a womaniser precedes him and the presence of a nearby American base seems to hang over the household, a relaxation of formalities and perhaps a certain degree of bohemianism is in the air. As well as these observations Masayo observes the world inhabited by Momoko and Lala and their excursions out to the barley fields that also surround the household, the special places they frequent amongst them an old out of use well. Through arty parties and sojurns the presence of Chinatsu enters the house which causes ripples amongst the already slightly estranged relationships, the centre of attention shifts to Lala, the object of a jealous affection and in some ways a miniature power struggle. With the suspicion that the cat is an embodiment of Yuriko things take a turn for the worse, or perhaps it could be said that things take a turn down the pathological path.

Whilst reading The Cat in the Coffin it could feel perhaps that the plotline leans toward feeling slightly formulaic, although there are some surprising twists when the rug of character identities is pulled beneath your feet, there remains enough curvatures to it to keep you hooked until the last pages, and throughout the prose retains it's darkly gothic tones. After reading that Koike's novel A Cappella translated by Juliet W. Carpenter, was recently adapted to film, (trailer), I'd like to turn that one next.  



The Cat in the Coffin at Vertical Inc         



Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Darkness in Summer by Takeshi Kaiko

It seems incredible that five years have slipped by since reading the two stories Panic/Runaway by Kaiko Takeshi and now finishing Darkness in Summer provides a great prompt to move onto tracking out a copy of Five Thousand Runaways and also the book that he is largely well known for Into a Black Sun: Vietnam 1964-65, which as is Darkness in Summer translated by Cecilia Segawa Seigle. Looking at my old hardback copy from Peter Owen the adage of 'never judge a book by it's cover' comes to mind, and also the contemplation that some books can suffer from issues over presentation, maybe this one has. The jacket of the novel bears a portrait of a woman with hair done up in geisha style which is superimposed over the portrait of Sakutaro Hagiwara by Onochi Koshiro, which feels slightly out of place and perhaps misplaces the contextualisation of the novel which first appeared in 1972 as Natsu no yami. For most readers perhaps it's instrumental that there is some form of correlation between a book cover and it's contents, themes, settings and characters, and that the two go hand in hand to form an aide to visualizing the novel that it's meant to represent, that said this is an old edition, the book now is only available as POD and the cover seems leaning toward the functionary.

Darkness in Summer published four years after Into a Black Sun feels that it maybe a continuation of that novel, the main drama of Darkness in Summer is that the main character, a journalist, is continuing a relationship with a Japanese woman after a separation of some years, set predominately in Berlin, and then there's another relocation. The narrative style evades detail, it's not late in the novel before Saigon is mentioned by name, episodes from the past drift in and out of the present, the opium taking, the violence, there are abstract summaries on the nature of existence and being juxtaposed with scenes of graphic sex. Having a broader panoramic to either Panic or Runaway, the novel though primarily revolves around the two main characters, with few additional characters, Professor Steinkopf, the visits to Professor Chao's restaurant, there's a close proximity to these two characters who are caught at a crossroads in their lives, with their sometime nicknames of Little Bird and Little Turd. After completing her dissertation and his life after reporting of the Vietnam war their future remains precariously balanced with uncertainty, the relationship fraught with equal fragility. An aspect of her character that brought to mind a more recent character of Natsuki Ikezawa's in mariko/mariquito is of her resolve of not wanting to return to Japan, he too displays traits of this.

It'll be interesting to read Into a Black Sun after Darkness in Summer to identify overlapping scenes, in places it feels that the narrator is visualizing previous episodes with the distant perspective of this novel, and obviously there are autobiographical links to Kaiko himself, the questioning of war, in places the subtle note of comparison between East and West . The control Kaiko has over his prose remains brilliantly conveyed in Cecilia Segawa Seigle's translation capturing the uncertainties of the novel's characters and their angst ridden sensuality, the fishing trip, the vistas of the ebbing and rising effect of the narrator's observations of the novel's progressions only to be brought down in a crescendo of self recrimination and doubt nearing it's culmination. There are a few reoccurring motifs to the novel, one of these is the central character's use of the German word abendrot - afterglow and it feels apt to the novel as the character's are caught in the afterglow of the past perhaps they are fated to return to it.     

     

 

Monday, 27 August 2018

Of Dogs and Walls by Yuko Tsushima




It's interesting to note that Penguin have some more Japan related titles forthcoming, there's the U.K edition of Kawabata's Dandelions, The Beauty of Everyday Things by Soetsu Yanagi and also there's the U.K edition of Star the newly translated novella by Yukio Mishima to look forward to. Continuing with their Penguin Modern series it was good to sit down at last with the two stories that make up Penguin Modern: 43 - Of Dogs and Walls which is translated by Geraldine Harcourt. Each story is a brief 20-30 pages, both of which are newly translated here into English, interestingly the narrative structures feel quite different to each story, maybe this displays in same way the 32 year gap between them. The first is The Watery Realm which first appeared in 1982, the narrative performs a loop of associations across the story as it opens with a child saving for an aquarium accessory, a sunken castle for his fish tank, through a number of associating links - the Dragon Palace in the fable of Urashimataro, a coal mining accident, father's death, a fear of underground water, the term jusui, the memory of her mother's umbrella, and the Shinto water deity Suijin, the narrative explores themes of cross generational memory, the transience between that of being a daughter and then of being a mother, it feels like that somewhere in her subconscious the narrator is sieving for correlations, the story leaves on an unpleasant episode from the past that causes recalculations for the main protagonist. The Watery Realm is an engaging short story that combines explorations of family history woven with historical myth and elements of nature, as with Territory of Light.  

The second story is the title story - Of Dogs and Walls from 2014, which feels more syncopated in nature perhaps by the sequencing of it's events. Similarly though it explores the nature of memory and the passing of time, and again features a father's premature death, which perhaps bears an autobiographical element. Through it's house move and memories of walled gardens and partitions, which feel to be symbolically loaded, the story opens with a shape seen on a wall which by turns symbolizes the fictional character the 'Walker through walls', it feels that Tsushima might be pointing that there is a way through memory, albeit fictional, to pass through certain barriers. Along with the names of the dogs and cats of the story, Perry, Jack, Kuro, Louis, we have the name of the older brother of the central character, Toru-chan, who has a developmental disability. After the move to the new house, the daughter becomes fascinated by a small doorway in the wall between her own and neighbour's houses, equally fascinating is the young master of the house and his mother who mysteriously appear through it after certain events and continue to occupy her dreams and thoughts as the daughter grows older. As the story is brief it's hard to describe it without disclosing the central event away, the second half of the story is ethereal in perspective, continuing on sharing what is seen in the neighbourhood in the here after, a visit to Toru-chan's school, a place that now seems to be surrounded by inescapable walls, juxtaposing unfolding perspectives with unmoving ones, it's hard not to be touched by.


Of Dogs and Walls at Penguin Modern

                

Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada



Recently published from Portobello Books in the U.K and New Directions in the U.S, (under the title The Emissary), The Last Children of Tokyo is translated by Margaret Mitsutani and first appeared in Japan in 2014 as Kentoshi. Although quite short, the prose feels quite dense, and as other readers have noted it's quite a paced read, mainly related in third person, the dialogue is sparse. Reading a few reviews of The Last Children of Tokyo the description of it as being dystopian crops up repeatedly, in a number of places it resembles Orwell's 1984, as the narrative unfolds relating the relationship between Yoshiro, a novelist over a hundred years old, and his great-grand son Mumei, Tawada weaves in a number of contemporary concerns and advances them into a projected future. Japan has become more isolationist, environmental abuse is prominent, Mumei is a member of an atrophied generation caught in this great flux, weakened, the elder generation displays more youthfulness than the youth. The age difference between the two characters becomes further apparent when the lives of the intermediate family members are related and of how Yoshiro has come to be Mumei's guardian, definitions are needed to be extended and added upon to cope with this expansion of time.

Maybe in comparison to Tawada's other novels it feels that the prose to The Last Children of Tokyo is a little less experimental, although some familiar themes appear, Tawada's at times humorous observations of literal translations between the languages crops up, and this is set against the concept of a sort of 'official speak' and the obsolete and dysfunction of words and phrases, and through these concerns there's obviously the projected broadening crisis of an ageing population, the novel in places carries an unnerving accurateness with it's projections, this shift in societal behaviour is depicted in a number of places, another example is that gender change is an accepted norm, sometimes occurring a number of times for each person. Through these big themes Yoshiro looks after Mumei and the characters progress, with a slight distraction in the form of neighbour Suiren, both in wheelchairs the novel ends in an enigmatic note. But before that Mumei's schooling leads him to meet Mr Yonatani, a teacher whose background has also been meddled by malign forces, who is searching for an emissary to leave Japan in a bid to find salvation with the outside through clandestine means, and towards the end of the novel the exterior world begins to resemble something in the form of a myth. Mumei's departure from the story appears riddled with uncertainty. The Last Children of Tokyo although short in pages is a penetrating observation tower into both present and future, full of acute ideas and predictions.


The Last Children of Tokyo at Portobello Books  


   

Friday, 29 June 2018

The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke




















A first reading of Lianke in a translation by Carlos Rojas, unfortunately it looks like other editions of the novella are accompanied with the short story Marrow although with the Vintage edition we only have the novella sized The Years, Months, Days, perhaps I saw that Marrow had been published previously as a Penguin China Special. Along with the novella translator Carlos Rojas gives an insightful preface into Lianke's oeuvre and the cases of censorship against his works and of the self censorship Lianke has performed in order to get his works published. The Day the Sun Died, a novel set in the Balou mountains due in English at the end of July, failed to be published by a mainland publisher at all.

As Carlos Rojas mentions in his introduction the narrative of The Years, Months, Days sometimes floats from the main protagonist, the Elder, sometimes finding balance between subject/object, it feels Rojas has managed to convey this in the translation, more direct dialogue has been italicised, mostly these moments of conversation are between the Elder and the other main character of the novella, the blind Dog. The narrative has a folklore element, mainly based in first person the ending it could be said drifts into resonation being one relayed via oral tradition. Essentially the novella relays the efforts of the Elder as he tends to a single ear of corn amidst a devastating drought with the hope of propagation. Throughout his arduous task of finding food and water the Elder faces a number of trials - a swarm of rats, a pack of wolves, all the while staving off hunger and thirst and of finding the stalk nutrients.

Although slim the book makes for resonating reading and with every turn of the page we struggle with it's protagonist's trials. The village abandoned, the responsibility of the continuation of the crop has fallen to him and the blind dog. There are some interesting and original touches to the story which sees the Elder weighing out sunlight, the stronger it is, the weightier it becomes. Through this extremity that Lianke puts his character through the temptation is there to read more into the significance of the drought, it's not too impossible to contemplate that the Elder's drought as perhaps containing alternative representations.

The Years, Months, Days at Vintage.