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I watched my first Akira Kurosawa movie during my student days. It was ‘Rashomon‘. My college film club screened it. It was amazing. I have wanted to read Kurosawa’s memoir since then. I finally got a chance to read it.

In his autobiography, Kurosawa-San starts by describing his earliest memory. He goes on to tell us about his family, his favourite brother and sister (his family was big – he had seven siblings), his favourite aunt who looked like a person from the Meiji era, his childhood, his favourite teacher in school, his love for reading, how he got into writing and painting, some of the big events that impacted his life like the earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, how he was a left-leaning radical person for a few years and how he was part of the underground. All these form the first part of the book. In the second part, Kurosawa-San describes how he got into the film industry, and describes his time there. He describes events till the time his most famous film ‘Rashomon’ won the Golden Lion in the Venice Film Festival. The end of the book has an eight-page chapter in which Kurosawa-San shares his thoughts on filmmaking. It is an eight page education on the art of filmmaking and it is fascinating.

I loved the book very much. But I loved the first part more. Because in that part Kurosawa-San describes his family, his childhood, his teachers, and takes us to the Japan of that era. It is fascinating! Many readers would be more interested in the second part however, because of the insights it offers on filmmaking. Kurosawa-San’s prose is simple and spare. This enhances the impact of some of the moving scenes that he describes – the way his brother is protective towards him, how his favourite sister showers her love on him, the letter his favourite schoolteacher writes to him after he becomes a famous film director (I cried after I read that letter). Kurosawa-San is very frank and doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind on different things. He doesn’t hesitate to cast the same frank, critical eye on himself (In one place, while talking about his Luddite self, he says – “My son tells me that when I use the telephone it’s as if a chimpanzee were trying to place a call.” I laughed when I read that πŸ™‚ ) It is very refreshing. One more thing I love about the book is that in many places Kurosawa-San talks about his favourite books or mentions writers in context. I discovered many Japanese writers through these passages. I am hoping to read some of them, especially Shiba Ryotaro, who has written many epic historical novels.

The book ends in 1950. Kurosawa-San made films till around 1995 – that is nearly 45 years after the events in the book end. I wish there was a second part of this book, which covers that period.

Reading the book gave me goosebumps. Here was a person, who was from a middle-class family, who didn’t go to college, who struggled with finances and who was drifting one way and then another till he was twenty-six, who learnt every aspect of filmmaking on the job – this person became one of the greatest film directors of alltime. It is such an amazing story and it is so hard to believe. Kurosawa-San tells how it all happened in his inimitable style.

I loved Kurosawa-San’s book. It will definitely be one of my favourite books of the year and one of my alltime favourite memoirs. It is a book I’ll be reading again.

Have you read Akira Kurosawa’sSomething Like an Autobiography‘? What do you think about it?

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I got Kenzaburō Ōe’sA Personal Matter‘ as a gift from one of my favourite friends a long time back. It looked a bit dark and so I thought I’ll wait for the right time to read it. It looked like the right time arrived a few days back πŸ™‚

Bird works as a teacher in a cram-school. This is a kind of training institute where students are coached for entrance exams to university or taught English to improve their communication skills. Bird’s wife has given birth to a baby recently and both she and the baby are at the hospital. When Bird reaches the hospital, he discovers that his baby is not normal. It has something protruding out of its head, which looks like a smaller second head. The doctor says that they have to perform a surgery, but there is no guarantee that the baby will survive after the surgery and even if it does, there is no guarantee that it will grow up to be a normal person because there is a high probability that it will have to stay in bed for its whole life and would need constant care. Bird is very upset and depressed with this. He wants his baby to die but he feels guilty for wishing that. When Bird tries to take a break from this and distract himself, things start happening one after the other in rapid succession. First a few teenagers try beating him up. Then his father-in-law gives him a bottle of whisky, though he knows that Bird is a recovering alcoholic. Bird goes to an old friend’s place, gets drunk and stays over. He turns up with a hangover at work the next day and is later fired from his job. One misfortune after another happening in rapid succession – it was like watching Martin Scorsese’sAfter Hours‘. What happens after that and how the situation resolves itself forms the rest of the story.

I loved Kenzaburō Ōe’s prose. There were so many beautiful sentences sprinkled throughout the story. For example, there were sentences like this :

“Bird would have to answer questions honed on the whetstone of her curiosity and good will.”

And this :

“Either the woman was exhausted or she was signaling to Bird the approximate depth of the swamp of calamity he and his wife were mired in.”

And this :

“Like the dwarfs in illustrated books of fairy tales, he returned Bird’s gaze with a look of ancient prudence on his face…”

And this one :

“She too was heading for the north pole of disgruntlement.”

The prose was very different from that of other Japanese writers I have read. It almost felt like the book was written in English by a British or an Australian writer. I thought initially that this might be because of the translation. But then I read the translator’s note at the beginning of the book and it said this – “OΓ«’s style has been the subject of much controversy in Japan…There are critics in Japan who take offense. They cry that OΓ«’s prose “reeks of butter,” which is a way of saying that he has alloyed the purity of Japanese with constructions from Western languages.” I liked that explanation. So this is OΔ“’s style. So fascinating!

I liked ‘A Personal Matter‘. It is a complex book and so I am not able to say that I loved it. The main character Bird is a complex, flawed individual, but who also has a good, beautiful, adventurous side. It is hard to love him, it is hard to hate him. He does something interesting in the end, but I can’t tell you what he does, you have to read the story and find out. My favourite character in the book was Himiko. She is Bird’s best friend and sometimes doubles as his lover. She is a free spirit and a happy-go-lucky person and she is kind and wonderful and rebellious and unconventional. Such a fascinating character.

Kenzaburō Ōe has written many other novels and a nonfiction book about Hiroshima. I want to read that sometime.

Have you read Kenzaburō Ōe’sA Personal Matter‘? What do you think about it?

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ES : Eternal Sabbath‘ by Fuyumi Soryo was the first manga comic I ever got. I never got around to reading it. Today, finally, I did.

A nameless protagonist starts telling us the story. He is a young man. He tells us that he can get into other people’s minds, manipulate and change their thoughts, make them think that he is one of their friends. But he doesn’t do any harm. He is mostly indifferent to what is happening around. Sometimes he is curious. Very rarely, he intervenes in a situation to do something good. When he intervenes in a particular case, the affected person ends up in a hospital. As the case is strange it is investigated by the researchers in the medical university. Kujyou, who is a talented researcher is assigned this task. She discovers that our nameless narrator is involved in this. And she tracks him down. And sparks fly. You should read the book to find out what happens next.

ES‘ was a breezy read. The pages just flew, and before I knew, I had reached the last page. The artwork was beautiful, especially the pages depicting dreams and people’s minds and the feelings and desires inside them. The narrator and Kujyou were fascinating characters. There were some fascinating revelations in the end and there were also a few open ends which makes us want to read the next part.

Sharing some pictures from the book here.

Traditional book’s first page – this is one of my favourite pages from any manga comic, which asks us to stop.

First page of the story

Second page of the story

Kujyou

Have you read ‘ES‘? What do you think about it?

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I have read only two Haruki Murakami books, one nonfiction and one a collection of short stories. I thought it was time to read my first Murakami novel.

South of the Border, West of the Sun‘ is one of the early Murakami novels. It shows, because it is slim at around 190 pages. Murakami-San has moved on since, and these days he writes only chunksters. The story told in the book goes like this. Hajime, who is the narrator, talks about his life, from the time he was a kid. He talks about his beautiful friendship with Shimamoto in elementary school. They both are single children in their homes, which is very rare in the Japan of that time, and they bond very well together. But at some point they move to different schools and lose touch. Hajime describes his life in high school, his first girlfriend, his time in college, how he was stuck in a dead-end job, how he met a kind girl and fell in love with her and they got married and how his life changed significantly for the better after that. And one day, after twenty-five years, his childhood soulmate Shimamoto walks back into his life. The sudden, strange, unexpected changes that brings to his life, and the sudden long dormant feelings that spring up again in his heart and the crazy things he is ready to do and what happens after that and how it all ends – this is told in the rest of the book.

South of the Border, West of the Sun‘ is an interesting book. I thought the first chapter of the book was beautiful, exquisite, perfect. Somewhere after that the book slips and it is no longer perfect anymore. It is still interesting and I liked the story very much, and one of my favourite characters, Yukiko, makes her appearance in one of the subsequent chapters and stays there till the end, but that first chapter was perfect. It was like we were in the Garden of Eden, and then suddenly we were hurled into the real world which was complicated and messy. The story is engaging, we want to turn the pages and find out what happens next, there are beautiful passages throughout the book, the characters are beautifully sculpted, and they are beautiful, flawed and very human. The ending was interesting, even satisfying, with a perfect blend of unresolved mystery and good tying up of loose ends. I loved the cover of the book – it seems to be inspired by M.C.Escher’s famous series of paintings called ‘Circle Limit‘. Some birds in the picture appear to be smaller than the others. But in reality they are not. It is fascinating. Do google on Escher’s paintings to find out why.

I enjoyed reading ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun‘. It is a complex love story. I am the last person to read a Murakami novel, I think, but I am glad I read it.I won’t say that I have become a Murakami fan yet, because I think I love Banana Yoshimoto and Yoko Ogawa and Sayaka Murata more, but I think this is a good start and I hope to read more Murakamis in the future and see where things go.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. And in case you are wondering, it is from the first chapter.

“Of all her father’s records, the one I liked best was a recording of the Liszt piano concertos : one concerto on each side. I liked it for two reasons. First of all, the record sleeve was beautiful. Second, no one I knew – with the exception of Shimamoto, of course – ever listened to Liszt’s piano concertos. The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew – a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another plane of existence.
And the music itself was wonderful. At first it struck me as exaggerated, artificial, even incomprehensible. Little by little, though, with repeated listenings, a vague image formed in my mind – an image that had meaning. When I closed my eyes and concentrated, the music came to me as a series of whirlpools. One whirlpool would form and out of it another would take shape. And the second whirlpool would connect up with a third. Those whirlpools, I realize now, had a conceptual, abstract quality to them. More than anything, I wanted to tell Shimamoto about them. But they were beyond ordinary language. An entirely different set of words was needed, but I had no idea what they were. What’s more, I didn’t know if what I was feeling was worth putting into words. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the pianist now. All I recall are the colourful, vivid record sleeve and the weight of the record itself. The record was hefty and thick in a mysterious way.”

Have you read ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Haruki Murakami book?

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I read Yukio Mishima’s ‘Thirst For Love‘ sometime back. I thought I should read my next Mishima now.

In ‘The Sound of Waves‘, there is a young man called Shinji who works in a fishing boat. He is from a poor family, he has a simple heart, and he works hard. His father died during the war. Shinji lives with his mother, who works as a diver during the diving season, and his younger brother, who is in school. Things are going nicely for Shinji, when one day he meets a beautiful girl who is helping out on another fishing boat. He discovers that she is the daughter of a rich man. He can’t stop thinking about her. Something like this has never happened to Shinji before. Soon, while he is on an errand helping out his mother, he meets this girl again, and this time they are alone. Sparks fly between them and one thing leads to another – well, you have to read the book to find out more.

In ‘The Sound of Waves‘, Yukio Mishima takes the classic love story – boy meets girl and they fall in love, girl’s father hates boy, girl gets a rich suitor etc. – puts it in a fishing village in Japan and lets the events unfold and gives us a fascinating front-seat view. It is as if one day Mishima-San got up on the right side of his bed and told himself –

Okay, I have written about a monk who burns down a temple. I have written about the woman who kills the man she loves. What about a simple story with a ray of sunshine? What about a story in which two young people meet and fall in love? Why not write that? St.Francis of Assisi said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light from a single candle.” Why not light that candle here and see whether it dispels some of the darkness?

And then Mishima-San went and locked himself inside his room and wrote this book in one breath and completed it in the wee hours of the morning, before he could change his mind. And that is how we got ‘The Sound of Waves‘. Atleast that is the story I tell myself. That is the story I want to believe.

The Sound of Waves‘ is a beautiful celebration of young love. It is so famous that it has been made into many movies. I have seen atleast one of those movies. It is very different from the regular dark, intense fare we expect from Mishima. I loved it.

Have you read ‘The Sound of Waves‘? What do you think about it?

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The story told in Genki Kawamura’sIf Cats Disappeared From The World‘ goes like this. The unnamed narrator is a young man. One day he discovers that he has brain tumour and his days are numbered. While he is in shock still trying to process this news, the Devil turns up at this young man’s house. The Devil looks exactly like this young man, but is more cool, more stylish. And the Devil tells this young man that he is going to die the next day, but he can extend his life by one more day, if he decides to make one thing disappear across the world. And so it all begins. To find out what happens next and how it all ends, you should read the book.

In this book, Genki Kawamura takes the Faustian fable, makes the Devil stylish, puts a cat in it, sets the events in contemporary times, and we get a story which is charming, cool, stylish and humorous, but at the same time poignant, sad, insightful and heartbreaking. The story looks deceptively simple on the surface, but there is more to it than meets the eye, because that surface contains hidden depths. Genki Kawamura’s prose is stylish and charming and grabs our attention from the first sentence and doesn’t let go till the last. There is not a single unnecessary sentence, there is no wasted word. I loved most of the characters in the book, including the narrator’s cat Cabbage, who is featured on the cover.

I loved ‘If Cats Disappeared From The World‘. I can’t wait to read more of Genki Kawamura’s books.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.

“In order to gain something you have to lose something.
Mom said it was just obvious. People are always trying to get something for nothing. But that’s just theft. If you’ve gained something it means that someone, somewhere, has lost something. Even happiness is built on someone else’s misfortune. Mom often told me this, she considered it one of the laws of the universe.”

“Cabbage existed in a world without time. No clocks, no schedules, and no being late. And no such thing as categorizing people according to age or what year they are in school. And no vacations because there’s nothing to have a vacation from in the first place. There’s just the changes brought about by natural phenomena, and our physical response – like when you’re hungry or sleepy.”

“Cats and humans have been partners for over ten thousand years. And what you realize when you’ve lived with a cat for a long time is that we may think we own them, but that’s not the way it is. They simply allow us the pleasure of their company.”

Have you read ‘If Cats Disappeared From The World‘? What do you think about it?

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I got Hiromi Kawakami’sThe Nakano Thrift Shop‘ as a Christmas present from one of my favourite friends. I picked it up a couple of days back and couldn’t stop till I finished reading it.

Mr. Nakano owns a thrift shop which sells all kinds of things which others have given away, things like old furniture, a rice cooker from the ’70s, used clothes, old photographs, old plates, kitchenware, cigarette lighters, stuff like that. Nakano’s shop has a dedicated customer base, who like these things and buy them. Sometimes new customers come looking for specific things – like a plate with a particular design from the ’70s. People who are moving house or throwing away their old stuff call Mr.Nakano, and sell their stuff to him for throwaway prices, or give it to him for free, because it is cheaper than disposing them away properly, because they have to pay more if they did that. Our narrator Hitomi works in Nakano’s shop alongwith Takeo. Sometimes Nakano’s sister Masayo comes to help out. These four people are almost like family. The book follows the thrift shop adventures of these four, the interesting people they meet during the course of the day, their lives, their loves, their heartbreaks, their affairs, and everything in between. I won’t tell you more, you should read the book and discover their stories.

The Nakano Thrift Shop‘ is a charming book. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially our narrator Hitomi, Nakano’s sister Masayo, Nakano’s lover the fascinating Sakiko, Takeo who works in Nakano’s shop, and Hagiwara, a young man who tries to give an expensive, ancient bowl to the thrift shop. Hiromi Kawakami’s prose flows serenely like a river and once I started reading the book, I was taken away by this serene flow and couldn’t stop reading till I finished it. It was tranquil and serene and calming. It was like meeting your favourite person and listening to them talk.

One of the things that I loved about the book was the way it showcased Japanese culture. I love it when authors do that. I learnt many fascinating things through the book – for example, the different kinds of Japanese noodles, ramen, soba, tanmen, yakisoba, other Japanese food like katsudon, bento lunch, mochi rice cakes, something called the kotatsu (a table type thing with an attached heater – check it out in Wikipedia, it is fascinating), the Chinchirorin game, the furoshiki wrapping, Japanese actresses Kaoru Yumi and Seiko Matsuda, kazahana snow (the description in the book goes like this – “It had been snowing on and off since the morning. It’s called kazahana, when the snow is so fine like this, it seems as if it drifted in on the wind, Masayo said.“) It was fascinating reading about all this and doing research and learning more about Japanese culture.

I loved ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop‘. I look forward to reading more books by Hiromi Kawakami, especially ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo‘.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Over the course of an hour, three customers came in; one of them bought a pair of old glasses. I wondered why anyone wanted to buy glasses that weren’t the right prescription, but it turned out that old glasses were a sleeper bestseller at Mr.Nakano’s shop.
“People buy things exactly because they’re of no use,” Mr.Nakano liked to say. Is that how it is? I said.
“Hitomi, do you like useful things?” Mr.Nakano asked with a grin.”

“The thing is, there is always the chance that this person – the one you accused – might be dying.
When I was young, I didn’t think about people dying. But when you get to be my age, people can drop dead, just like that. In an accident. From an illness. By their own hand. By someone else’s hand. Or just naturally. People die much more easily at this age than when they are young.
They might drop dead right at the moment when you blamed them for something. They might die the very next day. Or a month later. Or smack in the middle of the following season. In any case, you never know when people of ripe age will just croak. It keeps you up at night.
Having to worry about whether someone is healthy enough to tolerate my fierce hatred or criticism before I decide to blame them – that’s what I call getting old.”

“…in contrast to the creepiness around him, Tadokoro gave off a pleasant smell. Rather than any particular cologne, the aroma seemed to have more of a warm presence, something like fragrant tea or freshly roasted rice cakes. The scent was completely different from the impression Tadokoro himself emanated.”

Have you read ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Hiromi Kawakami book?

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