Now that the initial controversy has subsided I finally feel able to form and voice an opinion on Aku no Hana. The art style didn’t put me off, surprisingly. I actually had reservations about whether the main characters would be so flawed and twisted that it would be impossible to form any sort of attachment to, or interest in, what happens to them. It is in fact a breath of fresh air due to its unusual approach, and is a textbook example of ‘grimly compelling’.
I also started following the graphic novel after learning that it’s currently ongoing, and it’s a fascinating piece of work. Thematically it reminds me a little of, as some other viewers have pointed out, Shunji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-chou, plus Tetsuya Nakeshima’s Confessions but also a bit of Onani Master Kurosawa I think (only without the fapping). It’s a top-tier piece of suspenseful psychological character study that plunges a literary probe into the deepest recesses of its protagonists’ minds, and for this reason alone I’d recommend it.
The idea of taking on an online persona to escape the pressures of Real Life is hardly a new one. I found the effects of teen angst in the Internet Age in All About Lily Chou-Chou to be both effective and deeply moving, despite cultural barriers between me and foreigners a decade younger than I am. Taking this angle and running with it, Hiroshi Ishizaki’s light novel Chain Mail examines how the isolation and pressure of adolescence draws four total strangers together with fascinating results.
If you’re reading this blog at all you ought to be able to understand where Chain Mail is coming from with this. After finding it tucked away virtually unseen in the manga section of my local Waterstone’s and buying on impulse, I suspect the only people I know who’d appreciate its innovative ‘multiple viewpoint’ storytelling as I did are those I converse with online. The ‘net and the artificial realities it provides attract us all for very personal reasons but the overall promises of diversion and communication are the same.
Satoshi Kon’s animated adaptation of Tsutsui’s novel Paprika shouldn’t need much of an introduction; at least I hope not since I can’t give an objective view on the film given the immense amount of respect I have for Kon as a director. I’m glad I found out about the English translation of the novel though, not least because Tsutsui is apparently one of Japan’s most well-known science fiction authors; he has a reputation for being notoriously outspoken and prolific, and even wrote the original Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I like him already.
Before launching into the post proper I must admit I found the film more enjoyable than the novel, even putting my love of Kon’s style into account. A story that melds dreams and reality works better for me on screen and I found Kon’s take on the plot (as condensed as it was) to be a bit more cohesive. It captured the spectacle of dreams more effectively, and the mystery of the antagonist(s) was held out longer. That said, Tsutsui’s version is still worth a read whether you’ve seen the film or not.
As far as fans of sharp, contemporary Japanese psychological thrillers are concerned, Ryu Murakami is often the first names that spring to mind. Quite rightly too considering he wrote the original novel of Audition and has several of his other works published in English in recent years: I have to say I really enjoyed Audition and can easily see how it was made into such a popular film (which, to my shame I STILL haven’t seen). In the Miso Soup is in some ways pretty similar but interesting in aspects I never expected; I don’t see it as such a good contender for on-screen adaptation though.
The story follows Kenji, a young freelance Tokyo tour guide who takes an American businessman called Frank around town on a ‘sex tour’ of the city’s nightlife during the lead-up to New Year’s Eve. There are one or two things that seem amiss with Kenji’s new customer from the start but Kenji rejects the alternative of a quiet time with his girlfriend in favour of some much-needed work. He soon begins to regret his decision to accept this lucrative offer when a darker and more dangerous side to Frank begins to emerge.
Here’s something that confused me at first: there are not one but two acclaimed writers by the name of Murakami. Haruki Murakami (my hero) is well-known for a quirky, contemplation-filled writing style and a quietly introspective look on contemporary Japanese society; Ryu Murakami also takes an interesting and occasionally controversial approach to social commentary and has quite a following among fans of modern fiction too. The similarities end there though: Haruki’s prose dabbles in metaphysics and a dreamlike, melancholic vibe (reminiscent of the philosophy that’s the namesake of this very blog) but Ryu’s work is darker and edgier.
Takashi Miike’s feature film adaptation of Audition acquired a cult following, which to my shame still sits on my ‘to watch’ list. On the flipside, reading the original novel first sits well with my personal preference for experiencing the original before any adaption, so I now feel even more eager to see Miike’s take on the story. RM’s novel is the tale of Aoyama, a man who has lived several years as a single parent following the death of his wife Ryoko. His son Shige suggests he should remarry so with the help of his friend Yoshikawa he looks for a suitable candidate under the pretext of a bogus film audition; a ruse that introduces him to the enigmatic Asami Yamazaki.