Saturday, October 26, 2013

Vagabond #36

It's a bit intimidating picking up and start reading a series on the 36th volume, but I'm a huge fan of the work of Takehiko Inoue (井上雄彦) so I thought it was time to jump into the long running saga of Vagabond (バガボンド).

Although Inoue is most well known for the basketball classic Slam Dunk (スラムダンク), it was the annual wheelchair basketball series Real (リアル) that brought his work to my attention. All of Inoue's work shares a common theme, from Basketball to Bushido, they focus on artistic movement of the human body, and Inoue's amazing ability as an artist is shown in the care taken with the facial emotion of his characters.

Vagabond tells the story of Musashi Miyamoto (宮本武蔵), a ronin (masterless samurai), from the 16th-17th century. Inoue draws on the historical fiction of Eiji Yoshikawa (吉川英治), which has been translated in English by Charles Terry. Musashi himself was also an artist and author, his most famous work is the guide on strategy and tactics, The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書).

One of the most celebrated swordsman in Japanese history, there have been multiple film and TV adaptations of Mushashi's story. The most highly acclaimed being the 1955 Academy Award winning Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto directed by Hiroshi Inagaki (稲垣浩), and featuring samurai screen legend Mifune Toshiro (敏郎三舟).

Space Brothers #22

Space Brothers (宇宙兄弟) could more accurately titled Budget Meeting Guy. I have to commend Chuya Koyama (小山宙哉) for his realistic portrayal of the current state of the aerospace industry, but being consistently sidetracked by budgetary concerns doesn't make for an exciting or inspiring story. Hibito's continued absence removes the need for the 'Brothers' reference in the title.

In volume 22, Mutta and the Jokers crew continue their quest to save the ISS from cancellation, and we see the introduction of a Space-X type private company, Swing-by, who introduce a raft of new characters, and the surprising return of a few known characters. Hopefully with the introduction of Swing-by, we might actually see the return of some actual space missions.

I often think back to infrastructure that we saw during the original story arc that was covered in the movie adaptation, the previously establish moon base. It seems to disappeared along with the story to inspire kids to become interested in science, and was replaced with a pragmatic realism.

Morning Comics:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Asymptote - October 2013

The October 2013 issues of the quarterly literary translation journal, Asymptote, was released this week featuring a collection of contemporary translations from around the world. One of the feature articles is a short story by Yoko Tawada (多和田葉子), translated into English by Sim Yee Chiang.

In translating Soulflight (飛魂) Sim Yee Chiang has used the ambiguous nature inherent in the reading of Japanese kanji, deliberately employed by Tawada, and has used the Mandarin Chinese reading of characters names to highlight the foreignness and ambiguity that Japanese readers would face in the original text. Introducing an addition foreignness into the English translation to provoke a similar response in the reader. It makes the translator a visible part of the translation, which I know is frowned upon in some circles, but I personally welcome Sim Yee Chiang's personal intrusion into the translation.

I applaud Asymptote for providing the original Japanese text in parallel with the translation, and also a recorded reading of the original Japanese.

Yoko Tawada writes in both Japanese and German and has received numerous awards including the 1993 Akutagawa Prize for The Bridgegroom was a Dog (犬嫁入り). An English translation by Margaret Mitsutani was released in 2003.

Asymptote October 2013 Issuse:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Alice Munro and Haruki Murakami

Congratulations to Alice Munro on receiving this years Nobel Prize in Literature. I must admit that I'm not too familiar with her work. I've been hoping Cormac McCarthy will take the prize some day soon. But I know a lot of people here in Japan and abroad are championing for Haruki Murakami (村上春樹).

I'm not sure if it is careful planning or prescience from Murakami, but last month he released a collection of short stories from various international authors including one story from Alice Munro, Koishikte (恋しくて) - Ten Selected Love Stories, which I'm sure will charge back up the best sellers list this week in Japan. Murakami is a prolific translator of English literature, and he receives a lot of recognition for his work as a translator, which highlights the big difference between the valuation of translators in Japan and the second rate status they are afforded in English translations.

Yumiko Kotake (小竹由美子) is another translator who has translated a lot of Alice Munro's work into Japanese, including Too Much Happiness (小説のように), The View from Castle Rock (林檎の木の下で), and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (イラクサ). She has also translated works from John Iriving and Paul Torday.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Attack on Titan

Most of the people who stumble across this article are probably going to be more familiar with Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人) than I am. I don't read much shonen manga, but this is a series that has really gained a lot of attention and success over the last few years.

I picked up a new Sony PRS-T3 e-reader this week, it seems to have come under the radio without much fanfare. It's only an incremental update from the T2, but a big improvement from my old PRS-650. It included a few vouchers for the Sony e-reader store, so picked a few manga that I've been eyeing for a while, Attack on Titan was one of them.

Written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama (諌山創), the first volume was released 4 years ago, in October 2009. I'm really impressed with the novelty of the setting, it makes a change from ninjas, pirates, and giant mecha, but I'm having a hard time really caring about the one dimensional characters. There is a common trope in lot of shonen manga, anime, and JRPG, where the teenage protagonist saves the world. Although to be fair, it's not a trope limited to Japanese culture, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game suffers the same limitation. Adult characters are shown to be useless, incompetent fools who interfere with the potential of the youthful protagonists. In Attack on Titan, I have found myself cheering for the muted lumbering giants, because I feel like the characters Erin, Mikasa, and Armin are just bidding their time until they can fulfill their destiny and save the human race. Let me know if one of them gets eaten. That's a twist in the story that would increase my interest.

With several games, a spin-off manga series, it was really the anime that brought wider attention to the series. It was published by Wit Studio, a new animation studio formed in 2012, and directed by Tetsuro Araki (荒木哲郎) who worked for 10 years at Madhouse where he directed the anime adaptation of Death Note. For me, the marauding giants are the focal point of the series, and I feel that the anime is a successful adaptation of the source material, and even does a better job of capturing the giant's menacing and foreboding presence on the landscape.

Check out the author, Hajime Isayama's blog here:

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Unforgiven Review

I blogged about Lee Sang-il's (李相日) Unforgiven (許されざる者) a few weeks ago, but I thought I'd add my thoughts now that I've actually seen it.

Ken Watanabe (渡辺謙) does an amazing job filling Clint Eastwood's shoes in the main role, and is supported well by Yuya Yagira (柳楽優弥). Young Yagira plays a young alcoholic Ainu bandit, and outshines Jaimz Woolvett as the young side-kick from the original Unforgiven. I don't remember many other prominent Ainu characters or representations of Ainu culture in Japanese cinema. A similar but now extinct ethnic minority, the Emishi, were featured in Princes Mononoke.

Koichi Sato (佐藤浩市) is also mesmerizing as the power hungry law man, set on eradicating the 'outdated' rule of the samurai. He channels Gary Oldman's classic role from Leon, and I expect him to do well come award ceremony season.

The film's soundtrack by Taro Iwashiro (岩代太郎) also deserves some attention. The son of a songwriter, Iwashiro is known for his work with TV dramas, but recently moved in to the film domain. The western is a genre in that has had a huge impact on movie composers, largely thanks to the work of Ennio Morricone, the soundtrack acts as an additional role. So I was looking forward to a similarly distinguished soundtrack. Although some of the music in the early scenes were a bit distracting, I was really impressed with the music during the final act, I've been trying to track it down all week.

An all star cast re-enacting a highly well loved western classic, Unforgiven is bound to pick up a few Japanese Academy Awards, but it is sure to face some stiff competition from Hirokazu Kore'eda's Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる), and Hitoshi Matsumoto's R100.