Showing posts with label Japanese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japanese. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Touch of Sailor Moon-Related Updates

Yoooooooo. Listen. Errr… read. I finally bought my first Sailor Moon S.H. Figuarts figure. I picked my favorite character, Aino Minako. And she's here in my favorite of her two heroine identities as Sailor V. As opposed to Sailor Venus–which I plan on getting sooner than later. Sailor V is Naoko Takeuchi’s first Sailor Senshi. So that counts as well.

Anyway, I stopped buying Sailor Moon figures and collectibles a long time ago. I suppose that's a product of my getting older and focusing more toward the manga and video releases. Still, I wanted to make the exception here with this figure.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

CHOP IT UP: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

A thirteen-year-old teen named Noboru is mentally disturbed and troubled. Most of his troublesome characteristics come spurred by the loss of his father. And, also, through his association with a gang of like-minded thirteen-year-old boys. This gang shares a mantra: reject the world of adults and the responsibilities it takes to be one. For Noboru, he doesn’t have a father around pushing him to be a man, and thus an adult. He's, more or less, the luckier one within the gang.

Yet, this changes once his widowed mother begins a relationship with a sailor named Ryuji. At first Noboru welcomes Ryuji with admiration for him and his occupation as a sailor. You see, Noboru loves ships and has aspirations of becoming a sailor himself. But once the relationship between Ryuji and Noboru’s mother turns toward marriage, Noboru's attitude turns dark. Noboru can't grasp why Ryuji is willing to put aside his life as a sailor to marry his mother. And Ryuji's decision to do so enrages Noboru.

Feeling betrayed, Noboru seeks the help of his gang to get revenge on Ryuji. And so hatches their plan to take out the sailor who fell from grace with the sea.

I can tell you right now that I don’t know what to make of this book.

I’m not going make up something about knowing what Mishima meant to do with this story. I mean… I could… but it ain’t in me right now to do so. Plus, I’m more inclined to believe I have to be a reader who is more proficient with him as a person, let alone a writer.
So all I can say for sure is two things. ONE: I read this book because I loved Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask. TWO: Boy, does he know how to grab all your attention with this craft. Outside of that, I have theories about what this book conveyed. But I'm a little hesitate.
Even so, it was a cryptic and tormenting story. One where I couldn't wrap my head around some character’s actions–from a reasonable point. My overarching view was how we’re dealing with some spoiled, neurotic sociopaths. Their behavior conveyed holding on to the “sacredness” of adolescence at all cost. And one way to maintain "sacredness" is to embrace anarchy. To remove oneself from societal institutions, laws and systems. To remain in the “system” is equal to living a life with little to no meaning.
I’m just going to leave it at that.

Friday, January 15, 2016

1Q84 | Aomame X Tengo | BOOK 1

Oh, boy.  Oh, joy.  Oh, what-the-Hell-I-like-this-book.
I decided to open 2016 going after my bigger books.  This includes omnibus editions containing a set of series entries of some sort.  Which is exactly where Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 lies.  Containing a total of three books, I recently wrapped up the first entry.  And have yet the precise words to describe the experience.  I don’t think there any concrete words.  Yet, not to suggest I didn’t enjoy the experience–because I did.  And a lot more than my previous–and introductory–reading of Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance.
I just don’t know exactly how to put the experience into words.  So perhaps a quick summary would get my thinking juices flowing.  Or one could hope.
So here’s what 1Q84 is about.  Which is only right for me to walk you through this summary alongside myself.  The little synopsis/premise I collected previous to picking the book (over a year ago) were kind of misty on its direction.  The book itself throws all these terms at you to describe your approaching experience.  Romance.  Mystery.  Fantasy.  All to name a few.  And it’s all those descriptions–in some gradient of each over another.  But I found those descriptions useless, for those grappling with engaging with the book.  To me, the book is a surreal reading experience.  One you have to take in without–I guess you could say–a concrete overture to rely on.  Funny how many Japanese writers put me in this frame of mind after venturing through their books.
The story alternates between two third-person narratives.  Of course they'll eventually float into the same literary space of Tokyo, 1984.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Oh How I LOVED His Mask

I’m not going to speak much about Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask.  A modest description: the fraught inner confessions of a closeted man coming up in Japan between the 20s and 50s.  But the book is also a meditative (sometimes to the point of brooding) and introspective encounter.  One you’ll have to witness for yourself–if you will.  I say that because the book seems driven more or less by plot, and it wasn't until its conclusion that I took it as less. 
So to me, Confessions of a Mask wasn't a diarist scratching pen to paper underneath a burning candle.  Though it's easy to see the book that way, as it chronicles the events of Mishima’s protagonist from childhood to adulthood.  However, a stimulating and introspective piece of fiction is what I left the book with–carried by a genuinely captivating protagonist.  So, thankfully, Mishima's lead owned a keen grasp of his surrounds and inner conflicts.  Enough to keep me engaged with his musings, and either frowning or grinning at his choices. 
Within Mishima's protagonist, the book addresses familiar social, psychological, and physical arenas visited by gay men.  And the protagonist delivers pieces of the verbose identifiable with others who've found themselves locked in his view and scenarios. 
However, an acknowledgeable distinction comes from the region, culture, and time the book takes place.  To elaborate a little, Mishima’s protagonist finds a multitude of reasons to acquaint an attractiveness for death with being gay.  Though the contemplation of death is not foreign for gay men to preoccupy themselves with; culturally speaking, many Japanese have a reverence for the subject of death (research Shinigami or Buddhism from the Edo Period forward).  This, in turn, shined a lot more brightly in Mishima's Confessions of a Mask.  Though that absolutely doesn't qualify as a detriment of any sort.  I only found it part of the flavor and uniqueness of this particular experience.  It also slipped in a sense of suspense regarding the protagonist's fate.
Wonderful book.  Easily five stars for me.  I will definitely follow up on more Mishima novels.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bein and His Wind

Tokyo is about to find itself in the grips of a stream of terrorist attacks driven by a religious zealot named Joko Daishi. Joko is dedicated to his beliefs, those of which circulating around how society needs purification through a baptism of fire. However, the unconcerned citizens of Tokyo are too wrapped up in their bustling lives to give a damn about his message. And not “giving a damn” may be the reason Joko found himself released from police custody after his last terrorist event (check out book two in the series, Year of the Demon). And while Tokyo’s police department may have turned somewhat of a blind eye to Joko’s terrorism, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro has not. Unfortunately, there’s not much she can do.  Having thwarted Joko in the past, Mariko's petition for her Captain to detain and hold Joko eventually causes her her badge. (You know, because she’s a woman and can’t be vocal.  That type of bullshit.)

Without the support of the Tokyo Police Department, Mariko has to find other resources to stop Joko from destroying Tokyo.  What Mariko doesn't know is that she's already drawn the attention of an underground syndicate known as The Wind. The Wind once harbored and trained Joko Daishi and, in effect, is responsible for him. Regardless, they need Mariko’s help.  She carries an Inazuma blade, handed down to her by her deceased senshi.  Inazuma blades are centuries old and cursed; The Wind believes this is their means of stopping Joko.  So Mariko's choice becomes simple–yet highly complicated.  She can join The Wind to stop Joko Daishi, or go at it alone before her city is destroyed. And the longer she contemplates her choices, the more personal her decision becomes.

Wow. Now where do I really start with this one? First, this is book three (and I believe it’s the last) in Steve Bein’s Fated Blades series. As I've mentioned in previous posts about previous books, the series is part contemporary crime thriller and part historical fantasy. It switches time and space.  A lump of chapters are told in the today's world, viewed through Tokyo Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro.  Her chapters focuses on her role as the owner of one of the various cursed Inazuma blades crafted in ancient Japan, and how she uses the blade to stop terrorists. Meanwhile, the counter chapters follows the story of a young, crippled samurai named, Daigoro. During Japan's Azuchi-Momoyama period, Daigoro is the owner of the same Inazuma blade as Mariko. The majority of his narrative revolves around him using the sword as a means to protect his clan.  With a mother suffering from a nervous breakdown after the death of his father and brother, adjacent clans use political manoeuvres and intrigue in attempts to take what little honor and status Daigoro has.  Naturally, they want his blade as well. 

These two have carried the series since the first book. However, in the second book came a new character named Kaida.  

Kaida was a pearl diver who turned away from her family to become an assassin working for The Wind.  Unfortunately, the continuation of her story isn't in Disciple of the Wind. So I was a bit disappointed.  Clearly her portion was meant to give readers the history behind the origins of The Wind, origins that would've been beneficial to Disciple.  But for Disciple's length purposes, her story is available in a Kindle novella.  I'll probably get to it at a later date.

Despite all that, I'm happy to say that there is more Mariko in this entry. And more Mariko means far more action in the form of shoot-outs, sword fights, and a healthy dose of detection and crime boss confrontations. In Year of the Demon my biggest complaint was the lack of her presence, so I suppose it worked to cut out Kaida’s story. Nevertheless, that’s not to say that Daigoro’s portion isn't as strong, as it draws to its own conclusion within the series (his opponent is easily the most interesting and best). I love his bits in particularly because they're all about ancient Japanese political intrigue.  Careful navigation of politics operate better than a flat-out sword fight, if you want to save your family and save your ass from a beheading. But trust me, there are still plenty of sword fights and action in his story as well.

Now I still have to mention how–after three books–some of the characters in the series come across as slightly overblown. One example comes in how Mariko’s Captain was an unapologetically drawn bigot who did a lot of fist-waving and kowtow-demanding of Mariko...still.  It just got old with him shrieking at her, and no amount of head-bowing could save Mariko or my patience.  Also, I know I just said that I was happy to see more Mariko, but even she suffered from moments of overdrawn-ness.  She karate chopped and sprung her way through some scenes where she didn’t appear threatened or in immediate danger.  So yes, there were times when I wished she would chill out for a second on the Zero Woman act.  

There were also moments where action scenes were muffled and scrambled with disorienting choreography. A bad guy leaping from a hail storm of bullets manages to hide undetected behind the leg of a pool table inside of a bar, meanwhile Mariko and her partner are underneath that pool table unaware of him. And when they finally notice said bad guy, he jumps up and leaps out of the window.  You can only wonder if the bullets stopped raining over the place enough for him to take the risk. Or still, how and when did he get behind that pool table’s leg undetected?  Lots of scenes came across like this.  Those hazy, semi-teleporting characters and scene transitions that aren't quite clear.

All in all, I highly recommend the Fated Blade series. Especially for those interested in Japan, Japanese culture, crime fiction, and historical fantasies.  Additionally, if you're like me and have mostly given up on the urban fantasy genre, this may be your ticket back in.  Give this series a greenlight.  

Lastly, if this is the last book, I can say I'll miss the series.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

To the Bottom of Yoshida's Villain!

It’s probably easier–to save any spoilers–if I just copied the back synopsis of Shuichi Yoshida's Villain here to give you an idea as to what the book is about.  As well as sprinkle your imagination.
"A woman is killed at a ghostly mountain pass in southern Japan and the local police quickly pinpoint a suspect.  But as the puzzle pieces of the crime slowly click into place, new questions arise.  Is a villain simply the person who commits a crime or are those who feel no remorse for malicious behavior just as guilty?  Moving from office parks and claustrophobic love hotels to desolate seaside towns and lighthouses, Shuichi Yoshida's dark thriller reveals the inner lives of men and women who have something to hide."
I decided to borrow the book’s synopsis to keep Villain’s plot as imprecise as possible. Why? Because while Villain’s unfolding events may seem apparent in the beginning, there are moments of both physiological and story progression that deters, squeezes, and red herrings you around the entanglements of the book. All of which may spoil the reading experience should I try to lay it all out in a summary. Nevertheless, to me Villain works in part like a character analysis, societal/cultural examination, noir thriller, and salacious love story. And while some of those elements may not seem to correspond properly with one another–or belong underneath the same listing–it’s kind of what I'm left with after reading the book.

Villain offers plenty; crammed together and, in my opinion, dark and elegantly deployed in the book’s storytelling.  It's a story that raises questions asking what sort of psychological disposition (if even able) causes an individual to tumble over the edge and into that of a murderer? What unawareness causes a person to fall as prey to a murderer? What causes a person to fall in love with a murderer? How does either of the two’s family respond, internalize and accept the falling of their loved one? How do outside players pushed into the fray deal with guilt and grief concerning their choices and lack thereof?  What are the choices given to all those involved, and what could amount to a better decision? How does cultural and societal pressure play a role?

And so much of this is presented without overthrowing the actual story itself.

So many questions with subjective answers consume you post-Villain. However, if not, you'll have at least enjoyed the shadowy ride with its troubled characters. And Villain is a ride that may, at times, feel bumpy from Yoshida’s multiple interlocking plots and sometimes non-chronological events. Also, the unexpected leaps from third-person to a reflective first-person narrative may ask you to step back for just a moment to gather exactly which character is providing his or her study of the surrounding events.

If you love Japanese crime and physiological thriller writers like Natsuo Kirino, Ryu Murakami and Miyuki Miyabe then you can't go too wrong with Yoshida’s Villain. As my first reading of him, I have to say that Villain contained all the elements and components I love in Japanese crime/psychological fiction.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Banana's Kitchen!

Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen combines two novellas into one thematic collection. The first, and decidedly best and lengthy one, features the story of a Japanese woman named Mikage Sakurai. Orphaned as a child, Mikage was raised by her grandparents in Tokyo. And per her story‘s opening, her grandmother, the last living relative in her family, has passed and left Mikage alone in the apartment they shared. It’s a bit suffocating to Mikage, living in the loneliness and silence. Nonetheless, she’s always found comfort in kitchens. And not just cooking in kitchens; sleeping on a futon next to a humming refrigerator consoles her just nicely.  Whether she's enduring the struggles provided by life or death, her affinity for kitchens has always been true.  (Filthy or clean, it doesn't matter to her.)  Naturally, this is the first place Mikage feels drawn to after her grandmother’s death.  So without question kitchens are the motif behind her story.

With a life surrounded by the dying of her loved ones, Mikage is the last of the Sakurai family and has no one to turn to. Thankfully, a guy named Yuichi, who works in a flower shop that Mikage’s grandmother frequented, comes to Mikage's “rescue.” With his love of the deceased grandmother spilling over, Yuichi invites Mikage to live with him and his transvestite (to be clear, his father dresses as a woman) mother to help Mikage grieve as well as settle her grandmother’s estate. Needless to say, a bond is formed between Mikage and Yuichi. A bond established by their combined link to death, sorrow and hope.

Now, the second story in Kitchen is called “Moonlight Shadow.” Apparently, it’s Yoshimoto’s first published piece, and is an obvious slant toward the aforementioned story. In “Moonlight Shadow” a young woman name Satsuki is mourning the death of her boyfriend. She grieves through jogging in the early hours of the day, where she crosses a white bridge upon her route. One day Satsuki runs into a woman at this bridge, and it‘s here that the two share a thermos of tea. It appears to be a random encounter, until the woman proceeds to connect with Satsuki on an incorporeal level.

(This next half of the post refers mainly to the title story and not the short, "Moonlight Shadow.")

I feel so conflicted with this, but I was a little apathetic about Kitchen the first few thirty-or-so pages into it. And while I did want a little more "meat," that impassive feeling wasn't because of Yoshimoto’s sort of inconspicuous storytelling. Nevertheless, I want to get to the really, really good stuff first.  

As mentioned, the stories in Kitchen take a steep, subjective step into how some of us approach death, loneliness, sorrow and the eventual necessity to heal. And I've marked some of my favorite passages to illustrate such.
"No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die.  Without that, I am not alive.  That is what makes the life I have now possible.  Inching one's way along a steep cliff in the dark: on reaching the highway, one breathes a sigh of relief.  Just when one can't take any more, one sees the moonlight.  Beauty that seems to infuse itself into the heart: I know about that."
"'We've been very lonely, but we had it easy.  Because death is so heavy–we, too young to know about it, couldn't handle it.  After this you and I may end up seeing nothing but suffering, difficulty, and ugliness, but if only you'll agree to it, I want for us to go on to more difficult places, happier places, whatever comes, together.  I want you to make the decision after you're completely better, so take your time thinking about it.  In the meantime, though, don't disappear on me.'"
Good stuff, right?  Well, as we all know, translations are never 100%, so maybe that initial apathetic feeling had to do with the book's translation from Japanese to English.  However, I think I can bottom line those feelings to Kitchen's often defunct subordinate and insubordinate clauses, comma splices, complex sentences, and moments of awkwardly expressed dialogue. Give or take a few. Eventually, I got the hang of it all.  Or I failed to notice or revisit moments of hiccupping narrative to reconnect a few of those uncertain subject-verb agreements.  Not trying to sound like a grammar police because I'm a criminal myself.  But when I notice a missing beat, I notice it.  Technical or otherwise.

Maybe it’s the change of cadence from poetic Japanese prose to English. I honestly don't know. I can only say that for a few pages, I had to establish the rhythm and beat of the book. And thankfully I did because the further the story moved, the further I was moved. And when it concluded, I looked up to the ceiling telling myself: “Damn, that was a good story.”  Of course with the book pinned against my heart for dramatic flare.  Seriously, though.  Once I was there with Kitchen, I was there.  We're talking tense and scared for the outcome; hopeful and unsure.

I'll leave it at that because I think I've muddled what I was trying to say.  Otherwise, we'll be here all day analyzing this book.  Kitchen is worth your attention even if you may also find yourself trying to warm up to the story and characters, delivered by the sometimes hiccupy narrative.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The KDrama Factor

Boys Over Flowers.  The obsession begins!
I've wanted to share this for quite some time, especially because next year I want to use this blog to step a little further outside of books and more into my other interests.  So it’s probably a known fact by now that I absolutely love Korean dramas, or Kdramas.  I became transfixed by them about four years ago when I watched Boys Over Flowers on Netflix one summer.  Despite a frustrating and sluggish middle area within its 25 episodes span, I loved and adored its spin on the Cinderella story involving a less fortunate girl gaining the attention of a super rich and popular schoolmate.  From there I alternated between Netflix and Hulu to get my fix (mostly Hulu because they have some currently running dramas as well as a large library).  And I've seen plenty these past years; found favorites and hated only a few.  

Already having a general (well, a lot more than general) interest in Asian culture, it just seemed appropriate that these dramas of love, corruption, bitch-slapping-mothers, and fine manners had the power to effortlessly yank all of my time and attention.  After all, I am convinced that I was an Asian woman in one of my past lives, somewhere bent over in a rice paddy field decking a bamboo hat.  Furthermore, that conviction kind of ties into my affinity for stories/books featuring Asian protagonist, written under the thumb of a writer with matching ethnicity and experience.  Nonetheless, most of that is neither here nor there when I forgot to mention the load of beautiful (dang near flawless, if there were such a thing) Korean actors and actresses featured in these dramas.  Of course, plastic surgery is a supremely high percentage and considerable factor that can't be denied as it pertains to their looks.  Nonetheless, beautiful looks are sometimes enough to keep watching as I revel in being in many of their characters' romance situations.  

Saying all that, on to the Top 4 Favorite Kdramas currently (that's currently–as in now) airing.

1.  The Greatest Marriage
Cha Gi-Young, a highly admired and self-sufficient top dog Korean anchorwoman for a popular news station, develops a brief and steamy relationship with Park Tae-Yeon, a handsome heir and son of a news corporation head. Partly unlike the driven and determined (and even callous) attitude Cha Gi-Young employees, Park Tae-Yeon is slightly her opposite as he’s a little less focused and mellower. With his family’s fortune, he can afford to take a few chances, and he has proven so by leaving business school to pursue his dreams of culinary arts and food reporting. 

While working on adjacent sets, one where Cha is delivering the news and the other where Park is featured on a cooking show, the two eventually cross paths (however highly confrontational) and begin their relationship. Neither seems interested in marriage, but when the couple accidentally becomes pregnant, Park’s immediate reaction is to wed the mulish Cha in order to save face (remember this is an Asian drama). Uninterested, and further discouraged after a vile altercation with Park’s powerfully rich and upper-echelon parents, Cha decides to go her separate way and raise the child on her own as a single mother. This soon brings her a batch of criticism, humiliation and hate from her peers and society as a whole. Suddenly, Cha is no longer on top, but refuses to cave in to a quick marriage nor place her dwindling career before her child.

Why you may want to watch it? Because with all the drama and comedy (and there is plenty also) aside, it’s the story of an accidental feminist flipping society and cultural norms by deciding that she would much rather be a single mother than marry. All of this very much announced to the Korean public. The criticism and backlash she receives is startling. In one instance her company peers yanks her off the set.  They continue to sabotage her career as a means of both saving the face of the news station, but also as a means of them expressing their own dislike of her. Even the higher ups comes for her. Furthermore, the actual hospital where she has her child gives her crap. While in labor, she couldn't even be admitted without the written assent of a man! And even further, she has to legally protect herself and her child from the likes of the father's family because they are within their rights to take her child away from her–especially because it’s a boy heir. Oh, damn. I also forget to mention how Cha's mother threatens to commit suicide to save her own face. Currently 12 episodes out of 16 in, I’m hoping this drama ends well.  Other than that, I drop everything once The Greatest Marriage updates.

2.  Birth of a Beauty
A sweet, overweight woman named Sa Geum-Ran finds herself conspiratorially murdered and later resurrected as a bombshell Korean-style beauty (re)named Sara. However, before this incredible transformation, Sa Geum-Ran lived a painful life as the wife and daughter/sister-in-law to the Lee family–her husband being Lee Kang-Joon. While Lee Kang-Joon is away in the US for seven years, and keeping up an affair, Sa Geum-Ran is busy taking care of his mother, sisters, grandmother, and father. While the latter two actually treated her decently, Sa puts up with a lot from Lee’s spoiled and nasty sisters and mother. Horrible comments aimed at her looks and weight, and passive displays of abuse are the most common. 

However, these do not deter Sa’s loyalty and love for Lee. So, while he’s far off in America, she plays her role without a hitch; swallowing her anger while always presenting her good Korean manners. Then Lee shows up after those seven years away, and Sa discovers his affair. Upon that discovery, an upset Sa flees in her car only to be ran off the road and into deep waters. Later, the assumption is that she committed suicide, but the truth is that she was murdered. Well, not so much murdered as she manages to swim out of her death and seek out a plastic surgeon (he’s featured on a reality show) who completely transforms her with a full-body makeover. One in which she uses to seek revenge and take down several members of the Lee family.

I was up late watching another drama when Birth of a Beauty popped up. Sure it was two in the morning when I decided to forget about sleep and watch those first two available episodes. I've been hooked ever since. Now, the drama was confusing in the beginning. It almost drops you in the middle as you're introduced to Sa Geum-Ran’s other, Sara, initially. Slowly, the hyper-unusual back story fills in, and after that first episode you're kind of good to go. The drama blends comedy, romance (which is always my favorite ingredient), melodrama, and that not so unordinary requirement that you suspend your disbelief regarding its events and Sa Geum-Ran's transformational lease on life.  There’s also the conspiracy behind her death, and a secondary running story that ties into her vengeance against the Lee family. I'm still not quite sure how concise focused the show is, seeing that it takes on the subject of beauty standards and acceptance.  All that aside, I find the actress who plays Sara incredibly adorable in her role–especially when she pulls into a karate stance.   So it's not to be taken too seriously, I suppose.

3.  Mr. Baek
Another Kdrama that ties in the subject of transformations, vengeance and second chances is Mr. Baek. 70-something-year Choi Go-Bong is tenacious, greedy, egotistical, and just plain ole mean. He’s been this way most of his life, so some can deal and some can't. Nonetheless, his obsession consists mostly of building his wealth–which he has done (and continues to do despite his age) by successfully manning a powerful hotel corporation. The price, however, comes in the form of an irresponsible and spoil son who’s impartial to the hotel business’s future. And if that wasn't enough, Choi has to tend to a few of his shifty, money-grubbing siblings waiting to attach themselves to his position and deep pockets.

Almost by accident, Choi ends up meeting a young woman name Eun Ha-Soo. At a retirement village, they stumble upon one another where her kind words deflect and disarm his normally mean spirit. And they find themselves crossing paths once more during a meter shower where both of their vehicles tumble into a sinkhole. In a last stance for survival, Choi reaches for his spilled medication and unknowingly swallows a piece of a meteor. This, in turns, reverts his body to that of his 36-year-old self. With a few more lessons to realize and learn, this gives Choi the chance to fall in love, rescue his company from inside corruption, and, perhaps, find a relationship with his son and heir.

I found myself enjoying Mr. Baek right away. As I mentioned, some dramas I have to warm up to. Thankfully, that didn't happen here. I think what drew me in the most is how it hit home with me regarding parents and their relationships with their children. Parents often wish they could turn back time to be there for their kids, or correct some of the mistakes they felt they'd made. Watching that unfold in Mr. Baek–in its own way–rings familiar to me. We're all the product of our childhood in a sense. We all wish our parents done at least one thing differently that we feel may have empowered us to lead better adult lives. Now that's despite owning the grown-up ability to make decisions based off whether or not we'll allow that "disempowerment" from the past to hurt our present and future. So yeah, Mr. Baek is about second chances and making wrongs right, and also honoring our responsibilities. But while all that is true, I also love the comedy and conspirator elements of the show. As for the romance....  I'm a sucker for the romances involving a girl who manages to capture the heart of a man and change him for the better. The twist with Mr. Baek is that Choi's having his heart changed by the girl whom his son longs for to change his own. I have yet to tell who will she stick with at the very end.

4.  The Perfect Insider (Jdrama)
Based off Japanese mystery writer Hiroshi Mori’s novel All Becomes F comes the Jdrama The Perfect Insider. The show takes on a crime-of-the-week format (to be exact, each crime span two episodes). However, the protagonists are unchanging. One is an architect student at Jinnan University named Moe Nishinosono. The other, Saikawa Souhei, is an associate professor and mentor within the university’s engineering department. These two are the active sleuths, in which their intelligence combines to crack each case. At the same time, they get a hand or two from the local police and a few other associates who stumble through.

As for their first case, the two head to a research institute on the suggested request of a professor in the same department as Saikawa. The research institute holds a laboratory where low temperature -20 degree experiments are conducted. (Don’t ask me what for, as I'll have to rewatch the episode to actually understand the science so heavily involved in this series.) A final experiment is underway, and a host of students and professors are present to watch their research come to a conclusion. Two of those students–who happen to be lovers–launches the last experiment by donning protective gear and stepping into the multi-room depths of the laboratory. The two seemingly come out of the lab one-by-one, as others monitor their progress from the outskirts. But when neither shows up to the celebratory party, questions naturally arise and a search party is formed. Behind one locked door the body of the female student is discovered, having been stabbed in the back. She lay inches from another door in which the male student is also found stabbed in the back. An emergency exit is unable to open from the outside, and a steel service door has a blown motor. This, in turns, creates a locked room double-murder mystery.  Stamped with science, physics, a touch of romance, and creepy murders Japanese style, comes the 10 episode series The Perfect Insider.

So many places I can start with how excited I get watching this drama. The immediate thing I want to share is that I love the music composition so much that I recently ordered its score straight from Japan. Like, I needed it. There’s a specific melody that plays when Nishinosono is theorizing a case of events that strokes the writer in me. I get excited when the beat plays, and boot up my laptop to see if I can construct my own scene. I'm hoping once I get the score I'll actually get back into writing, though. The second thing that comes to mind is how I absolutely love watching Japanese actors at work. Their acting is so aligned with the hard cuts, beats and blunt ends of their spoken language. There’s a certain staccato-ness in Japanese speech that I adore watching in motion through acting. 

As for the actual show, I love it because it’s about puzzles and how to unfold one with a basis in subjects such as science, computers and physics. There’s another level of consideration to the murders beyond just the deduction of the suspects. Elements such as room temperatures, air pressurizing, and what I think are called key frames, all play a part in one case or another. And with all that said, I just love the characters.  Nishinosono has this innocence, bravado, and curiosity for puzzles and murder.  Seeing a beheaded body did anything but cause her to scream, as her mind immediately snaps into unraveling the cause.  And Saikawa is one of those saggy intellectual Japanese babes that stay calm, cool, and trustworthy under pressure.


And this concludes my Top 4 Favorite Currently Running Dramas.  Maybe once they're complete  I'll review them.  Wait.  That'll take forever.  Like this post.  Nevertheless, if you've watched them, please share your take on them below.  Chime in! 

Next I want to do a post about a few currently running Kdramas that I’m on the fence about.  These are the dramas I'm into–but not into.  And I'll tell you why.  Hopefully, I'll get to that soon.  

Don't have an Hulu account?  Well, should you decide to try out Hulu, I'll pass on my referral link here: 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Last Night a Bookstore Saved My Life (Acquisitions)

Was my title too corny?  I couldn't help it, as I sit here tapping my foot to InDeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life".  I kind of live for that low disco throb anchoring the track.  It's so sweet that I had to find a way to incorporate it here as an expressionist at work.

It's been a challenging–and I mean challenging–reading month.  I started off strong, finishing the fourth book in Martha Grimes' Emma Graham series (who I still miss).  I then managed my way through the fourth book in Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski series, Bitter Medicine.  I enjoyed my time with Elizabeth Peter's Jacqueline Kirby in her English country house mystery adventure.  And without a doubt Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy feline detective series gave me the warm and fuzzies in its third offering.  Then I stopped by Barnes & Nobles one day after work and picked up the recent release of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, Flesh and Blood.  That's when the high-flying fantastic reading hit the fan.  Between dealing with health insurance madness and a cell phone battery that just wouldn't (thankfully, my replacement came in about forty minutes ago), I just kind of let the rest of this month go all together.  Even my blog suffered!  

I kind of got through by watching Golden Girls, playing Tales of Xillia 2, and fitting in a short story/manga or two to keep me reading.  However, all personal stuff aside, let's get back to how I abandoned the 22nd book in Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series!  Or better yet, be on the look out for my review.

Nonetheless, I'm here to share a few of the recent acquisitions I've gathered through the month of November.  Because if I wasn't reading books, I was buying them.

The Mysteries!

1.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Seeing that Emma Graham was coming to an end, I frantically searched for something similiar to take her place (at least until Mrs. Grimes writes the fifth book).  I didn't want to let twelve-year-old Emma's voice go after Fadeaway Girl.  So I am happy to say that I discovered Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series immediately following.  Flavia de Luce is a ten-year-old girl detective; and where Graham's series takes place in 60's US, Luce's is 50's UK .  So we have era and adolescence all spinning in the same vein of detective fiction.  I only hope Flavia is as witty, clever and smart-mouthed as Emma.  And despite all those hopes, I trust that she's a different girl all together.

2.  Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely

I did a video where I talked about how I'm unable to jump right into the middle of a series with any kind of comfort.  I must start from the beginning and work my way down.  In that video, I related my owning book three [Blanche Cleans Up] in Barbara Neely's series about a black housekeeper who solves mysteries.  The series has been on my radar for years, but I've only owned the third book.  After watching the video again, I realized I had no excuse for not starting Blanche's story.  So, I finally ordered the first book, Blanche on the Lam.

3.  In the Game by Nikki Baker

More on detective fiction, black women, series, and radars comes In the Game by Nikki Baker.  We're going to double (or even triple) minority realms here.  You see, this series not only revolves around a black woman named Virginia Kelly, but she's also a black woman who happens to be a lesbian.  My radar was buzzing with this series for quite some time, and I finally got my hands on the first book, In the Game.  Rumors has it that Virginia Kelly has a nasty attitude as she goes about solving murders in Chicago's lesbian community (or further out).  From my understanding, said attitude has turned some  readers away.  We'll just see about that.  As most of you know, I'll be the first one to tell you about it.

From Korea to Japan

4.  The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

This is certainly not my first foray into Korean-American author Chang-Rae Lee.  I was first introduced to him through his debut, Native Speaker.  Native Speaker was somewhat of a frustrating read for me.  Its context, concerning a Korean-American's alienation from Americanized concepts of culture, attitudes and behaviors, was the best thing ever.  I got the purpose (exchange that with any other word) of the book.  However, while that's all true, I also felt like shaking Lee's character, Henry.  It's all filled in his narrative, but man did he make a mostly inexpressive and sober narrator.  Long story short, recently Chang-Rae Lee popped to mind.  I researched his publications and decided on The Surrendered as my second take.

5.  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami  

My coming to 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is almost a direct reflection of my coming to The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee.  Both authors I read years ago and, for no imaginable reason, held back from until recently.  The difference is that I, like many, seemed transfixed by the length (and maybe even cover) of 1Q84.  It's always been on my radar, screaming "buy me read me" since its release.  I suppose I was hesitant because of its size.  Nonetheless, I read (as well as discovered) Murakami's Dance Dance Dance years ago, finding myself more or less gripped to the author afterwards.  I gave him a try, and that was that.  So here's to attempting 1Q84.  Because it's three books combined into one, my plan is to take them one book at a time.  1157 pages begs to be piecemealed.

What's Missing!

A few books I'm kind of waiting on...

6.  Pay Dirt by Rita Mae Brown

7.  Buffy Season 10 Volume 1: Rules by Christo Gage

8.  A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

The "Gotta Go" Pile:

December should not be like November–or even October for that matter.  I want to just let these last few days in November idle on by before I decide which book on this list will break open the final sprint of 2014!  With that said, happy reading everyone.  If you've read any of these books, please use the comments section to share your thoughts.  I'd love to hear them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Taste of Mori Hiroshi

"Kaoru thought she would get married to her boyfriend Thoru soon. However, since she met Satoru, Thoru's younger twin brother, something in her mind had changed. Kaoru noticed that she was being attracted toward Satoru more than to Thoru.

While Thoru was on his overseas business trip, the apartment Satoru lived in was burned down and a burned body was found on the site.

Was it an accident?
Was it a suicide, homicide, or murder?
Whose body was burned to death, Satoru or Thoru?

Did Thoru kill Satoru?
Or, did Satoru kill Thoru?

There is only one victim.
There is only one suspect.

And, there is only one truth."

I am bored with Patricia Cornwell’s latest, Flesh and Blood. Well, actually, not bored. Maybe weary of the uneventfulness of it all. Nonetheless, I didn't want to lose any reading momentum I’d already gathered for November–though I think it’s already lost. Having gotten through a manga (Stepping on Roses volume 2), I then decided to read a translated copy of A Pair of Hearts by Japanese thriller writer, Mori Hiroshi. I happened upon the book after watching two episodes of The Perfect Insider, a Japanese television crime drama based off Mori’s S&M series. It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Japanese crime writer, Natsuo Kirino; and a little more on the abnormal side of Japan as it concerns the author Haruki Murakami. So Hiroshi seemed like a great fit/distraction.

I did enjoy A Pair of Hearts. It was a quick read (54 pages); not too heavy on the details, and just an easy introduction into Hiroshi's writing (certainly not the best introduction, I'm sure). I anticipated its wooly ending, considering the story built itself on the internal and external conflict of a woman shuffling relations between a pair of twins. So there’s not too much here, but I look forward to one day reading a full novel by Hiroshi. And sadly, this little reading interlude wasn't sweet enough to push me back into Cornwell. Oh, well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recom Request: Learning Japanese Characters

One day I decided I wanted to read Japanese manga in its native language.  Why not, considering I was obsessed with the drawings.  So I set out to teach myself when I was fourteen.  But first let me get this part absolutely straight: I am not fluent in Japanese after all these years. Even after taking two college courses on the language (years after I began my self-teaching journey of course), I am nowhere near voluble. Really, I would grade myself a three out of ten on a comprehension scale. I may be able to slide through the language as it relates to speaking conversationally, though. Nonetheless, fluent I hardly am; much to my disappointment. And most of that has to do with a lack of daily practice as well as an extreme lack of exposure to native speakers (I stress “extreme lack“). 

Still, I wanted to make a post sharing the book that got me started when I was fourteen, scanning my way through the international section of the public library. I found the book useful for a young beginner like myself. Even now–being moderately familiar with the language–I refer to it because of its refreshing simplicity. It does offer plenty but, like many language-learning tools, it gets its criticism also. Even so, I can say that I learned to read two out of the three forms of Japanese writing systems; I managed hiragana and katakana through the author’s visual mnemonics.  Hiragana and Katakana has always stuck with me without fail, much to my advantage later in college. However, learning the complicated strokes and compounds of kanji, featured later in the book, took some advanced tools. Nevertheless, that’s not to say that I didn't pick up a few from the book that assisted me down the road.  I mean, I can differentiate the kanji character for "sun" (=ni) and "month" (月=gatsu) clearly enough (the problem is when kanji characters fuse to make one jukugo). So at the end of the day, the book, Michael Rowley’s Kanji Pictographix, is a great start for those who decide to pick up and familiarize themselves with Japanese characters.

So I just wanted to share a little regarding this book and a few fundamentals of learning hiragana and katakana first. Then later, in another post, I'll show some other Japanese learning tools for beginners (like myself).

So what’s the difference between written Japanese hiragana and katakana. According to Rowley, hiragana is used to write words not normally written within the complexity of kanji, or as I see it, a means of deconstructing kanji characters into a simpler form. Therefore, it’s no wonder why hiragana (as well as katakana) is taught first to Japanese children. Nonetheless, the other function of hiragana is that it’s used for verb endings and speech. Example: applying the hiragana character for ka (at the end of a sentence or statement indicates that the person speaking is asking a question.

Now katakana characters are written differently than hiragana, but spoken with the same phonetics. The main different is that katakana is used to write names and words that aren't traditionally Japanese. An example would be "coffee." As a typical English (though not necessarily in its origin) word, it would be written in katakana (
 コーヒー)  in contrast to hiragana. And is further romanized as “Kōhī,” or pronounced “ko-hee”.

In case I’ve complicated this, I've included a few scans from Michael Rowley’s book to show you a few examples and to further my recommendation of this book for those just starting Japanese.

        Hiragana            Katakana          Hiragana     Katakana

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