An Artist Of The Future World

by Thomas O’Dwyer

Klara & the SunFor some time, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro has been slyly replacing Dame Iris Murdoch as the author to whom I most regularly return. His enchanting and disturbing new novel, Klara and the Sun, his first since winning the 2017 Nobel Prize, is unlikely to diminish this trend. I wrote in a previous column: “Iris was my ‘first’ at age 15 – first adult novelist and first woman writer, and she has remained fixed in my affections over the decades. Under the Net was also her first novel, published in 1954.” Time has moved on from Murdoch’s vanishing fictional worlds, from their now decrepit or deceased characters and their dated opinions. In recent decades we have been hovering on the fuzzy frontier of a strange near-future which many of us will not live to see clearly. Ishiguro seems to have a glimpse of it, and his vision leaves his readers both curious and queasy. Iris Murdoch can lead us, like Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, “link by link along the iron chains of memory to the city which we inhabited so briefly together.” It’s a firm and familiar journey, remembering the foreign country of the past. Ishiguro is eerier — he seems to be forcing us to remember the future. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it already feels as familiar and uncomfortable as our own past mistakes.

Ishiguro’s first novel was A Pale View of Hills, but the first I read was An Artist of the Floating World. Both dealt with post-war Japan, so, given his name and topics, I lazily assumed this was a new Japanese writer in translation. Was he perhaps someone who would transcend his native language and become an international star like Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez or Portugal’s José Saramago? Of course, he was not. He’s more like an Iris Murdoch, a rare specimen of a quintessentially English writer who arrived in England from somewhere else and, like her, became British enough to be knighted by the Queen. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki. When he was five, his scientist father accepted a research post in England at the National Institute of Oceanography. The family settled permanently at Guildford in Surrey. Ishiguro had a complete British education, from grammar school to Kent University and a creative writing master’s degree at East Anglia University. He published A Pale View of Hills in 1982, aged 28. Read more »

Video roundup: Japan (plus one from China)

by Dave Maier

I am a big fan of Japanese cinema, and in the past year I've seen some really great stuff. These are neither the most famous nor the most obscure films out there, just some I saw and liked. I generally try to avoid spoilers, plus my memory of a couple of these films is a ltttle foggy, so I will be light on plot details here. Many of these films are available through the Criterion Collection, and there are trailers there, so check 'em out.

House Jigoku Kuronekobox

Let's start with the horror. Not “J-Horror”, exactly, which term I associate more with films like Ringu (Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge) and their descendants. First we have:

House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

I expected this one to be weird, and it certainly is, but not in the way I thought. According to Chuck Stephens,

What Toho Studios was hoping for when it hired Obayashi [who had been in advertising for several years at the time] was a homegrown Jaws: a locally produced summer movie roller coaster sufficiently thrill-chocked to at least partially deflect the ongoing onslaught of Tokyo-box-office-topping New Hollywood hits from Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas—something fast and loud, with tons of fun packed between screams.

What they got was “a modern masterpiece of le cinéma du WTF?! […] a film that must be seen to be believed, and then seen again to believe that you really did see what you think you saw.” It's too dizzying to be as fun as it relentlessly presents itself as being, but for some of you (you know who you are), a must-see, if only for the scene where Melody, the musician among the seven appropriately named teen houseguests, is devoured by a grand piano.

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Tokyo, Almost-Encounters, and “Passing By”

After a long day of walking Tokyo_red around Tokyo I often catch myself thinking, “Well, I guess today wasn't to be the day that I bump into her.” Is it really so ridiculous to think that I might? Sure, it may be a city of nearly twelve million, but the odds of meeting my ex-girlfriend on the train or passing her on the street can't really be that low, can they? By my calculations, it’s an even fifty-fifty: either I see her or I don't. At least that's how it feels.

To Pass By
Once while browsing at the library, I came across a book that began with a dentist and a patient chatting during a minor medical procedure. The patient, if memory serves, was a professor of Chinese history. So where ya from, asks the doctor? China. What Province? Szechuan. Ya know, the doctor chuckles, I only know one Chinese guy, a dentist from Szechuan. His name is X. D’ya _MG_0504 happen to know him? Actually, says the astonished patient, that's my uncle!

The author’s point was not that it’s a small world after all, but rather, that docs and profs really only move within the smallest slices of a rather large world. Nor is this phenomenon limited to cosmopolitan elites. When I used to drift around New York City, I would often see folks in MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) uniforms, far from any train station or bus stop, greeting each other by first name: Hi Derrick. How’s it going there, Carroll? It’s true that for the MTA, city-streets behave as the office hallway, food trucks as the cafeteria, stations as cubicles; but still, shouldn’t these folks feel just the littlest surprise when running into each other inside this impossibly large office building? It would seem that city-space just operates differently for the transit authority than it does for those of us who merely pass through the city’s streets in transit. How it all works I can't presume to know.

Passing By in Tokyo
If chance encounters happen at all in Tokyo, they happen in the small slices; at the bike-shop, the record-store, a favorite watering hole. But for most of us, most of the time, Tokyo is a city of almost-encounters and near-misses, a city of shared space – shared not simultaneously, but by turns. It is a city defined by 'passing by.’

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