Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Flowering Harbour by Hayashi Seiichi

Recently finishing the fascinating Trash Market by Tsuge Tadao, translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg, published by D&Q, (no doubt a post forthcoming), I found myself in the mood to read more and a few clicks later brought me to the website of London based comic book publisher Breakdown Press, looking through their impressive catalogue my eye fell on Flowering Harbour by Hayashi Seiichi, again translated by Ryan Holmberg, after very much enjoying Golden Pollen and Other Stories, published by the now sadly defunct Picture Box Inc, I thought I'd have to give it a go. Flowering Harbour contains just the one story, and is produced in what could be described as a chapbook style with a stylish vertical obi, looking over the book it seems such a refreshing change that none of the cover art work here is encroached upon by a barcode or price tag, it's immacutely presented. As well as the story there is a brief introduction from Hayashi entitled Bohemian Living giving a contextual impression to the story which originally appeared in Garo in 1969.

As previously mentioned Flowering Harbour contains just the one same self titled story, it's a soulful one which ends as quickly as it arrives, so it's a little difficult to describe the drama of it without giving it all away, but the story is one of lost and loosing love, illustratively it feels wind blown, (some of it's scenes are played out in a storm), which adds to the sense of the character's emotions being blown and caught up on the much larger scale, although brief it's great to find yourself caught up in it's storyline, having it presented here on it's own makes it the more easier to turn back and read and enjoy again. It's also great to see that more from Hayashi is on the way, Drawn and Quarterly are issuing the paperback edition of his Red Colored Elegy any day now, perhaps it's already out where you are?, and then in December Breakdown Press have lined up Red Red Rock: And Other Stories    to look forward to.

Flowering Harbour at Breakdown Press

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In The Wake - Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11

Recently The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston held the exhibition, In The Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11, which finished showing back in July although it's one that I'd really liked to have seen, there is however an accompanying book of the exhibition which was published for those of us who were unable to attend.

exhibition website

for the book  

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Ark Sakura by Kōbō Abe

The Ark Sakura/Hakobune sakura maru first appeared a little over thirty years ago, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter the novel displays a number of motifs that can be seen in much of Abe's writing, although laced in places with absurdist humour the novel addresses a number of sociological issues, although chiefly among these is the prospect of nuclear armageddon, told with a particularly Abe-esque vision. The novel opens with it's narrator Pig or Mole as he prefers it, buying an eupcaccia, an insect invented by Abe which back in pre-internet days must have convinced many readers that it was a bona-fide insect, Mole identifies with the insect through numerous instances of the novel, (the fact that the insect feeds on it's on faeces is a slightly disarming one), which gives the novel an entomological strand, similar to that perhaps also felt in The Woman of the Dunes, through the bug's purchase at a rooftop sale he comes into contact with three other principal characters of the novel, the insect dealer, the shill and his girlfriend, whose real name Abe, I'm certain doesn't let slip throughout the book. After buying the insect Mole learns that the previous purchasers, the mole and his girlfriend were in actuality fake buyers, shills, employed by the market to entice customers into making purchases, they're are also known as sakura and later refer to themselves as decoys, which goes some way in being an initial driving pin Abe utilises in beginning to separate reality and appearance, which one might be real?, later in the novel this concept is added upon when we are presented with the scenario that it's protagonists are happier to live in a world of supposed nuclear destruction than existing in the world that they had known previously to it. In some ways The Ark Sakura could be seen as Abe's end of the world novel, the only one Abe wrote during the eighties it's evocative of it's own age, appearing a year before Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World it feels at times like there are a number of overlaps in tone between the two writers, although where as Murakami leans to use magical realism in his writing it feels that Abe's writing presents the imagery but leaves the reader open to ponder on what is being presented. Amongst the political satire and at times coded commentary the novel studies some serious concerns, notably that of the concept of collective fear in the nuclear age, when reading the novel we have to remind ourselves of the proximities of these fears in the age it was written, the tangibility of nuclear Armageddon.

A good first portion of the novel is taken up with following Mole persuading the insect dealer, the shill and his girlfriend into signing up in being crew members to board his ark built in a disused quarry, once owned by his father, the exact dimensions of the ark remain uncertain, and as they wander the labyrinthine tunnels of the ark we're reminded of the winding corridors of the hospital in Secret Rendezvous, Mole and the insect dealer are uncertain as to whether they've made it to the ark before the shill and his girlfriend, as they are separated en route, there's an epiphanic scene in the darkness after they arrive when Mole switches on the light, via one of his strange gadget inventions, that throws the novel into a light that somehow doesn't feel was on before, we begin to learn of the shades of Mole's character, his estranged father Inototsu, and that Mole was the product of a rape committed by his father. Once inside the ark the narrative, usually conveyed via Mole explores various philosophical and social subjects, at one point the notion of national sovereignty is examined and the conclusion arises that on the whole it's a rather limp concept which exists in order to allow the state to remain free reign do as it wishes. Whilst in the ark we learn that other factions operate within the quarry, an octogenarian group of cleaners called the Broom Brigade have formed their own quasi political group, which it could be said resembles a certain faction that drive around in darkened vans, this portrait feels similar to Abe's continued coded commentary of the right as in The Ruined Map the criminal gang are all wearing yamato badges, it's not too obvious, although it is there. As well as the political ruminations there is the background subplot of the quarry being targeted to dump toxic waste illegally for profit, which is the point of contention between Mole and the varying factions, and also of the quarry being a place to despatch the bodies of unwanted persons who find themselves in the way. Abe's metaphors seem to resonate and become more cohesive after coming to the end of many of his novels, they sometimes come into focus later, which leads us to contemplate his use of perspective in his narratives. Another group referred to is the Olympic Preventive League, which has perhaps a renewed relevancy in light of future events, Mole contemplates the event noting it's absurdity and the means of what it represents.

As with some of Abe's later novels it feels that at times the plot line of The Ark Sakura unfurls in a scattered way, there is subterfuge and digressions, the flow of the narrative is pockmarked by allegorical incidence and odd angled diversions. As well as the serious line of the narrative this feels like it is threatened to be subsumed by Mole's observations of his attraction to the shill's girlfriend although this goes someway in exacerbating the sense of his solitude, another aspect of his character alluded to is the inherent criminality passed between father to son. Off centre in the later half of the novel a death occurs whose circumstance Mole can't unfathom, it's left there, a dark knot in the novel that even the narrator cannot seem to undo, it's interesting also to contemplate that the novel has two exit points to speak of, Mole's escape and of those that stay behind. It's also interesting to contemplate that the novel appeared in 1984, obviously a significant year in literature, which provokes the question of Abe's thoughts on Orwell's novel, surely he must have read it?, did he write on it?, another further point of interest is that 1948 was the year that Abe's first piece appeared, curious observations that probably have no connection.      

The Ark Sakura at Penguin Random House 


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Miner - by Natsume Sōseki republished

Recently received an email from Aardvark Bureau/Gallic Books highlighting the great news that they're republishing The Miner by Natusme Soseki, translated by Jay Rubin, this new edition also features a 5000 word introduction by Haruki Murakami entitled A Nonchalant Journey Through Hell, some more details are here, it's great that this novel is being brought back into wider circulation and renewed readership, my post on the older edition of The Miner can be found here, some more information from the publishers -

The Miner

Natsume Sōseki
Translated by Jay Rubin, and with an introduction from Haruki Murakami, this is bound to appeal to fans of Japanese literature.
‘It makes me very happy to know that even now I can read this novel written over a hundred years ago as if it were a contemporary account and be deeply affected by it. It cannot, and should not be overlooked. It is one of my favourites.’ from the introduction by Haruki Murakami
The Miner is the most daringly experimental and least well-known novel of the great Meiji writer Natsume Sōseki. An absurdist tale about the indeterminate nature of human personality, written in 1908, it was in many ways a precursor to the work of Joyce and Beckett.
The narrative unfolds within the mind of an unnamed protagonist-narrator, a young man caught in a love triangle who flees Tokyo, is picked up by a procurer of cheap labour for a copper mine, then travels toward and inside the depths of the mine, in search of oblivion. As he delves, the young man reflects at length on nearly every thought and perception he experiences along the way. His conclusion? That there is no such thing as human character. The result is a novel that is both absurd and comical, and a true modernist classic.
5 Facts About Natsume Sōseki

He features on the Japanese 1000 yen note.
He lived in London from 1901-1903.
He hated almost every minute of his stay.
There is a Sōseki museum opposite one of his homes in Clapham.
The characters Kafka and Oshima discuss The Miner in Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tokyo Stories - A Literary Stroll

After finishing The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction recently published by Comma Press, I turned to Tokyo Stories - A Literary Stroll edited and translated by Lawrence Rogers, I've had a copy of this for a long time and it seemed the natural book to continue on with. Similar to The Book of Tokyo, Tokyo Stories has a mixture of well known authors juxtaposed with those who are making their debut into English, as well as featuring stories from Mishima, Kawabata, Akutagawa, Kafu and Soseki, there are stories from, (among others), Takedo Rintaro, Irokawa Takehiro, and Ikeda Michiko. Where it might be said of The Book of Tokyo that the stories feel on the whole largely character driven, Tokyo Stories remains rooted in the city, an aspect to the collection is that a place or an area mentioned in one story may resurface again in another from a different author, with a different perspective lending them the impression of being impervious to time and a sense of permanence arises. The book is divided into four main areas, Central Tokyo, Shitamachi, West of the Palace, and The South End, and comes with a map included at the start to help with the locating, what is interesting is in his introductions to each of the stories Rogers elucidates their settings, for instance the location of the real fountains of one of the two Mishima stories here, Fountains in the Rain. The second story of Mishima's located in the shitamachi section is Fire Works which as far as I can see can only be found in translation in this anthology, it's a story of a chance meeting between two young men who share an exacting resemblance to one another, whilst working at a part time job the narrator stumbles into what could surmount as being a scandal involving a senior politician and the man with whom he shares the resemblance with, it carries the hallmarks of themes that feature in many of Mishima's writing.
Tokyo Stories is a book that inspires further reading, the Akutagawa story is the family chronicle The Death Register which acts as a prompt so seek out more of his stories, perhaps in Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, the offering of Soseki is a snippet from Inside My Glass Doors, a book which celebrates it's centenary this year, which you very much feel like continuing with when you reach the end of what is represented here, and from Kawabata is Kid Ume, the Silver Cat from The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa. Along with these prompts the suggested reading list points to further titles of interest, two standouts for me being Peter Popham's Tokyo: The City at the End of the World (Kodansha), which as far as I can see is out of print, and also Jinnai Hidenobu's Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology.
Contrary also to giving the impression of the permanence of some of the city's more famous locations is also that of places  disappearing from the map as can be seen in Ikeda Michiko's An Unclaimed Body which offers a rare female perspective of a worker living in the San'ya area, the main aspect of the narrative is made up of observations of the other women living in her shared dormitory, eventually focusing onto one woman who through the story becomes hostile to the narrator and falls ill which leads to a somewhat foreseeable fate, again the story prompts to seek out other works on the area and subject; Edward Fowler's San'ya Blues - Labouring Life in Contemporary Tokyo as well as, although a more broader study; Tom Gill's Men of Uncertainty, and of course Oyama Shiro's A Man With No Talents, the disappearance occurs when the narrator observes the change of the place name on bus time tables, which marks the beginning of the erasing of San'ya. Along with An Unclaimed Body Tokyo Stories offers a number of additional stories with prominent female narratives, Sata Ineko's Elegy from 1945, an autobiographically inspired piece has as it's narrator an assistant from Maruzen set just before the Kanto earthquake, and a story from the immediate post war years is The Old Part of Town by Hayashi Fumiko, a story with a more fraught edge is one of two from Takedo Rintaro, The Image, which conveys in a close up first person narrative style a woman's obsessive and unrequited love. The stories collected in Tokyo Stories span some nine decades of seeing events and places of the city from a fascinating array of perspectives and is well worth picking up for the number of translations some maybe acquainted with and more so of the authors and stories who remain untranslated elsewhere.
Tokyo Stories - A Literary Stroll at University of California Press                 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

Reissued today, (or thereabouts), Wind/Pinball: Two Novels  collects two early novels of Murakami Haruki in a new translation by Ted Goossen, a while ago I received an email highlighting the fact that you can read Murakami's introduction online via Literary Hub, the introduction is also translated by Goossen. I've already got copies of the two editions published originally in the Kodansha English Library series, but think I'll have to track out a copy of this new translation.

Haruki Murakami: The Moment I Became A Novelist at Literary Hub

The book at Secker/Harvill and at Knopf

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lizard Telepathy Fox Telepathy - Yoshinori Henguchi

A pleasing aspect of this book that caught my attention after receiving it was that weighing it in my hands it's proportions very much reminded me of the volumes produced by Katydid Books, most of which are now sadly slipping out of print and beyond, so to have a new translation of Japanese poetry is a welcome thing, here's to the making of a series. In the afterword, entitled Let's Talk About What We're Really Talking About from translator David Michael Ramirez II there is quite a bit made of the breaking of literary traditions and conventions in Henguchi's poetry, he describes the book's formation in detail with infectious enthusiasm, also hidden at the back of the book in slightly small text is a rather brief biography/chronology of Henguchi himself, perhaps this is how he wanted it, in which it's mentioned that he was published in Arechi/Wasteland, Henguchi's voice is a contemporary one.

The book comes in dual text and also the poems appear in differing fonts which subtly presents or recreates the effect perhaps of their dōjinshi origins, the book opens with the piece Nihongo a sprawling prose poem that spreads over four pages, (most of the poems in the book remain confined to a single page), in which Henguchi vents his frustrations with stilted language and how it's slidden into atrophy, and of this condition's affects in daily life, it's an impressive opening piece, after reading it I started to recall how perhaps older collections of poetry came with an index of first lines, with many of Henguchi's poems I envisioned the book being presented with an index of last lines as Nihongo culminates with - I would like to start a Nihongo that receives applause even in absolute darkness. After Nihongo there comes a selection of Henguchi's photography chaptered with the title For Dad, many of these shots are interior details, shots of the family home?, is that toilet plumbing in one?, another is a close up of tatami repaired or joined together with thick black carpentry tape, many are close ups reducing the image to elemental presences, we stare at the metallic foot grip of an escalator step, vivid green bamboo wall tiles, traditional imagery juxtaposed with that of the 'make do' present, a view through the waves in the glass of a window take on the perspective of looking down, a plane view out into the panoramic expanse of an ocean, in others we see perhaps the same image presented from a different angle or of the same face enlarging, getting closer and closer, the section ends with what could be a still of moving water, paused.

Reading the poems the reader might begin to look for common overarching themes, there's much reward in contemplating and comparing Henguchi's poetry as a whole as well as reading them one poem at a time, the narratives of Henguchi's poetry is one often caught between absolutes, either trying to escape them or alternatively forming new ones, or questioning where they might begin as in the prose poem; Framing the Freedom of Being Torn Apart which observes - Everything from start to finish is sure to be fiction. then posits the question - Where and when would you say is not fiction?, as with many of the poems there is the presence of unattainable realities, frustratingly some of these close at hand, desired or non-desired, the poem answers the question with the observation to the answer that lingers in the mind - In spite of that everybody is a damn creation, Henguchi's narratives are unflinching in their depictions of the vacuums between the fabric of realities imposed and unimposed, the struggle between the official and the unofficial is a theme not too distant in many of the poems and the precariousness of living and choosing between them, there's the challenging line - Realizing that the more sincere you become the more meaningless you become. Framing the Freedom of Being torn Apart is a poem made of clipped sentences, in ways it culminates in many places and times, the ending is a plea against maturing, but a little before the end a line laced with absolutism seems to arrive at a culmination before the poem's end - Everything, has an end in everything, Henguchi's voice blends visions of the darkest depths whilst still retaining in places indefatigable lines of resolve.

Truly no matter what happens it won't matter at all.

from Falling Slightly Forward         

Lizard Telepathy Fox Telepathy at Chin Music Press


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Satoshi Kon's Opus

Opus first appeared in serialization in 1995/1996, recently it's been published by Dark Horse, (November 2014), in a translation by Zack Davisson, Dark Horse have done a great job with the publication of Opus, reading Opus it's hard to resist visualizing it as it may appear in an animated form given Kon's filmography, although he started out originally in manga. Visually the book is stunning, the full page art work at the beginning of each chapter could hang on the wall of any gallery, the book comes including a final chapter which was only sketched out in pencil that wasn't included when Opus was initially serialized, this brief end chapter was found after Kon's sudden death from cancer in 2010, it extends the story line featuring Kon himself, but even with this chapter there's the feeling that the story line of Opus is open ended, it could just keep going.

The premise of Opus is quite a simple one although how Kon builds upon it displays the ingenuity that we've come to associate with the rest of his work, in some ways utilising the story within a story approach Kon examines a number of different aspects to the creative process and the relationship between the author and the characters they create, Kon built on this spiralling the story out crashing through barriers that we assume end with the frame that are there whilst we read stories and manga. The jacket describes Opus as being a meta-fictional tale and it is, Chikara Nagai is a manga artist, creator of series Resonance whose lead protagonist, Satoko, is an agent fighting the evil forces of Masque, head of the Nameless Faith cult. Under pressure to deliver the final instalment Chikara finds a page which is seen depicting a tunnel leading down, falling through he finds himself in the manga that he has created, after demonstrating to and convincing Satoko that he is the creator of her story the metaphors begin to abound, essentially with Chikara as a god figure, and his character's there merely as puppets in a preordained story, without will, but these ideas are treated with irony and humour. Another character central to the story is that of Lin who obtains the all important last page of the story who is then pursued through much of the story by Chikara and Satoko whilst they fend off Masque, who is also in pursuit of Lin. Added to this Satoko is imbued with telepathic abilities something which rises to the forefront of the story when later in the story she finds herself spilling back out of the manga and into Chikara's world after he returns to his world, the story reverses back through to dark events in the character's pasts, and through various forms of resurrection, one by the pen of creator Chikara himself.

As already mentioned the artwork is spot on, the images of the storyline cracking and disintegrating as they are pursued are spectacular, at various points Chikara finds himself situated in a pure white void, out of the story, (but still within it - if you know what I mean), at one point it's mentioned that there are other places where the story is happening, hinting to the reader not only to restrict themselves contemplating what is visually happening within what is being drawn opens up the dimensions of the story in a highly original and absorbing way, and of course Kon pursues the story in and out of these places too. Opus is a masterpiece, one that I keep turning to with relief knowing that yes I do have a copy.

Opus at Dark Horse


Friday, May 1, 2015

Realm of the Dead by Uchida Hyakken

Realm of the Dead is a book I've been meaning to reach for a while now, published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2006 and translated by Rachel DiNitto, who has also written an in-depth study of Hyakken in Uchida Hyakken - A Critique of Modernity and Militarism in Pre-war Japan, (Harvard East Asian Monographs - 30). Realm of the Dead is made up of two books by Hyakken, the same titled Realm of the Dead/Meido from 1922 and also Triumphant March Into Port Arthur/Ryojun Nyujoshiku from 1934. Between the two volumes there is a one page preface from Hyakken for the collection Triumphant March Into Port Arthur, in which he goes some way in explaining the ten year gap between the publication of the two books, the main cause being the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, reading this short preface from Hyakken comes the realization that Realm of the Dead is a book that would have perhaps been improved upon with the addition of at least a few pages by means of a further introduction or afterword to give a fuller con-textualisation to his writing and it's period. As well as writing an alternative version of I Am A Cat, Hyakken is also famous for being the subject of Kurosawa Akira's film Madadayo, in 1911 he was a pupil of Natsume Soseki, and after graduating from Tokyo University taught German at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy from 1916.

The two books consist mainly of short stories, 18 in Realm of the Dead and 29 in Triumphant March into Port Arthur, some of these in the later barely cover two pages, but reading Hyakken is to marvel at what he achieves in such a short space, his writing inhabits in lucid prose, realms of consciousness peeping out into vistas of the subconscious, or vice versa, at times surreal, reaching depths and heights that at times abruptly end as if their narrator is awakening from a dream or vision. Hyakken's compressed world is sometimes similar to that of Kafka, the inconsequential can be flipped over into being the consequential, plunging the narrator into philosophical explorations and interior ruminations which throw the narrator's world view into unexpected trajectories, the dilemma of a found wallet being one. Reading Realm of the Dead reminds me of the need to track out two other books, one being A Thousand One-Second Stories by Inagaki Taruho and the other is The Beautiful and the Grotesque by Akutagawa, in places it's interesting to remind yourself that Hyakken was for a time a contemporary of Akutagawa, perhaps he can be identified here appearing as Noguchi in the longer story The Bowler Hat, the narrator and Noguchi almost vie with each other as to who is the more affecting of the two writers, Noguchi departs the story eventually overdosing. Hyakken's stories do dip into some strange territories, one narrator finds himself being interrogated by melting police detectives, and although brief his stories impress with their unrelenting nature, in others the reader may pause and begin to question as to the motives behind Hyakken, or his narrator's reasoning in relating their narratives. In Whitecaps the narrator relates the story of how he and his Uncle find themselves rowing out to sea with the task of disposing of their pet dog that is guilty of biting a neighbour's child, reading Hyakken's stories sometimes feels that some could come closer to being described as narrative obstacles rather than ending with clear conclusion, although an overriding one could be that sometimes life is not good.

Across both of the books of stories there are number of different styles and narrative forms, some are dark explorative fictions, some feel that they maybe inspired from real life experiences and settings, there are a number here set in Hosei University, (including the title story of Triumphant March into Port Arthur), where Hyakken taught and perhaps if you are well grounded in Taisho/early Showa era history, some of the symbolism and portraits will begin to come into sharper focus, the story Triumphant March into Port Arthur is a far from being a celebratory narrative following the narrator watch a newsreel of the battle, which is centred around the meeting between General Nogi and General  Stessel, the narrator leaves the theatre with tears down his face, loosing all sense of his bearings he describes - 'The crowd kept clapping. My cheeks wet with crying, I fell into formation and was led out into the quiet of the city streets, out into nowhere'. Many of the stories feel that they have a metropolitan setting, but amongst these The Carp seems to pause for a moment to offer at what first appears as a landscape view, although with Hyakken it doesn't take too long before things begin to take on an alternative perspective, the narrator finds himself pursued into the landscape, the motives or identities of his pursuers uncertain, a mountain range comes into view, one pointing up resembling the dorsal fin of a carp, at points the delineation between land and sky becomes distorted, a spot of bright light appears and the narrator can hear an echoing sound that seems to grow in volume, the narrator finds himself on the other side of the light, staring back he notices that the side he was in is shaded in darkness, before him he observes a lake, in it a beautiful carp swims, the narrator becomes entranced by the fish, whose reflection he can see projected or reflected in the sky, the story ends with the narrator trying to restrain himself from diving in to swim with the beautiful fish. It's a beguiling story, reading it again on it's own and taken out of the stream of narratives from these stories, is to realise Hyakken's ornate  combination of allegory and modernist prose, to read The Carp is to perhaps picture a narrator witnessing an aspect of one of the stories from Ugetsu Monogatari - Muo no Rigyo/A Carp That Appeared in My Dream, and in another of one transcribing the journey from the mortal into the immortal, a fascinating collection that rewards after repeated reading.  

Realm of the Dead at Dalkey Archive Press                       

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Minka - My Farmhouse in Japan

Recently I've acquired the bad habit of picking up more than one book at a time, it's something I'm not fond of doing, but a book that I've had on the shelf to read for a long time now is John Roderick's Minka - My Farmhouse in Japan, which is an account of how he came to buy a farmhouse that has connections that date back to the age of the Heike monogatari, for 5000 yen, intrigued?, I'll leave it to you to track out a copy of the book for the fuller explanation, but the story involves disassembling the house and moving it from Shirotori to Kamakura.

Whilst also reading about the book on the internet I stumbled over an accompanying film that was made in 2011 by Davina Pardo which you can watch via the New York Times website or via here.

Minka My Farmhouse in Japan at Princeton Architecture Press