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Posts Tagged ‘japanese’

Book Review: The Girl from the Well (Series, #1)

Book Review: The Girl from the Well (Series, #1)Summary:
A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret – one that would just killto get out.

Review:
The official pitch on this one is that it’s Dexter meets The Grudge but what I heard about it was it’s another version of the Japanese myth that The Ring is based on. (After reading it, I can tell you that this is true). I was absolutely batshit terrified of The Ring when I first watched it. I must admit that I read this description and expected the book to me meh compared to the movie based on the same myth. This low expectation is what kept the book from being a disappointing read for me.

I found the writing to be overwrought and trying too hard for the actual genre and plot. Like when the small town seamstress thinks she’s a haute couture fashion designer. For instance:

His mind tastes like sour wine, a dram of sake left out in the dark for too long. (location 63)

Bear in mind that this passage is about a ghost girl who murders child killers/rapists. It’s a pretty passage; it just doesn’t fit.

As far as the plot goes, while I really liked the ghost, the tattooed boy’s plot rubbed me the wrong way. His mother is deemed mentally ill, partially for trying to kill him and tattooing him when he was a child. We later find out that rather than being mentally ill she was battling literal evil spirits, one in particular who wanted to go out and wreak havoc on the world. To try to bind the spirit, she decides to sacrifice her own child to the evil spirit by using him as an anchor, basically, to bind him. So after a bunch of the book basically saying hey the kid should forgive his mother because she’s ill we find out she did this act. I feel like the book wants me to think it’s heroic, but I thought it was sick. The way I felt the book wanted me to feel and the way I actually felt about the situation made me uncomfortable with the rest of the book and struggling with who to root for. Others may feel less conflicted than me over this part of the plot.

Overall, it’s a unique plot that other readers may enjoy more than myself.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla

Back side of woman in Chinese dress holdng an umbrella.Summary:
After Kristallnacht, Franz Adler, a secular Austrian Jew, is desperate to save the remaining members of his family–his daughter Hannah and sister-in-law Esther.  The only place they’re able to find letting in refugees is the relatively border-lax Shanghai.

Meanwhile, Mah Soon Yi, aka Sunny, the daughter of a Chinese doctor and American missionary, is trying to deal with the partial Japanese occupation of her home city of Shanghai while working as a nurse in one of the large hospitals and volunteering in the Jewish Refugee Hospital.

Review:
It’s difficult to review a book that the author obviously put a lot of research effort into, as well as passion for social justice, but that I just personally didn’t end up liking.  The story itself isn’t bad, if a bit far-fetched.  Clearly based in fact and solid research.  I believe the problem lies a bit in the writing.

When I read historic fiction, I like seeing history through the eyes of one person (possibly two).  It brings the huge picture you get otherwise down to a personable level.  The problem with this book is that it kind of fails to keep things at that personal level.  There’s far too much contact with actual big movers and shakers from the historic events.  How the heck is this Dr. Adler in so much contact with the Japanese and Nazi elite?  One scene like that can be quite powerful in a book, but not multiple ones.  It takes it from the realm of historic fiction to that of fantasy.

Additionally, I feel that a bit too often Kalla tells instead of shows.  Two characters will be talking about something the reader doesn’t yet know about, such as how the city of Shanghai is set up politically, and instead of putting it into the dialogue, the book just says “And then he told him about thus and such.”  That makes for dull reading.

So, really, to me, the plot itself is unique in choosing a population and area of WWII that is not written about that much.  The author clearly did his research and has a passion for the time period and issues faced by the people, but the story would be better served if it was made more about the everyman and dialogue and action were used more effectively.

Overall, this is a unique piece of historic fiction that will mainly appeal to fans of the genre looking for a new area of WWII to read about.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The Last Manchu: The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China by Henry Pu Yi, translated by Paul Kramer

August 16, 2011 3 comments

Small Asian boy in dragon robes.Summary:
Henry Pu Yi became the last emperor of China when he was almost three years old.  During the chaos of a post-WWI China fighting between republics and war lords, he would periodically rule, be a figurehead, or be in hiding on foreign-held embassy land.  Working with the Japanese in WWII he sought to refind his throne by ruling as the figure-head of the Japanese-held Manchuria region.  He then was held prisoner by the Soviets for five years before being turned over to the communist Chinese for thought reform.

Review:
Although the translator states that Henry Pu Yi’s life is an excellent way to examine how China survived so many upheavals in the early 20th century, after reading the autobiography I simply cannot agree.  Henry Pu Yi’s life was incredibly unique and absolutely not a reflection of what was really going on in China at the time.  If anything, he seemed to operate from an oblivious perspective up until the communists kind of smacked him in the face with reality.  For instance, during the time of chaos, civil wars, and famine in China prior to WWII, he states:

Just as food was cooked in huge quantities and not eaten, so was a vast amount of clothing made which was never worn. (location 544)

When reflecting on his past perspectives, it is evident that his past self did not understand why such wastefulness would infuriate China’s poor or make them push for a republic via Chiang Kai-shek.  Of course, one cannot entirely blame Henry Pu Yi for this short-sightedness.  He was raised from a young age being treated as a god by all those around him, being told it was his destiny to be the holy emperor.  That would mess with anyone’s mind.  However, as he became older he did have teachers and advisors who tried to enlighten him, he just refused to listen.

Eventually, Henry Pu Yi reached this odd mental compromise where he believed everything Western was good, except for their ruling system.

I also became far more convinced than I had ever been in the days when Johnston was with me that everything foreign was good and everything Chinese, except the Imperial System, was bad.  (location 2184)

His selfish mindset saw everything good he himself could garner from the west, but didn’t seek out anything positive to change or do for his people.  This self-centeredness in a ruler is disturbing at best.

This is even more evident during the time of his life when Pu Yi was puppet ruling for Japan in Manchukuo (Manchuria).  Pu Yi increasingly came to fear more and more for his life as it became more evident that Japan would lose the war.  The more afraid he was, the more he beat members of his household and staff.  Yet he simultaneously claimed to be a good Buddhist who would not even harm a fly.  It seems the only thing Pu Yi excelled at was compartmentalizing his actions.  A former servant of Pu Yi summed up his personality quite eloquently during one of the criticism sessions of the communist thought reform:

Pu Yi is both cruel and afraid of death. He is suspicious, tricky and a hypocrite. When he beat or scolded his servants, it was not for mistakes they committed, but due to his own mood at the time. (location 4020)

Pu Yi, for most of his life, was incredibly selfish.  He was obsessed with his own death and life and with maintaining his emperor status.  He cared little to nothing for those around him or for the people of China.  One must wonder how things may have been different if a strong, selfless man had been made emperor during the same time period.

Thus for most of the autobiography, we’re reading about a most unsympathetic man from his own perspective.  That can become a bit tough to endure.  The light of the autobiography comes in the last quarter of the book, though, when he recounts his time in thought reform.

The translator refers to this time period as Pu Yi being brainwashed.  I can’t say that it appeared that way to me at all.  Pu Yi was not tortured, made to starve, or beaten.  He was simply placed in prison and reformed.  Frankly, I think his time in communist prison did him a world of good.  Suddenly he was having to fend for himself.  Where before he never even had to open a door or mend a button, suddenly he did.  Slowly the communists gave him more and more responsibilities so that eventually he was on the same cleaning and work rotation as the other men in the prison.  Pu Yi says himself that he came to realize how truly useless he was at doing anything worthwhile.  Although at first he blames those who raised him, he comes to acknowledge his own bad character eventually, being ashamed for how he behaved.  When he is eventually deemed reformed by the communists, he enters society as an equal and works hard to do his fair part.  Personally I think if American prison systems could have this kind of excellent 180 result, we would soon see a much smaller inmate population.  For isn’t the purpose of prison supposed to be reform?  And one cannot deny that Pu Yi came out a better man than he went in, even if communist China has made many other mistakes, it is evident with Pu Yi things were handled quite well.  A man was reformed and made useful in society instead of senselessly killed off.

It is a bit of a wait to get to the interesting thought reform portion of the book, however.  Pretty much everything before that makes you want to attack Pu Yi through the pages.  His style is a bit rambling, although the translator claims that’s partly just Chinese culture versus Western culture.  It is an interesting read, but I do think it will only really hold the attention of those with a strong interest in China.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Friday Fun! (Birthday BBQ)

August 5, 2011 8 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  One thing this summer has shown me is that your summer is as fun as you make it, and that largely has to do with who you surround yourself with.  Now that I’ve been living in Boston for a longer period of time, I’ve come to have a wonderful circle of friends who just make everything more fun.

Last weekend was my party for my birthday.  I held it at the end of the month partly so I could have a Cowboys and Aliens theme, but also partly because no one ever seems to be around on my actual birthday since it falls right next to a big national holiday.  A friend treated me to the matinee of Cowboys and Aliens, and you guys it was AWESOME.  I don’t think anything could make this wild west and scifi loving lady happier than wild west meets aliens.  Well, the addition of Daniel Craig’s very fine ass didn’t hurt matters at all either.  This is a movie I would go to see in theaters again, and I never do that.

After the movie, the same friend helped me prep for my bbq.  I made homemade veggie burgers, which were completely a smash hit.  We also made pasta salad from a cookbook my dad gave me that featured an olive oil/lemon vinaigrette instead of mayonnaise.  That was also a huge success.  There was also grilled corn on the cob, strawberries, PBR, and goldschlagger.  All in all an excellent bbq.  After some friends departed, others arrived, and we went out to a local pub for drinks.  My friends enthusiastically got me some of my favorite drinks (white russians and cosmos).  It was such a chill party full of lots of girl talk and ending with some fun flirting.  It’s things like that that make being in your 20s really fun.

I already announced my plan to throw a party in the fall with a Japanese theme, largely influenced by my recent acquisition of a vegetarian sushi cookbook.  Given the percentage of otaku geeks among my friends, the excitement at the idea was pretty high. 😉  What can I say. I love hostessing and party planning.  It makes me happy.

This week also saw me finally able to return to the gym after being laid low by first a summer cold and then a sprained ankle.  I managed to only gain 1 pound in my week and a half out.  *phew*  The first workout back was hard, but fun, and I’m glad to be getting back into the swing of it.

I haven’t fully decided what’s on the plate for this weekend, but I know it’ll be fun, because it’s the weekend after all.  Happy weekends all!

Book Review: How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

December 9, 2010 4 comments

Japanese woman in traditional kimono and lotus flowers.Summary:
Shoko dealt with the consequences of her decision to acquiesce to her father’s wishes and marry an occupying American soldier and return with him to America in the 1940s.  She did her best to hold onto the best parts of being a Japanese woman and meet the expectations of being an American housewife.  But now she is sick from an enlarged heart, possibly the result of radiation from the bombs dropped on Nagasaki, and the consequences of her multiple decisions made in the war and occupation years are coming back to haunt her.  Although her relationship with her biracial daughter, Suiko, is strained, Suiko still does her best to assist her mother, and in the process, learns something about herself.

Review:
I came into this book expecting it to be your typical book about an immigrant adapting herself to the surrounding culture.  That’s really not what this book is about, and that actually is a good thing.  It subtly addresses how complex not only family can be but inter-cultural relations as well.  The world no longer consists of the simple, straight-forward rules that Shoko grew up with.  Since the world is a smaller place, the concepts of what one should or should not do slowly change throughout her life.

Of course, I find everything about Japan completely fascinating, so I enjoyed getting to see it not only through Shoko’s eyes, but through her daughter Suiko’s as well.  Japan truly has changed drastically in the last 70 or so years, and showing the difference in experience simply from Grandmother Shoko to graddaughter Helena is astounding.  Often in America we only think about how our own nation has changed, but this is true for others as well.  Reading about it is a mind-broadening experience.

Dilloway also handles the delicate situation of dealing not only with your parents’ immortality but also their fallibility and essential humanness in a gentle manner.  It is there, but it is not preachy.  It simply reflects the experience of realizing as an adult that your parents are people too, and they’ve had their own life experiences that they regret or have dealt with in their own way.

Still, although I found the story enjoyable to read, it fell short of being deeply moving or memorable.  It felt as if it ended too soon, or we didn’t find out enough about everyone’s stories.  In particular although I understood and felt for Shoko at the beginning of the story, by the end I felt distanced from her, wheras I was still rooting for Suiko.  I think some of the choices Dilloway made for Shoko did not fit with the tone of the rest of the story.

Overall, I recommend this enjoyable read to fans of contemporary or historical realistic fiction with themes of inter-generational and inter-cultural conflicts.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Movie Review: The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

October 26, 2010 4 comments

View of people and limbs through a glass.Summary:
Two American girls on a road trip through Europe get a flat tire late at night in Germany.  They walk to find help, and stumble upon the residence of Dr. Heiter, a first-class surgeon who separates Siamese twins.  He promptly kidnaps them, along with an unfortunate Japanese tourist, and announces to them that they will become part of a first-time experiment.  He will fuse them together mouth to anus to create the human centipede.

Review:
This independent film mixes two great horror movie classics–kidnapping and a deranged doctor–and combines them into a great idea.  It doesn’t quite attain the heights such a great idea should have, but I can easily see it becoming a cult classic.

Dieter Laser, who plays Dr. Leiter, does an excellent job.  His facial expressions are magnificently creepy.  He is actually German, so his German is perfect, as well as his German accent.  Akihiro Kitamura’s performance was also well-done, particularly given that he mostly just gets to yell in Japanese and whimper.  The actresses who play the two girls–Ashley C. Williams and Ashlyn Yennie–have painfully annoying voices.  It was a blessing that they were the two end sections of the human centipede, because it shut them up.

Given how incredibly idiotic and annoying the two girls are in the beginning of the film, I can’t help but suspect that the writer was trying to make us feel less sympathy for them.  Possibly with the hope that it would soften the blow of the gross idea?  Maybe.

As far as the grossness inherent in three people being sewed together mouth to anus, they could have taken it much further than they did in the film.  Only bits and pieces of the operation are shown, and the human centipede wears bandages so strategically that you don’t really see much of the actual connection.  It’s more about the viewer imagining it than actually seeing it.  Although the scene where the front unit of the human centipede (the Japanese man, Katsuro) must first *ahem* use the restroom post-surgery is quite gross, it is simultaneously hilarious.  If you have a bit of a quirky sense of humor, the horror and gross-out factors of this film are greatly lessened.  In fact, I found The Fly to be much more disturbing and disgusting than this film.

Overall, if you enjoy gross-out, B-level horror films, you will have a fun time watching this movie.  It’s short, interesting, and different.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 1 by Koushun Takami (Manga) (Series, #1)

January 22, 2010 4 comments

A Note on Me and Graphic Novels:
This, believe it or not, was my first foray into the world of graphic novels.  I was spurred into this new territory by my intense love of the movie Battle Royale.  I know that there’s also a traditional book out there, but I’d heard the manga is what the author feels really fulfills his vision of the story.  I received the first volume of the ultimate edition, which contains the first three mangas in the series, for Chrismukkah.  I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy reading a graphic novel.  I tend to associate them with superheroes, and I’m not generally a fan of superhero stories (except Ironman. Robert Downey Jr., *swoon*).  But this.  This was a story I already knew I liked, so I came at the genre with a much more open mind than the once or twice I flipped through a superhero graphic novel.  You guys, I absolutely love the feeling of reading a graphic novel.  I could literally feel different parts of my brain working at it than that work when reading a regular book, playing videogames, writing, or watching a movie.  It’s like a portion of my brain was like “Oh hai.  You finally remembered I exist!”  I love that I’m only reading dialogue, because I hate extensive descriptions in books.  I love that the drawings are art that I actually enjoy looking at the fine details of.  I love it that when I flip back to show scenes to other people, I notice things in the drawings I didn’t see the first time around.  I’m officially a convert to the genre, but you still won’t see me reading about superheroes anytime soon.

Summary:
In an alternate history of Japan, Japan comes under the rule of a totalitarian, isolationist government after WWII.  The government rules through terror, and part of that terror is selecting, supposedly via lottery, one 9th grade class every year to compete in a televised game where it is kill or be killed.  Shuuya never expected to win this lottery, but when his class goes on a field trip, upon arrival they discover that they are this year’s participants on an island location.  They discover collars on their necks that will detonate if more than one is left alive at a certain point and also if they wander into the randomly assigned and changing forbidden zones.  As the teens attempt to survive the game through various methods, flashbacks tell the story of the 9th grade class members.

Review:
I absolutely love this story.  I love violent, gory stories, and there are creative deaths galore here.  For instance, the weapons include a scythe, and that scythe gets used.  In one particularly memorable scene, a girl desperately attempts to stuff a boy’s brains back into his skull.  It’s freaking amazing.  There’s also graphic sex, ranging from rape to love.  I don’t like my books to pretend like sex doesn’t happen in the real world, because um, it does.  The fact that sex can be wonderful and about emotions or horrible and about power is wonderfully depicted.

The manner of introducing these characters tossed together in a horrible situation then expanding on who they are via flashbacks is very reminiscent of Lost.  Of course, here the characters knew each other, at least somewhat, before the game.  The flashbacks fit in perfectly with the action of the game, and they reveal just enough about the characters without revealing too much.  From a cooking class that solidified a friendship to crimes committed to lessons learned from an activist uncle, the flashbacks are endlessly fascinating.

Seeing these characters in what most certainly feels like a hopeless situation orchestrated by a powerful government far bigger than they are is truly powerful reading.  It leaves the reader wondering not only what makes people do bad things, but also how to define what is good and bad given various situations.  Is it actually good to team up and attempt to buck the system or will that just cause more pain in the end?  Is suicide a bad thing when it’s kill yourself or kill others?

If you enjoy Lost, The Hunger Games, violence, psychology, or even just graphic novels, you will enjoy this book.  I highly recommend it and can’t wait to read the next volume!

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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