Monday, 15 February 2010

Turning Japanese

I'm annoyed I missed so much of the BFI Southbank's Ozu season and only latterly caught Early Summer and Late Autumn. One of the criticisms levelled at the second film is that it barely reflects the changing attitudes that were blowing through Japan at the time it was made (1960). While Yasujiro Ozu may by then have been working to an utterly serene template, I'm not sure this is fair when you look at Late Autumn through the prism of his earlier work. Taken against Early Summer, for instance, with which it shares the principal scenario about a young woman looking for a husband, certain formalities have clearly changed, as have attitudes to the younger generation.

Early Summer (1951) is a wonderful introduction to family relations, the ins and outs of getting married and even to eating and the layout of homes in Japan at the time. Nearly a decade on, some of the most haunting shots in Late Autumn are of the apartment block where this way of life has been transposed, though scenes between the younger cast can sometimes be reminiscent of a Cliff Richard film. (There's a touch of this in Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood but, a generation and a half on, his work feels like another world.)

I've just started a detective novel, Inspector Imanishi Investigates, by Seicho Matsumoto, drawn by the comparisons to Georges Simenon on the back. Published by New York's Soho Press, it's notable how Beth Carey's smooth translation beautifully assimilates any cultural lacunae; really impressive. First published in Japan in 1961, the author tackles more directly the shock of the new as a gang of young writers, artists, composers and architects are feted by the public in a manner that exceeds anything that has gone before.

Next up for me is Occupied City, the second part of David Peace's Tokyo trilogy. I'm sure Matsumoto's procedurals must have served Peace as some inspiration for the police work in his latest books. But Peace looks directly at the post-war environment, while his Japanese antecendents brush at it as against nettles.

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