Friday, September 01, 2017

Banana Yoshimoto: 'Kitchen' (1988, 1993)

Going though books discarded by the library, I've been sampling a variety of works that I otherwise may not have discovered anytime soon. One of them is Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen, translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus (New York: Grove Press, 1993; originally published in 1988), which includes "Moonlight Shadow."  These are quick reads that update, in a way, the superb social films of Yasujirō Ozu (1903-1963) and Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998). 

Yoshimoto (born in 1964), like Ozu and Kurosawa, takes a close look at the fabric of a society under pressure. Though they are all three of them observing people through the scrim of Japanese culture, their tales have universal relevance. Changes -- whether brought about by the devastation of atomic disaster (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima), earthquake, flood, fire, occupation, technology, demographics, or Westernized economic systems -- have led to the disintegration of traditional structures. Family systems crumble or evolve, as does civil society. 

More recently, the United States has moved into similar territory, and so all of these Japanese artists can communicate to distraught Americans.
In Kitchen, Mikage, the lead character, has lost her parents and, most recently, her grandmother, and she has no siblings. She is taken in by Yuichi, a fellow who knew her grandmother, and by Yuichi's transgender mother, Eriko. Though Mikage never entirely shakes off her depression, she does take some satisfaction in cooking. However, this is played out in a low-key, non-Hollywood manner. There have been Asian, but not American, movie adaptations.

"Moonlight Shadow" is a very streamlined tale of loss and survival, also, revolving around dead and living characters. The latter are Satsuki (the main protagonist), Hiraji, and Urara. In this one, there are surreal elements (think Twin Peaks) involving a bell, a bridge, a dress and the "Weaver Festival Phenomenon."  

Banana Yoshimoto is now on my radar. Her artistic approach can be reflected back to the corresponding concerns of master filmmakers Ozu and Kurosawa, and forward into the unknown. 

Today's Rune: Signals. 


t said...

" books discarded by the library " - yum

Charles Gramlich said...

I know that levels of pressure change but I wonder if there is ever a society that is not under pressure? Maybe for periods of time when a status quo has been established and maintained.