It seems you’ve been living two lives, Miss Chiba. In one, you are Atsuko Chiba, an accomplished researcher and therapist working for the Institute for Psychiatric Research. You’re a hard worker, a dedicated scientist, and on the shortlist for the Nobel Prize. In the other, you go by the alias “Paprika” and carry out illegitimate dream therapy with restricted-use dream-imaging devices borrowed from the Institute’s own labs. One of these lives has a future; the other does not.
Forgive the Matrix quote, but it’s a fitting way to kick off a discussion of Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui’s landmark novel. Tsutsui’s eclectic mixes of fantasy, SF, black comedy and other genres have been only sporadically presented in English; Paprika itself was only recently translated, and isn’t even directly available to readers in the United States yet. That’s a shame, because the book’s a broadly entertaining introduction to an author who hasn’t yet gotten his due domestically. He’s been superficially compared to Haruki Murakami or J.G. Ballard, although he’s more playful than the latter and more formally grounded in genre than the former. Read more
I struggle with myself. On the one hand I want to write a rave review of Grotesque, one that might verge on being fulsome in its praise. On the other hand, I want to red-pencil the book, to trim out the fat I know is there and expose the muscle and heart of a story that has about one hundred percent more, well, story, than it truly needs. But I got here late: I’m a reader and a critic, not an editor, and so I have to take Natsuo Kirino’s Grotesque as it stands: a very good book that might well be a great one, barring my quibbles about its length.
Told in an amalgam of first-person confessional, third-party documentation, diary entries and letter-writings, Grotesque deals with a now-middle-aged Japanese woman — never referred to by her first name — who was one of two daughters in a mixed marriage. She is “half”, as they say in Japan. The unpleasant union of her Swiss/Polish father (himself “half”, it seems) and her Japanese mother produced herself and Yuriko — the “monster”, as the narrator calls her, a girl almost too beautiful to be believed. The rift that forms between them soon becomes unbridgeable, and before long the two sisters live entirely disparate lives. One settles into a life of respectable work, a veneer that barely conceals an ocean of rage; the other into prostitution and an early death at the hands of a client. Read more
Ever get the feeling you’d been cheated?
There’s a clutch of words that when uttered in the presence of fans can elicit near-homicidal reactions. One of them is censorship: if there’s even the suggestion that a title of theirs has been “cleaned up” (shilling for dumbed down) for its domestic release, they’ll blow out the windows. Case in point: the manga version of Tenjho Tenge, which tanked in sales once word got out it had been bowdlerized to keep it from going into “mature audiences” shrinkwrap. To be honest, the Comstockery in question wasn’t all that bad, but it was the principle of the thing that ticked people off, and rightly so. Why pay for what you know to be damaged goods?
But there’s another word also capable of unleashing whole hectares of fan-wrath, depending on the context and the circumstances. That word is remake, and in a way it’s even more problematic a word than censorship because it cuts both ways. It isn’t inherently evil. Sometimes a remake can revitalize a dated or flawed piece of material, and give it a whole new gloss. The current remake of Evangelion might fit into this category, depending on your level of attachment to the original (and that deserves to be an essay unto itself).
I could not have made this up if I wanted to. Read more
Tokyo, 1952. Out of the ashes of war, a new society has sprouted: democratically inclined, scientifically rigorous, and socially progressive (or so it likes to think). But like Rome, this modern Japan is built directly on top of the ruins of the old — both physically and psychically. The supernatural and all of its trappings still exude great gravity thanks to their centuries of accumulated weight, and so an exorcist in this world can find himself just as gainfully employed as any private detective.
The Summer of the Ubume gives us just such an exorcist — Akihiko Chuzenji, or “Kyogokudo” to his friends. Diviner, bookworm, jack-of-all-subjects, professional grouch, he’s a Shintoist Sherlock Holmes for an age split between skepticism and superstition. “There is nothing that is strange in this world,” he declares. “There is only that which should be, and only that which should happen does.” In short, there is no supernatural — just things we don’t yet understand in a systematic way. Scratch a mythos and you’ll find a sociological motive; crack open a demon and you’ll see the gears of plain old human fear and avarice grinding away inside.Read more