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review 2018-11-10 09:20
SF or Not: "Shogun" by James Clavell
Shogun: A Novel of Japan - James Clavell

(Original Review, 1980-09-26)


I think all of the argument around SHOGUN and SF is amusing, but I think that the perspective is about as one-sided as that in the movie.

Ask someone in Tokyo (where both a shorter 2.5 hour movie as well as the five-day/twelve hour TV series showed) if s/he thought SHOGUN was Science Fiction or not. You'll probably get laughed in the face. Many Japanese do not even consider SHOGUN good fiction. It overemphasizes the violence in feudal Japan. Westerners should not think that beheadings and seppuku were regular occurrences, much the same as the western frontier was not all shoot-outs and fighting off Indians, although it did go on.
 
 
 
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.
 
 

 

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review 2018-11-03 15:24
My Neighbor Totoro (book) art and story by Hayao Miyazaki, text by Tsugiko Kubo, translated by Jim Hubbert
My Neighbor Totoro: A Novel - Tsugiko Kubo,Hayao Miyazaki

Mei, Satsuki, and their father, Tatsuo, move into a crumbling old house in the country in order to be closer to the sanatorium where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from tuberculosis. The girls adapt to their new rural life pretty quickly, although four-year-old Mei doesn't respond well to being left with their neighbor while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki is at school.

Both girls realize there's something a little strange about their house when they first arrive. They briefly spot little beings called soot sprites, and Kanta, the boy who lives near them, tells them that their house is haunted. Then Mei starts talking about having met a being she calls Totoro and who Tatsuo believes is a forest spirit. Satsuki longs to see Totoro too.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this. Would it be a stiff and soulless adaptation of the movie, or would it be able to hold its own in the face of the movie's sweetness? I'm happy to say that it fell into the latter category. Although I still prefer the movie, the book was a breeze to read, added things to the overall story that the movie couldn't, and had much of the same charm as the original movie.

(I should briefly explain that I'm most familiar with the English dub of the movie. I'm not sure if I've even watched it in Japanese with English subtitles yet. Some of the information "missing" from the movie could possibly have been translation decisions when creating the dub, editing the script to better match mouth flaps. I won't know until I watch the movie with subtitles, and even then translator decisions are in play.)

The book was more direct about explaining exactly why Tatsuo, Satsuki, and Mei moved out into the country, explicitly naming Yasuko's illness. There were more mentions about what Satsuki and Mei's life used to be like, back in the city, and even one portion of the book where they briefly went back to the city. Yasuko was slightly more in the foreground - the book included letters she wrote to her children while at the sanatorium. I got a stronger picture of her personality here than I did in the movie. She seemed like a dreamer.

In general, I'd say that the bones of this book were about the same as the movie. A few scenes were added, and there were more details about the history of the house the family moved into, and Satsuki's efforts to learn how to cook different foods over an actual fire without burning them. I really enjoyed these additions.

One thing that disappointed me a little, however, was that the fantasy aspects were scaled back. In the movie, viewers' first exposure to Totoro happened when Mei chased after a little Totoro and ended up finding Totoro's napping spot. All of this happened on-screen. These same things happened in this book as well, but for some reason the author chose to focus on Satsuki instead of Mei. Mei told Satsuki and her father what she'd experienced, but there was no evidence that any of it was real, rather than the dreams or imaginings of a child. The first on-page appearance of Totoro didn't happen until the bus scene. The ending was also altered slightly - the scene where Mei and Satsuki watched their mother and father from a tree didn't happen. I was at least glad that all the Catbus scenes were included.

The focus of this book seemed to be slightly more on the relationship between the two sisters and their barely-spoken-of fear that their mother might die and never come home, as well as the girls' growing independence as they adapted to rural life. It was lovely, but, as I said, I did miss some of the Totoro stuff. All in all, this was an excellent novelization that I'd definitely recommend to fans of the movie.

Extras:

Several illustrations (black and white sketches with maybe a watercolor wash?), including a color map of Matsugo, the place where the Kusakabe family moved. The map also gives the exact year this story took place, 1955, so I suppose this could be considered historical fiction.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-10-29 20:48
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

This is one of those books that I enjoyed fairly well, but don’t have many good things to say about. It’s the story of three generations of a Korean family living in Japan, beginning in 1932 (after a first chapter set in 1910) and ending in 1989. It’s interesting from a historical perspective (I was ignorant of Korean immigrants in Japan and how badly they were treated), and Lee is a good storyteller; the book kept me curious about what would happen next, generally without over-inflated drama and without veering too far into sentimentality (though at times the opposite occurs, and events like major character deaths aren’t really followed up on nor is their aftermath developed in the text).

 

However, I found myself much more engaged while reading it than driven to return after a break. While the characters don’t fall into simple stereotypes, they are not particularly deep or complex, and I felt little emotional attachment to any of them; likewise, the writing style is adequate but quite simple. Ultimately, it was perfectly enjoyable entertainment, but didn’t inspire much thought or feeling in me despite its rather chunky size.

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review 2018-08-19 17:40
If Cats Disappeared from the World
If Cats Disappeared from the World - Eric Selland,Genki Kawamura

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

An enjoyable read with an important message about the value we give to life, what we do with our lives, and what we’d be ready to sacrifice to extend them. Confronted to the prospect of dying very soon, in the next few months if not the next few days, the narrator is offered a bargain by the Devil itself, and a tempting one at that: for each thing he erases from the world, he gets to live one more day. Which quickly raises a lot of questions and conundrums, because if it’s worth earning more life time, it has to be a sacrifice… but if we sacrifice too much, is it worth keeping on living?

The chapter with the talking cat was well done, too: first because of the cat’s voice, second because he was very… feline (those bipeds never understand anything to cats, do they?), and third due to his selective memory, something that was sad, but also a reminder that we don’t know how animals think, and what we take for granted may not be what is important to them.

I did find the story too predictable, though, in that the message was obvious from the beginning, and completely expected considering the type of stories it usually goes with. There’s no real twist, nothing I didn’t see coming, and no ‘revelation’ either, if this makes sense—other novels on a similar theme already did it, and this one doesn’t go far enough with the associated tropes to rise above them all. (I also think that the Devil imposing choices about what to make disappear removed the possibility of things going awry because of the narrator: ‘he made me do it, so it’s not my fault’. I prefer when my protagonists make their own mistakes, and then atone for / learn from them.)

3.5 stars.

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review 2018-07-18 18:44
Good, if somewhat dated, overview of America's war in the Pacific and Asia
Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan - Ronald H. Spector

In the 1960s Macmillan began publishing a series entitled "The Macmillan Wars of the United States." Written by some of the nation's leading military historians, its volumes offered surveys of the various conflicts America had fought over the centuries, the strategies employed, and the services which fought them. Ultimately fourteen volumes were published over two decades, with many of them still serving as excellent accounts of their respective subjects.

 

As the last book published in the series, Ronald Spector's contribution to it serves as a sort of capstone to its incomplete efforts. In it he provides an account of the battles and campaigns waged by the United States against Japan in the Second World War, from the prewar planning and the assumptions held in the approach to war to the deployment of the atomic bombs that ended it. In between the covers all of the major naval battles and island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, as well as America's military efforts in the China-Burma-India theater. He rounds out his coverage with chapters discussing both the social composition of the forces America deployed and the complex intelligence operations against the Japanese, ones that extended beyond the now-famous codebreaking efforts that proved so valuable.

 

Though dated in a few respects, overall Spector's book serves as a solid single-volume survey of the war waged by the United States against Japan. By covering the efforts against the Japanese in mainland Asia, he incorporates an important aspect of the war too often overlooked or glossed over in histories of America's military effort against the Japanese, one that often influenced developments elsewhere in the theater. Anyone seeking an introduction to America's war with Japan would be hard pressed to find a better book, which stands as a great example of what Macmillan set out to accomplish when they first embarked upon the series.

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