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The Summer of the Ubume
[Ubume no Natsu]

Genre: Traditional Folklore Mystery Horror
Author: Natsuhiko Kyogoku (1994)

review in one breath

After Sekiguchi runs across a strange story he intends to publish for his supernatural-fueled tabloid, he soon finds it contains more horrific truth than he can wrap his head around. With the help of his clever and well-read friend Kyogokudo, he delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, a trajectory which will have him questioning his sanity, metaphysics and the overlap of Reality with the supernatural realm. This was the first novel by one of Japan's up and coming Mystery/Horror authors, Natsuhiko Kyogoku.



otakumag.com

Genre: Japanese Culture, Art, Manga and Film

review in one breath

The latest issue of Otaku Magazine is now available. This one is entitled "Play" and focuses on the themes of players and play in all its manifestations. I've been a fan of Otaku Mag since I first ran across it a year ago. Its dedication to Japan-inspired art and technology is thoroughly entertaining, and its glossy visual presentation sets a very high standard for underground publications.

This issue is being published as a limited release, so if you are interested in ordering it, I recommend you do so quickly. The issue is expected to sell out soon. For info on ordering and the new issue's contents, keep reading.



The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
[Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru]

Genre: Zen-Like Contemplative Japanese Fiction
Author: Haruki Murakami (1997)

review in one breath

After losing his cat, the laid-back and unemployed Toru Okada embarks on a bizarre adventure which not only jars him out of his mundane existence but calls into question the fabric of his waking Reality. If you're reading this you are likely interested in cutting-edge contemporary Japanese Horror and Superstition. I don't claim to be a literary critic, but from what I know and love of this genre I truly want you guys and gals to consider reading some of this stuff as its crests in Western literary circles.



Flowers From Hell: The modern Japanese horror film

Genre: Thorough Exploration of Contemporary Japanese Horror

Author: Jim Harper (2008)

review in one breath

Penned by our good friend Jim Harper, Flowers From Hell offers a highly readable and detailed exploration through the labyrinthine corridors of Japan's horror cinema. In contrast to many recent books on this topic, Harper wisely avoids the "catalog" approach and instead offers readers a thorough, engaging and often humorous discussion of J-Horror's chronological and topical developments. Fans of Japanese Horror, whether nOOb or veteran, will easily find this book both entertaining and educational.



Real World [Riaru Warudo]

Genre: Urban Youth Culture - Crime Drama

Author: Natsuo Kirino (2008)

review in one breath

In an urban Tokyo neighborhood, the world of four high school girls is turned inside out when an acquaintance brutally kills his mother and flees using one of their bikes and cell phone. Progressively told from the perspective of each of the four girls and the killer himself, this novel plumbs social and relational depths facing contemporary Japanese youth. This is the latest novel by author Natsu Kirino to be translated into English.



After Dark
[Afuta Daku]

Genre: Zen-Like Contemplative Japanese Fiction
Author: Haruki Murakami (2007)

review in one breath

In the darkest hours of night, between midnight and the break of dawn, when humanity succumbs to its natural, evolutionary escape from life and work in the form of dreams, a potentially unnatural and dream-like Reality emerges, revealing a transient depth which most waking souls know nothing of. This is the latest national best-selling novel by ethereal Japanese author Haruki Murakami whose unique obsession and compelling explorations deftly capture the often blurred boundary between the conscious and the subconscious, the natural and the supernatural.



Otaku Magazine: Kaidan Issue

otakumag.com

Genre: Japanese Culture, Art, Manga and Film
Author: Otaku Staff & International Contributors

review in one breath

The new issue of Otaku Magazine, dedicated wholly to traditional Japanese Kaidan is now available. This highly-polished and glossy art magazine offers international purveyors and fans of Japanese art, manga and otaku-dom a very thorough and broad quarterly glimpse into the latest and greatest eye-candy from Japan. This is a bilingual publication catering to both English and Romanian audiences interested in the contemporary Japanese art scene. And dare I mention their Kaidan issue features an article by yours truly? (Apparently I dare.)



Otaku Magazine

otakumag.com

Genre: Japanese Culture, Art, Manga and Film
Author: Otaku Staff & International Contributors

review in one breath

Otaku Magazine is a relatively new and visually stunning international publication dedicated to a fascination with Japanese art and culture. Published in both English and Romanian languages, each quarterly issue is brimming with top quality interviews, content and superb graphical layouts. From front to back, its glossy, colorful pages deliver a full and professional interaction with contemporary Japanese manga and artists. This thoroughly impressive and upcoming project deserves the recognition and support of the broader international community of Nippon fandom.



Kafka on the Shore [Umibe no Kafuka]

Genre: Exemplar Contemporary Japanese Fiction
Author: Haruki Murakami (2005)

review in one breath

Just in case you are not amongst the cutting-edge literati, I'm here to tell you that Japanese author Haruki Murakami has trumped the (U.S.) 'National Bestseller' list with two novels which are WELL worth your consideration as fans of Japanese Supernaturalism, hints of traditional folk lore, and downright strange goings-on. If you're looking for a good summer read, this is definitely one to put on your list.



Birthday [Baasudei]

Genre: Horror
Author: Koji Suzuki (1998)

review in one breath

This is the final of Suzuki's four books dedicated to the Ring saga. It is a collection of three stories, each involving an exploration into the situations and plights of three female characters mentioned elsewhere in the other novels. One of the three tales was the basis for the film "Ring 0: Birthday", and as a whole, the collection provides a satisfactory and reflective conclusion to the very detailed and complex world of Suzuki's Ring narrative.



Loop [Ruupu]

Genre: Sci-Fi Apocalypse
Author: Koji Suzuki (1998)

review in one breath

Loop is the third novel in author Koji Suzuki's Ring Trilogy and presents a wholly unexpected and mind-boggling conclusion to the horror tale's trajectory. It is set in a Post-Sadako era where a newly identified genetic virus which is decimating the world's population. We follow Kaoru Futami, a young medical student, as he follows a confusing set of clues which may hold the key to understanding and perhaps defeating the deadly viral pandemic. In consistent form, author Suzuki combines the intricacies of biological evolution with visionary science fiction to explore the origin and implications of the original Sadako's cursed video tape.



Spiral [Rasen]

Genre: Japanese Horror, Dark Science
Author: Koji Suzuki (1995)

review in one breath

Spiral is the second of author Koji Suzuki's four Ring-related books. It follows a relatively brief period in the life of medical examiner Mitsuo Ando, from the day he performs the autopsy on Ryuji Takayama (from the first novel) to the full-blown unleashing of the Ring Virus into the world. This is another page turner in Suzuki's highly readable and engaging storytelling. It offers a complex and riveting unveiling of the darker powers and intent behind Sadako Yamamura's video tape curse of the original novel.



J-Horror: The definitive guide to The Ring, The Grudge and beyond

Genre: J-Horror Filmography
Author: David Kalat (2007)

review in one breath

This recently published book by US author David Kalat delves deeply into the major films in the international J-Horror craze. Through a purely Western perspective, Kalat offers a very rich and thorough treatment of the history, details, trends and people behind exemplar films of this genre. I found this to be a very informative and entertaining exploration into the J-Horror phenomenon.



Ring [Ringu]

Genre: Japanese Horror
Author: Koji Suzuki (1991)

review in one breath

After having seen all the Japanese and US film adaptations of the Ring horror tale, I thought I better read the original text by author Koji Suzuki. I was pleasantly surprised. Even though I was familiar with the storyline, I couldn't put this book down once I started reading. And yes, there are some insightful portions which never made it into the movies.



review in one breath

Here is a very recent and rare text covering many "fringe" Japanese directors of yakuza film whose work has become in the last decade increasingly popular amongst Western audiences. Each of the fourteen chapters deals with a seperate individual and consists of a detailed professional biography, a thorough exploration of primary/relevant films, and a transcript of an interview the author himself conducted with the director/actor.



The indigenous religion of Japan is Shinto (神道), the "Way of the Gods". The central text of Shinto is the Kojiki (古事記), which outlines the ancient mythology whereby Japan's ancestral gods and lands were born. If you've ever taken a course in World Religions, you know how crucial myths are to any culture. Core myths explain why we do what we do; why we live like we live. For example, the Judaeo-Christian Creation story explains such things as why humans differ qualitatively from animals, why there is evil and death in the world, and why we get weekends off from work to sit around watching Japanese movies. Similarly, the Japanese creation story, contained in the Kojiki provides the central ancient explanation as to why Japanese do what Japanese do, etc.

It should be no surprise that contemporary publications of the Kojiki include manga versions aimed at educating and entertaining Japanese youth (and cartoon-loving gaijin). The following are scans of a manga version I picked up in Ikebukuro.



Japan : A Short Cultural History

Genre: Japanese History
Author: George Sansom (1931)

review in one breath

While the number of good academic texts on Japanese history is innumerable, here is one I picked up a decade ago in Ikebukuro and haven't stopped consulting since. The chronological scope of this book ranges from the Kojiki myths to the end of the Tokugawa Era. As the title suggests, Sansom focuses primarily upon cultural rather than purely political/economic developments (though these are included). Thus herein the focus is upon the development and evolution of literature, art, religion and philosophy.

As a primer to pre-Meiji Japanese culture, I can wholly recommend this valuable book.



Yankees in the Land of the Gods : Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan

Genre: Japanese History
Author: Peter Booth Wiley (1991)

review in one breath

Author Booth Wiley has done some immaculate research here and lays this early history out in a narrative which is easily read and engaging. The apex of the historical tale is the role of Commodore Perry in opening Japan to the Western world, but this is about so much more than Perry's own adventures. Fundamental aspects of early Japanese culture and characters come to life and are given an invaluable historical context, including even the minute details of how each local region treated these mysterious foreigners. It is also filled with excellent original illustrations, maps and photos of the encounters, including Japanese art depicting the sunken-eyed, large-nosed Westerners.

This book seems to be out of print and rather obscure but you can buy it very cheaply on Amazon. I even had to upload my own cover scan so Amazon could show a graphic.



Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese

Genre: Japanese Language / Kanji Dictionary
Author / Publisher: Kenneth Hanshall / Tuttle (3rd ed., 2003)

review in one breath

Out of all the many books I have used to help acquire the Japanese language, Tuttle's Guide has undoubtedly been the MOST helpful and most used. One the one hand, this reference provides an excellent (and highly useable) dissection of *each* of the almost 2000 basic Kanji characters promulgated by the Japanese educational department. On the other hand, it conveniently indexes these 2000 Kanji by (a) pronunciations and (b) number of strokes, I simply cannot tell you how often I had to resort to "number of strokes" to decipher an otherwise unintelligible character. This book has literally been priceless to me.



The Kanji Dictionary

Genre: Japanese Language / Kanji Dictionary
Author: Mark Spahn (1996)

review in one breath

This has been my primary Kanji Dictionary for several years. It is impressively comprehensive, covering over 7,500 single Kanji characters (compare this to the Japanese Ministry of Education's list of 1850 "standard" Kanji) and almost 47,000 multi-character compounds. The dictionary itself is about 1700 pages.



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