“Geishas by Gaslight”: I review a show at the Freer

for AmCon: The Freer Gallery named their show of wood-block prints by fin de siecle Japanese artist Kobayashi Kiyochika “Master of the Night” (on display through July 27th), but night is ancient and Kiyochika’s work is distinctly modern. His prints show a world in transition. Some of the street scenes might almost be Victorian London; even the rickshaw used to pull a geisha through the night turns out to be a recent import, an innovation. Many of the scenes show people in traditional kimono mixi … [Read more...]

My Summer Reading 2014 (And Also Other People’s)

at the University Bookman--although actually I just started Gilgi, by the same woman who wrote The Artificial Silk Girl: From medieval sagas to anti-Communist Japanese surrealist novels, the Civil War campaigns to contemporary fiction, our contributors and friends again provide their summer reading lists. Every year this is one of our most popular features, as the suggestions from our trusted contributors are learned, wide-ranging, and deeply engaged with the questions that face our modern … [Read more...]

Cherry Blossom Season in Japan

Some luminous photos. Via Ratty. … [Read more...]

“Rich Dad, Poor Dad”: I review new film about fatherhood

for AmSpec: Hirokazu Koreeda's new film, Like Father, Like Son, pretends that it will be up front about the source of its heartbreak. Koreeda is the tragedian behind 2004's Nobody Knows, based on the real-life horror of several small children abandoned in their Tokyo apartment after their mother disappeared. This time he takes a parental perspective: Like Fatheropens with a couple learning that their only child was switched at birth, and is not biologically related to them.There's a … [Read more...]

“Disorientation”: I review a photography show at the Sackler Gallery

for AmCon: Now that the shutdown is over, I can tell you about a small but punchy photography exhibit at the Sackler.“Sense of Place,” which runs through November 11, disrupts many of the cliches of East vs. West. In these tired oppositions, Europe is a clash of swords and horses; China, Japan, or any other part of the undifferentiated East is a lone monk crossing a quiet pond. The West is the land of change and history, the East is the land where life is as fleeting and yet eternal as the s … [Read more...]

The Dishonorable Poor: “Harakiri”

It's 1630. A desperate, aging ronin arrives at the gates of a big estate and asks permission to commit harakiri in the courtyard. The estate's counselor lets him in and tells him a story: the story of the last samurai who came there, not too long ago, with the same request.This is the arresting opening to Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 Harakiri, a tense, tragic movie which includes the requisite crazy samurai fight scenes and discourses on the nature of bushido, but goes far beyond those elements … [Read more...]

The Candy Vendor in the Ghost Town

Last night I watched Pitfall, the 1962 movie with a script by Japanese surrealist Kobo Abe. It's an unsettling genre-crosser: Carnival of Souls-style afterlife horror, plus union vs. management and the suffering of the workers, plus sad and scary metaphysics. It's strange and grimy, and although I still don't know what to make of the character of the little boy, the story is twisty and compelling. … [Read more...]


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