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.
There is undoubtedly of plethora of well-intentioned books published in the last few years attempting to encompass and explicate the rise, prominence and development of Japanese horror films. Lord knows I've read far more than my fair share of them. I've reviewed a few here on SaruDama but the vast majority are still stacked in the corner of my room somewhere.
In my experience and if truth be told, seldom have I sat down to read a book on Japanese film genre and found it a page turner. By far and away, most of them, including the widely touted ones, amounted to reading an encyclopedia (ZZzzz..) or something akin to a stodgy biography of a truly interesting soul whose biographer turns him/her into the bland and boring. So there they sit, stacked in the corner; a dusty monument to misplaced enthusiasm.
Despite that tragic tale, I am rather energized and confident in bringing to your attention Jim Harper's Flowers From Hell: The modern Japanese film. This was in fact a very fun read, not only in terms of Harper's clear and readable writing style but also due to the rather impressive amount of content he covers. Regardless of one's degree of exposure to Japanese horror films, the search for souls who can tell us more never ceases. No one is interested for long in mere disseminaters of static, disjointed facts and fans of the visual and emotional medium of Japanese film are cognitively accustomed to a more coherent, vibrant, narrative whole. I know I strongly prefer such writers and I find Harper among that small group.
Wisely enough, even at first impression Flowers distinguishes itself by intentionally conveying the experience of Japanese film rather than a mere catalog of it. The book's odd dimensions, glossy cover and sleek profile will rightfully cause organized book lovers to place this in their ART section alongside other similarly dimensioned and glossied volumes. And with its 33-page section of high-gloss color prints of visually entertaining and exorbitant film posters, I can think of no better place.
The book contains nine chapters plus informative extras such as the helpful (and unique) English <-> Japanese title reference. The chapters progress both chronologically and topically via Harper's accurate demarcation of overarching tendencies in the evolution of Japanese horror film. Dividing J-Horror's history into digestible categories, Harper opens the door for a very interesting comparison of seemingly disparate films which nonetheless share a common momentum. In varying degrees of depth, the range of discussion encompasses seminal films from the 50's and 60's to the most recent genre shakers. And by "most recent" is NOT meant RING or JUON. Harper truly distances himself from his competitors by including truly contemporary films of significance.
For example, he offers a very thorough discussion of both Death Note films, neither of which have yet been formally released in the West but which are certainly headed your way at some point. Thus as a case in point, there is easily far more information and back story in Flowers regarding these not-yet-available films than readers can find elsewhere. As I've said above, I am rather familiar with filmography books dealing with this genre and I cannot think of another Western text which actually delves this fully into future offerings. I find this both encouraging and impressive. And there are plenty of other noteworthy aspects to Flower which can be mentioned.
As a full-fledged fan of Nobuo Nakagawa, I was pleased to see Harper's full treatment of his significant contribution as a pioneer in the genre. (Thank you Jim.) Now if only we could get Nakagawa's classic films released to western audiences....
Also, as a true NON-fan of Japanese gore films, I confess I couldn't stop reading Harper's detailed and whimsical treatment of the sub-genre in chapters with titles like "Splatter and Beyond" (chapter 2) and "Psychos and Serial Killers" (chapter 4). Again, the degree of back story provided here truly makes even these hardest of films accessible to the inquisitive reader. Has this book changed my mind about watching films based on gruesome dismemberment? Hell no. But THANK YOU Jim for watching this stuff so I don't have to.
There's plenty more of course, but I'll leave the discovery up to you. I'll just say that reading this was actually a fun and smooth ride, as close to a filmography page-turner as you'll likely ever encounter. Plus there's a lot of glossy eye-candy to enhance your dazed interim.
I also have a theory regarding why this book is (a) so easily readable, (b) chocked full of detail, and (c) actually aware of forth-coming films. My suspicion is that this (highly effective) writing style stems from the fact that Jim Harper also writes predominantly online where attention spans are mere seconds and where writing must be simultaneously entertaining and universal.
I SWEAR, there is a complete doctoral dissertation contained in the question of how predominantly internet-based authors exceed in communicating with (like-minded) contemporary audiences more effectively than old-school paper authors do. Somehow I can easily imagine that the rate of "data exchange" between author and reader increases significantly with more techno saavy, immediate-text-based readers. (When you write that dissertation and earn your PhD, forget not SaruDama.)
A word on availability
At the time of this review (July 30, 2008) Flowers From Hell is available immediately only through amazon.co.uk (and as pre-order via Amazon.com). Despite widespread confusion, let me tell you that any US soul with either an existing US Amazon account or a credit card can purchase from the amazon.co.uk site. Both your credit card and Amazon will handle the currency exchange for you.
And the very cool part is that even with the currency conversion rate and air shipping thrown in, you will likely pay less than the scheduled US price. (Although US Amazon lists its price, it does not venture a US publication date.)
So try your hand at buying "globally", save some money and get this book months before its becomes available in the US. You won't be disappointed.