Previous Posts: Uncategorized / General: June 2011

Dehumanizer Dept.

It's so very, very hard not to start babbling like a little kid about some things. In between meetings in the city over the last couple of days, I ran over to Kinokuniya and found the third volume of the...


It's so very, very hard not to start babbling like a little kid about some things. In between meetings in the city over the last couple of days, I ran over to Kinokuniya and found the third volume of the Japanese edition of Usamaru Furuya's manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human.

Without going too deeply into spoiler territory, because I want to save all that for a formal review of the series when it's published Over Here, I will discuss some of the changes made to the storyline in the comic version. Some are practical, some aesthetic. (Note that these may not make much sense unless you've read the book, and if you haven't then what the heck are you waiting for?)

  1. The action has been moved from the 1920s and 1930s into the modern day. This hasn't created any major disruptions, as far as I can tell: almost everything that happens — from Yozo's dalliances with bar girls to his career as a comic artist — maps nicely into a modern-day counterpart. What's most striking is how little of the overall story has been rewritten, not how much.
  2. Some individual touches and turns of phrase seem to be missing, which is okay I guess — I wasn't expecting a word-for-word version of the story — but they had the good sense to keep the classic opening line ("Mine has been a life of much shame") and several of the key closing lines ("Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness").
  3. The wraparound narrative device in the novel, where an unnamed party discovers and reads Yozo's notebooks, has been reinvented in a fairly ingenious way. Yozo's story, including the "three photographs" that open the story, is now a blog/website, and the unnamed narrator is now Usamaru Furuya himself.
  4. Almost all of the First Notebook and the first part of the Second Notebook have been condensed or referred to in flashbacks. This makes some sense, since most of the first part of the story was internal monologue or reminiscing, vaguely akin to the first half of Notes from Underground, and doesn't lend itself to being illustrated or made part of the story as such.
  5. The way Yozo's marriage falls apart in the final third of the manga is even more horrific than in the book, and has been treated as a logical consequence of some of the other story-tightening procedures used along the way. His relationship with the pharmacy owner, though, is gone (but it's replaced with something a little more credible in a modern-day context).
  6. The phantasmagoria throughout the story, especially in the final volume, makes this feel all the more like Japan's manga answer to Requiem for a Dream.

All three volumes (1, 2, 3) are now available for preorder in English. There's even a French edition, under the title "Je ne suis pas un homme" ("I am not a man"), although the actual French title for the original novel was La déchéance d'un homme.

The recent live-action movie (marketed overseas as Fallen Angel) has no English edition yet. I did, however, bump into a copy of a movie called Picaresque, which is supposedly an Osamu Dazai biopic, but the price was a bit steep. Maybe after the money situation settles down again...


Tags: books Japan Kinokuniya literature manga movies Osamu Dazai Usamaru Furuya


Desperately Seeking Translator Dept.

Add this to your list of books to seek out and bring into English: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, super-prolific Japanese author Jirō Akagawa's satirical crossbreed of teen drama and yakuza violence. I finally bumped into a copy ($1 at...


Add this to your list of books to seek out and bring into English: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, super-prolific Japanese author Jirō Akagawa's satirical crossbreed of teen drama and yakuza violence. I finally bumped into a copy ($1 at Book-Off, where else?), and apart from a translation it could also use a clever marketing plan in the U.S. After the recent wave of Nordic crime drama (girls with dragon tattoos and the like), how about a similar wave of stuff from Japan, albeit with a comedic bent? They've foisted worse stuff off on us lately.

… and that cover art is a joy to behold.

Although, now that I think about it, the butterfly should be on the gunsight.

(Anyone who gets that in-joke receives a free bottle of Kewpie mayo.)


Tragic Books Dept.

Over at Ain't It Cool News there is a roundtable discussion regarding the much-reviled, widely-discussed DC Reboot. I haven't been a reader of the Marvel/DC axis for literally decades, so many discussions of the individual titles (Infinite Earths in its...


Over at Ain't It Cool News there is a roundtable discussion regarding the much-reviled, widely-discussed DC Reboot. I haven't been a reader of the Marvel/DC axis for literally decades, so many discussions of the individual titles (Infinite Earths in its infinite permutations, for one) are lost on me. But there is a ton of meat in this piece re: the health and future of the comics industry as a whole, which has — like the rest of print publishing — been derailing slowly for a long time and is now finally about to hit the wall.

... I almost think the world of comics needs a "reboot", though apparently that's not what this is exactly. Right now the model of comics is to bleed dry a meager and dwindling fanbase that is left in print and make your money putting those same properties on the big screen. Not only is that business model [completely] insane and I don't get how people get paid to consciously maintain that decision-making process, but it obviously cannot endure.

I think the word he's looking for is unsustainable, which I completely agree with. The general unsustainability of the industry is made all the clearer by the discussion of digital vs. print later on in the piece: the hustle is on to make digital the primary medium, with print being the "collector's" format. That means printing costs will almost certainly go up even further, and that books that use print as a medium will be shortchanged all the more.

Not long ago I finished reading the first volume of Adam Hines's unclassifiable indie comic Duncan the Wonder Dog, available in a large-format volume for a limited time. Adam's website also seems to have the whole thing digitally, but reading it on an eye-cramping screen is like "watching movies through a mail slot" (as someone else once complained about letterboxing films like Lawrence of Arabia for 1.33:1 TVs). There was no substitute for holding the book in my hand, spreading it across my lap, and putting my nose to within an inch of the page.

We have been lucky, I suppose, in that we have had both the resources and the social privileges to provide printed books to so many people for so long. That age is not gone yet, but the sun's hitting the horizon, and we're now entering an age where a printed page may become a rarefied luxury. I don't expect digital devices to deliver anything like what a printed book could offer, at least not until there are a couple more breakthroughs in how display technology can work — and even then, is that really a substitute? Is it better to have only a picture of a Vermeer when the original seems to glow with inner light, even if you have to go to the museum to see that curious phenomenon with your own eyes?

What's worse is that, if the AICN guys are right, there might well be many of us who never knew what went missing.


Tags: comics publishing


Disappearing Act Dept.

I have been reading The Shores of Light, a collection of literary criticism from the 1920s and 1930s courtesy of Edmund Wilson, a very capable and perceptive critic who as far as I can tell isn’t sung much of these...


I have been reading The Shores of Light, a collection of literary criticism from the 1920s and 1930s courtesy of Edmund Wilson, a very capable and perceptive critic who as far as I can tell isn’t sung much of these days. He has an essay — “It’s Terrible! It’s Ghastly! It Stinks!” — wherein he uses a rather hagiographic-sounding biography of Louis B. Mayer as a jumping-off point for what he perceived as the near-total stagnation of Hollywood by 1937 (!). The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races had just been released, and Wilson could barely bring himself to sit through it.

Time and chance have been such that most every Marx Brothers film, even the "bad" ones, are now classics. Most of the movies Wilson complains about — yes, even the "bad" ones — are still yards better than most of what is dumped out today, and not just because they're older but because they were fashioned according to a different set of sensibilities. Those sensibilities are gone today except as a memory or an artifact; they're as extinct as the knights of yore.

I go back and forth about how bad this is. Perhaps it's neither good nor bad, because films of quality can be found in any era if you look hard enough. I suspect there is little merit in arguing whether the brassy musical revues of the Depression were "better" than the PG-13 gross-out comedies of today, because each satisfies an audience a world removed from the other. We are not people of the Twenties and Thirties, and we can never be those people again. But that doesn't mean we can't make an effort to taste a little of what the world might have been like for them, and how they amused themselves in the face of it.

When I took various classic-lit courses in college there was, for just about every work published before 1970, at least some degree of acculturation needed by the class for a given work. For Shakespeare, that was inevitable: most everyone who walked out of the course knew what the "groundlings" were and how this or that scene in a play had been aimed at them to shut them up a bit before the real action commenced. But some of it was required for F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway as well — maybe not as much, but it was that much more a sign that the reader of the 1990s was not the reader of the 1950s, let alone the 1920s.

I don't believe for a moment that anything written today will survive a thousand years without copious footnoting or explanation, just as Chaucer required the same. Not just because of this reference or that allusion, but because the very people the work was written for do not exist anymore in any form. What I'm still struggling with is whether or not that's always a bad thing. If a book written to disabuse the ignorant is no longer in fashion because its particular species of ignorance has gone extinct, that might well be one of the best things we could hope for: a concrete example of progress. My real worry is that we will, in decades to come, look that much more askance at something which saw life in an inimitable way, because we will have unthinkingly discarded our appreciation for such a vision.

Which is all my roundabout way of saying: I hope never to find myself in a world where people don't find the Marx Brothers funny anymore.


Tags: books comedy criticism dharma Edmund Wilson F. Scott Fitzgerald Hemingway history literature Marx Brothers reading Shakespeare


Blu-Eyed Soul Dept.

I haven't done this in a while, so here are some recent Blu-ray issues that grabbed my attention. Some will end up on my own shelf by year's end or so....


I haven't done this in a while, so here are some recent Blu-ray issues that grabbed my attention. Some will end up on my own shelf by year's end or so.

Read more

Tags: Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc movies



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This page is an archive of entries in the Uncategorized / General category from June 2011.

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