The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

The Lesbian Pulp Novel, and Other News

November 20, 2015 | by

From a Penguin edition of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, retitled Carol.

  • In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast has landed the number-one spot on the French best-seller list—spurred in part by an interview with a woman known only as Danielle, who said the memoir helps the French “hold high the banner of our values,” even if it was written by an American.
  • Speaking of Paris—look out, world. Houellebecq is on the Times Op-Ed page, up to his usual tricks: “Despite the common perception, the French are rather docile, rather easy to govern. But they are not complete idiots. Instead, their main flaw is a kind of forgetful frivolity that necessitates jogging their memory from time to time. There are people, political people, who are responsible for the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in today, and sooner or later their responsibility will have to be examined. It’s unlikely that the insignificant opportunist who passes for our head of state, or the congenital moron who plays the part of our prime minister, or even the ‘stars of the opposition’ (LOL) will emerge from the test looking any brighter.”
  • If you’d rather not read on, head elsewhere in the Times, where high-tech Japanese toilets are on parade. (And remember, gift givers, the holiday season is approaching.) “For those who own Japanese toilets, there is a cultish devotion. They boast heated seats, a bidet function for a rear cleanse and an air-purifying system that deodorizes during use. The need for toilet paper is virtually eliminated (there is an air dryer) and ‘you left the lid up’ squabbles need never take place (the seat lifts and closes automatically in many models) … Toto, arguably the industry leader (though other companies sell them), has tried over the years to get Americans to embrace the concept. Their latest bid to toilet-train the public is the Connect+ system of the Carlyle II 1G with s350e washlet. The model offers the standard comforts, along with something Toto calls SanaGloss, a glaze that seals the porcelain and repels waste.”
  • But you don’t look for this space for hygiene advice. You’re here for literature. May we recommend a dime-store paperback, then? Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, first published in 1953, depicted a lesbian couple without putting them through the wringer: it was “a landmark book for queer America, offering readers a powerful and hopeful ending, one that didn’t see the two women at the center of the story end their affair, commit suicide, or attempt murder … As an act of secretive reading, the lesbian pulp novel formed an invisible lesbian community.”
  • On the plays of Caryl Churchill, who’s still honing her craft at age seventy-seven: “Churchill’s interest in mutable, shifting identities has remained a major theme—and from the perspective of contemporary debates about gender and the essence of identity, seems almost prophetic … Whatever one thinks of her politics, Churchill has been able to respond rapid-fire to current events in part because she has stayed away from the convoluted development processes of film and television: she remains committed to live forms. And it is hard to see how anything but theatre could give her the flexibility to write as she pleases. The early texts are rich, dense, often sprawling as they hop-skip across time; these days, the plays are pearlescent in their minimalism. Sometimes they’re as short as eight minutes: one sentence can be an entire scene.”

Book and Bed

November 13, 2015 | by

Photo: Book and Bed

Plenty of hotels around the world feature libraries, or aspire to various bookish overtones—rooms named after different writers, curated volumes in each suite. But most of these spots have, you know, something else going for them, like pools or cocktails or cozy accommodations. Then there’s Tokyo’s Book and Bed, which I learned about from Mashable, and which is, by contrast, defiant about its lack of comforts. “The perfect setting for a good nights sleep is something you will not find here,” the hotel’s website says: Read More »

Nobuo Okano, Book Repairman

April 21, 2015 | by

Give him your dog-eared, your tattered, your musty tomes yearning to breathe free, the shelf-worn refugees of your teeming library. He will smooth their pages and mend their binding. For he is Nobuo Okano, book repairman.

An episode of the Japanese series Shuri, Misemasu (or The Fascinating Repairmen—would that such programming arrived on these shores) documents his careful conversion of a battered, bruised English–Japanese dictionary to a state of just-published purity. (JAPANESE CRAFTSMEN STRIKE AGAIN, says one headline about his work, as if such people are invading our homes at night with bevel squares and handsaws.) Read More »

Adrift: Remembering Yoshihiro Tatsumi

April 3, 2015 | by

Tatsumi in Tokyo, November 2012.

Tatsumi in Tokyo, November 2012.

About a dozen years ago, while I was on a business trip to the Bay Area, the cartoonist Adrian Tomine asked if we could meet to discuss an idea he had of publishing the work of an obscure, mostly forgotten Japanese cartoonist named Yoshihiro Tatsumi. At that point, only one collection of Tatsumi’s comics had been translated and published in English, and that edition, from 1987, wasn’t produced in the best of circumstances: it was a bootleg, published without Tatsumi’s permission, featuring poorly reproduced artwork and somewhat stilted dialogue as a result of a subpar translation. And yet somehow that lone volume managed to find its way to Sacramento in the late 1980s, into the hands of then-fourteen-year-old Adrian Tomine at precisely the moment when his own sensibility as a cartoonist was beginning to take form.

During our meeting, Adrian showed me this book, as well as many more untranslated pages that he had managed to track down. It didn’t take much (if any) convincing on his part: I was immediately impressed with Tatsumi’s stark artwork, and there was a definite appeal in the narrative representation of the dark underside of late sixties Tokyo. Drawn & Quarterly managed to secure the rights and commission proper translations, which led to the publication of several volumes of Tatsumi’s short stories, with Adrian working very closely on every aspect—as editor, designer, and even letterer of the series.

We were little surprised when the series received immediate acclaim. After all, the everyday realism portrayed in Tatsumi’s comics has a particular affinity with literary graphic novels of North America, with one important exception: Tatsumi’s comics (which he called gekiga, meaning “dramatic pictures”) predated any similar material being produced here by at least a couple of decades. Read More »

Simon Rowe, Himeji City, Japan

January 16, 2015 | by

Windows on the World is a series on what writers from around the world see from their windows. This is the final entry in the series, which we began in January 2012: it’s Matteo’s sketch for last November’s contest winner, Simon Rowe. Many thanks to Matteo for illustrating so many views over the years. Some of these drawings are now available in his new book, Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views.Simon_RoweTime has gathered Japan’s villages into towns and cities, even turned some into metropolises, but the cho, or neighborhood, remains the heart and soul of the nation.

Mine resembles an overcrowded circuit board with its dense clusters of houses spanning a century in design and its winding pathways, which deliver children to school, businessmen to bus stops, and elderly to their kitchen gardens. This is Kamiono-cho, in Himeji city—where the westward sprawl that begins in Osaka finally runs out of steam.

Bamboo grows as thick as a man’s leg in the forests beyond the neighborhood, lofty and mesmerizing when the valley winds blow. In Autumn, the smell of burning rice chaff reaches through the window, signaling the end of the harvest season and the start of the festivals that celebrate its bounty. Taiko-drum volleys rattle my window, just as the earthquakes do.

Snow dusts the rooftops in winter. Through the opened window, knife-edged winds carry a whiff of Siberia—chilling, yet invigorating. Spring sees cherry blossoms garnish the neighborhood and family picnics mushroom beneath them. Then the blossoms fall, like the brief and beautiful life of a samurai, with the first spring rains. Summer arrives and the window is shut to the whining insects and the suffocating humidity, which descend on the city. The pane rattles once more with the typhoons of late summer; TV antennas waggle on tiled roofs, momentarily lost to the rain.

The old neighborhood, once famous for strawberry growers, is vanishing. Where fruit grew, model houses now stand. Outside them, housewives gather on dusk to chew over the day’s proceedings and await their children’s return from school. Long after dark, the buses will disgorge their tired husbands, who will drift heavy-hearted back to their homes and sleeping families. —Simon Rowe


Trust Issues

January 6, 2015 | by

How The Evil Within and horror games manipulate their players.


A screenshot from The Evil Within.

Few relationships depend more on trust than the one you have with your computer. Without faith in the indifference of its automation, how could you share as much with it as you do? Video games are built around the fragility of this trust: they let us play with the horror in our dependence, experiencing the computer as a hostile entity within the safe, fictive frame of competition. To entertain us, games must defy our expectations. But their surprises can’t lapse into incoherence—if they do, our trust is violated, our fun spoiled.

Shinji Mikami’s games have tested the limits of that trust. He didn’t invent the horror video game, but in his twenty-plus-year career, he’s done more to popularize it than any other designer. His career began in the early nineties with a string of convivial family-oriented games, but it wasn’t until 1996’s Resident Evil that he made a name for himself. Combining graphic bodily horror and cryptographic claustrophobia—and set in a rotting mansion, no less—Resident Evil became a standard-setting high point. Playing the game felt like wearing a straitjacket, and this was part of the horror: its movement system was halting and cumbersome, and it used an incoherent array of fixed camera views, ensuring that even the basic rules for moving your character changed every few seconds, even during crises. The frustration informed the fear.

Nearly a decade later, in 2005’s Resident Evil 4, Mikami abused player trust by making the game’s fundamental action—shooting—unnervingly realistic. The animations of bodies taking bullets were lifelike to the point of inducing vertigo. Most games depend on some form of violent conflict, even if it’s only colored bits of candy exploding when they’re properly aligned, but we expect the games to have moral alibis for the violence they ask of us. But in Resident Evil 4, you played the role of an alien invading an innocent foreign culture—and watched, say, a farmer stumble after being hit in the knee, then slowly rise again, pressing past the normal human threshold of pain. The game forced its players to violate moral and cultural taboos, while craftily reinforcing the adrenal joy that came with those sins. It unmasked the cruelty of play.

Now, another decade later, Mikami has returned to horror with The Evil Within, which combines those earlier templates with a kind of graphic violence and semiotic incoherence reminiscent of pink cinema, a rich, revolting tradition of Japanese filmmaking that dates to the early sixties. Though the term is often used to describe Japanese erotica, pink cinema’s aesthetic is broader, with no real equivalent in the West. The scholar David Desser has described it as a brand of Japanese modernism—“achronological, arbitrarily episodic, acausal, dialectical, anti-mythic and anti-psychological, and metahistorical”—that aims to cast off the “bourgeois individualism” of American storytelling. Read More »