‘In The Miso Soup,’ by Ryu Murakami

Novel, 1997 Intense, brutal and disarming novel about an American tourist and Tokyo’s seedier nightlife. On the one hand, the tension builds and there’s a momentum which gives this book a thrilling, almost voyeuristic page-turning quality; on the other, both the chances of Kenji and particularly Frank, and the situations they operate in, feel lonely and hostile and so lend the book an almost meditative … Continue reading ‘In The Miso Soup,’ by Ryu Murakami

“The Happiness of the Katakuris,” directed by Takashi Miike

Movie, 2001 Chaotic horror comedy musical tracking the ups but mainly the grisly downs of a family hotel deep in a countryside waiting for a road to bring trade. If all this sounds a little unwieldy, it is. The inventive, though redundant stop animation makes things even patchier. Nods to The Sound of Music, zombies and various subplots run along and run away from the … Continue reading “The Happiness of the Katakuris,” directed by Takashi Miike

“Goodbye Tsugumi,” by Banana Yoshimoto

Novel, 1989 A story of friendship between the narrator, Maria, and a curious, forthright and bullish friend in a Japanese seaside town. This is a book where the character of Tsugumi is writ large and plays a pivotal role in Maria’s life, and which seems to lurch about, precariously grabbing attention from family members, a suitor and a rather dispiriting group of local antagonistic kids. … Continue reading “Goodbye Tsugumi,” by Banana Yoshimoto

“When I Whistle”, by Shūsaku Endō

Novel, 1974 The story of a moderately successful businessman and his ruthlessly ambitious son, who’s learning his trade as a doctor. This is a story of social power, ceilings and ambition, as well as a generations, love and loyalties. These grand themes are moved along with a skillful poise in extremely accessible, flowing writing, which builds and keeps delivering. A powerful, enduring read, in which … Continue reading “When I Whistle”, by Shūsaku Endō

“Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri

Novel, 2019 A book which takes a while to settle down and which concerns itself with a family man turned tramp, and his tragic story and circumstances. Along the way, there’s a good deal going for this book, not least the greed and inhumanity built into a society and the circularity of history, written into the homeless shacks and Ueno’s cardboard city. A book which … Continue reading “Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri

"Fear and Trembling", by Amélie Nothomb

Fiction, 1999 The story of a Belgian woman’s rapid descent through the ranks of a Japanese corporation, which is funny, thought provoking and, in places, moving. All quite an achievement in such a slim volume which sees the protagonist struggle and opine on the differences between cultures and touching on the role of women in Japanese society. A brisk read running a few jokes, some … Continue reading "Fear and Trembling", by Amélie Nothomb