The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

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

NO COMMENTS

Trust Issues

January 6, 2015 | by

How The Evil Within and horror games manipulate their players.

the-evil-within

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 »

6 COMMENTS

Announcing the Winner of Our Windows on the World Contest

November 28, 2014 | by

Earlier this week, we announced the five finalists in our Windows on the World contest; today we’re happy to say that the winner is Simon Rowe, with his view from Himeji City, Japan. Simon will have his view sketched by Matteo Pericoli. Congratulations to him, and many thanks to all who entered!

S.RoweWindowOnTheWorld

Simon Rowe

Simon Rowe, Himeji City, Japan

Time 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.

2 COMMENTS

Desperate Measures: An Interview with David Gordon

October 27, 2014 | by

David Gordon_Credit Michael Sharkey

Photo: Michael Sharkey

David Gordon’s fiction doesn’t fall comfortably into one category. Depending on what you’re reading and who you’re talking to, he might be a mystery writer, a postmodernist, a satirist, or a hybrid. His new collection, White Tiger on Snow Mountain, runs an impressive gamut. Its cast is large and varied—there are gunmen, grad students, investigators, vampires, struggling writers, Internet sex trolls, and men named David Gordon. (One of these stories, “Man-Boob Summer,” first appeared in The Paris Review’s Fall 2012 issue.) Gordon’s sentences are crisp and often jarring. His plots unspool in strange, sometimes disturbing ways. There’s little to be gained in trying to situate yourself according to generic conventions; better just to enjoy the disorientation and to trust that you’re in the hands of an earnest storyteller.

I met with Gordon, who has also published two novels, on a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. School was letting out next door, but Gordon’s booming voice carried over the two-thirty hysteria. We spoke over the course of the afternoon about repurposing genres, literary stardom in Japan (the Japanese translation of his first novel, The Serialist, was a major success), the risks of first-person storytelling, and the publishing-industry controversy swirling around him.

White Tiger on Snow Mountain is your first story collection. Did you approach the stories differently than you would a novel?

In conceptual terms, I do think there’s a difference, at least for me. A story usually comes into my mind like a three-dimensional object—something I can see and feel and rotate. I’m often completely wrong about what the object is, but it’s still there. Whereas a novel is more like a set of directions for a road trip to California, with a planned stop in, say, Colorado and a visit to the Grand Canyon. The truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen along the way or whether I’ll even get there, but I have this general sense of direction and an end I hope to reach.

Now that the stories are completed and assembled, are you surprised at any of the themes or images that crop up?

I wrote these stories over a period of years, so some of the thematic echoes that people point out seem fairly straightforward for somebody who’s been writing for a long time—you deal with certain recurring ideas and problems. But then there are very specific echoes that I wasn’t aware of, and those are really interesting to me. My protagonists eat a lot of Chinese food and go to a lot of cafés. People tend to have cats in my stories, and the women have long fingers. I have no idea where this stuff comes from. I have no lost love with long fingers. I guess these things just leak out of my subconscious. Read More »

1 COMMENT

The Flatus of Yore, and Other News

January 24, 2014 | by

fart-screen

What a gas! Image via Beautiful Decay.

  • Japanese scrolls from the Edo period depict—yes—erumpent, competitive flatulence.
  • Back to more dignified fare. Guess the classic novel from its first sentence.
  • Fact: Kurt Vonnegut wrote a made-for-TV movie in 1972. It’s called Between Time and Timbuktu, or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy. Vonnegut later withdrew from the production: “I am not going to have anything more to do with film—for this reason: I don’t like film.” Well. As far as excuses go, that one’s airtight.
  • “I think empathy is a guy who punches you in the face at a bus station, and you’re somehow able to look at him and know enough about what situation he was in to know that he had to do that and not to hit back. That’s empathy, and nothing ever happens in writing that has that kind of moral heroism about it.” A new interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan.
  • As any reader of Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity knows, vagueness can be artful, but it’s especially so in Mandarin writing, where ambiguous sentences resemble optical illusions.

 

NO COMMENTS