REVIEW: Rashomon & Other Stories

I have been wanting to get a hold of some of Akutagawa’s short stories for a while now, and finally got my hands on the Tuttle collection that contains six stories. Considering I started reading this on March 1st (Akutagawa’s birthday) and finished it on the third (an important date in the final story), it seemed like fate brought this collection to me.

As much as I would have loved to have bought a larger collection, Tuttle Publishing always has really quality translations and I love supporting a company that does so much work producing educational material and language studies books (like 90% of my self-study Japanese textbooks are from Tuttle). Of course, that being said, I think this is a great edition for anyone who wants to get a taste of not just classic Japanese literature, but also a taste of Akutagawa in general. The stories in this edition include In The Grove, Rashomon, Yam Gruel, The Martyr, Kesa & Morito, and The Dragon.

I primarily wanted to read this collection for Rashomon and In The Grove as they are the most famous of his work due to the Kurosawa Akira film adaptation of the latter (although it was called Rashomon). Both stories were exactly as I expected them to be. Rashomon is a story of morals and while being short and cynical, really forced readers to question what they would do if they were starving and the choice was between your own survival or the survival of others in the same situation. In The Grove was a classic murder mystery with nothing but unrealiable narrators and the lack of closure is so interesting and unique as it leaves the decision up to the reader. The lesser known stories in the collection were are so different from each other while keeping that cynicism towards human nature and human desire that gives Akutagawa his edge.

What I found the most interesting is how, despite the difference in translators, I can see where Akutagawa influenced the works of my personal favourite, Dazai Osamu. Dazai held Akutagawa in a high regard (the two even died the same way) and I can see where their questions towards human nature crossover. That was my main reason for wanting to read these stories and I’m so happy I was finally able to. I look forward to tracking down more of Akutagawa’s work in English and – hopefully with some help from my textbooks – Japanese when translations are not available.

Happy [belated] birthday, Ryuunosuke.

Murakami Double Feature: Piercing & Audition

Note: both of these works by Murakami Ryuu contain intense levels of violence, gore, self-harm and references of sexual trauma and child abuse.

One of the most well known Japanese horror films is Audition from the incredibly director Miike Takashi. To be perfectly blunt (so excuse my language here), that movie is one hell of a mind-fuck that is not only confusing but so incredibly nasty, I don’t ever recommend it to anyone even though it’s a move that completely captivates me. A few years ago, I found out that this classic of a film was actually based on a book by “the other Murakami”, the twisted mastermind, Murakami Ryuu.

However, Audition wasn’t the first book of his that I read. Late in 2020, I read through Piercing during a 12-hour shift at my day job, and absolutely fell in love with it. Adapted into a film more recently (but far too white and far too different to be worth watching, save your time for better movies), the only thing I knew about Piercing is that it was graphic. But wow did that book hit me in ways I was certainly not expecting. Both Piercing and Audition are incredibly intense books but I’m so pleased to have finally read them. Now to get onto the reviews!

Piercing is about a man struggling with violent urges from his childhood that are once again plaguing him as an adult and about a young sex worker unable to manage her childhood trauma. As both find themselves in a situation where they are equally trying to kill each other, the realisation of being cut from similar clothes leads to a strange ending that will not be what one expects.

The graphic violence in this book borders on extreme that may be off putting for many readers, even ones who enjoy horror. Murkami’s horror is on a different level than most to say the least.

Given how short this book is (and the same goes for Audition) I don’t want to give too much away, but when it really boils down to it, Piercing is a story about broken people. Both lead characters have been abused, the trauma of their youth bleeding into their adult lives. As the cat vs cat (because neither of these people are the mouse) game continues onward over the course of the night, the realisation hits just how much their individual trauma resonates with the other’s. To me it was a book about accepting your baggage as much as accepting that you can’t be responsible for other people’s baggage. It’s a complex narrative that I felt really hit the nail on the head when it comes to trauma and dealing with trauma in unhealthy ways. As horrible of a visual this novel gives, I felt uplifted by it. As weird as that sounds…

Audition is a very different novel when compared to Piercing. It’s quieter, softer around the edges, while still addressing the harsh violence that comes with unhealthy trauma processing. It follows a man who misses his deceased wife, who’s son suggests he settle down again. Though middle-aged, he follows his skeezy friend’s idea to hold a fake audition to find a refined young woman to settle down with.

It’s not his fault that things go sideways.

Fans of the film will be familiar with the gruesome torture scenes, the implied sexual violence, and of course, the piano wire. But much of what Miike put in the film doesn’t actually occur in the book, and I would probably be more likely to recommend the book to people within my circles than I would be to recommend the movie.

The flashback sequences of what Asami went through, the visits to her apartment and the restaurant where he were. Visceral scenes that are signature to Miike’s film style that were entirely made up. While the film is somewhat non-linear and full of drug induced hallucination scenes, the book is more linear and straight forward (and also far less graphic until the infamous ending). That being said, I found the film added far more to Asami’s character, making her more alluring while also more terrifying. The book, while more palatable and easier to follow, felt like it was missing some greater threat while it built up to the ending. I felt it needed more to really suck someone in.

That being said, as a huge fan of the film, I am incredibly happy I was still able to read the source material in English. It’s a must read for fans of the movie.

Murakami has a very distinct style that is visceral and gut-wrenching while somehow simultaneously being quiet and tender. He writes messy stories about messy people, most of them just wanting to live their lives as best they can manage. He reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk in some ways if I’m being honest. I really hope that as 2021 continues, I’m able to read more of his translated works (especially Coin Locker Babies since Miike was in talks to adapt that one before the project was cancelled).

ARC REVIEW: Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Thank you NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for providing me with the eARC

The second I saw this book’s cover floating around on social media, I just knew that I needed to get my hands on it. Not to mention that I’m a sucker for Japanese horror, so a haunted house thrill ride in Japan? Count me in.

Note: trigger warnings for intense gore

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is the story of a group of five “friends” (I use the term very loosely here) as two of them are getting married. Faiz and Nadia are set on having a borderline sacrilegious wedding ceremony in a haunted house so when the trust-fund friend, Phillip, fronts the money for everyone to go to a decrepit old mansion in the middle of nowhere, Japan, it’s all perfect. When the story’s narrator, Cat, presents a main source of tension and her friend, Lin, as well, things go from zero to one hundred really fast. This is a house that yearns for blood.

After reading this novella in a single sitting, though, I found myself a touch disappointed. Perhaps I went in with my expectations set to high but the weirdest thing about my mixed feelings is that I want both more and less out of it.

Cassandra Khaw has a meticulous style that is flowery and explicit simultaneously. In some places, she has the most on-point descriptions of yokai, ghosts, and gore. In other’s the wordiness detracts from the story, the terms requiring google definitions (and this from someone who thought he had a pretty large vocabulary…) to understand what was being said. I loved the descriptions of the house itself and of the ghost, but what was majorly lacking was context. What happened to Cat that locked her away? Why is Nadia so hateful towards her? Why does no one like Lin if he seems just as successful as Phillip? How are any of these horrible people friends?

I’m all for messy people being messy, but the depth was lacking and the book turned into more of an 88-minute horror film one watches with friends while drunk and everyone tries to guess who dies first simply to move things along.

Will I read more of Khaw’s work? Absolutely. Sadly this one was just most of a miss from me.

REVIEW: The Memory Police

Completely out of character for me, I read yet another dystopian novel this month and while I enjoyed it enough, it was definitely an unsettling story.

Ogawa Yoko’s latest novel, The Memory Police, is about a small, unnamed island that is controlled by a strange regime from nowhere called the Memory Police. The police control what is and isn’t allowed the exist on the island, meaning when something has been “disappeared” not only does the thing itself vanish from the island but all memories and emotional attaches to said thing vanish too. Anyone who is capable of remembering what has vanished is taken away by the police, and as more and more things begin to disappear, the nameless narrator struggles with a terrifying thought: what if things never stop disappearing?

This novel takes it’s time, the slow and easy pace really making you feel like things are okay. It is very much a false sense of security that shows how oppressive and yet normalized high-surveillance states are – everyone on the island is nervous around the Memory Police, but everyone also has a firm “I’m not doing anything wrong, so there is nothing to worry about” mentality. The concept of things just vanishing is also terrifying. It isn’t just little things, but it includes food and animals as well. As the story progresses and the stakes rise while our narrator is hiding her friend, R, the horrific concept really gets dark: what if words disappear? The censorship in media that’s heavily implied through that idea is horrifying and I love how intense the metaphor is.

Much like some of my favourite Japanese horror films, this book is quiet until the last few chapters when everything is happening to an overwhelming degree. It’s an ending that can’t be described without huge spoilers, but it gets really twisted really quickly. I got very uncomfortable and finishing it was a struggle but I do plan on re-reading it when the world isn’t entirely on fire. Do I recommend reading this book? Absolutely. But maybe wait a few months.

REVIEW: Mirai

Thank you NetGalley and YenPress for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.


I love Japanese stories. I find there’s just something that’s always different about Japanese lit that tugs at my heartstrings no matter the book. Having loved all the recently translated light novels I’ve been reading, I was so excited to have been approved for Mirai by Mamoru Hasoda, especially given that I’m such a huge fan of his films.

Mirari is the story of a little boy, Kun, who is livid to find he isn’t receiving as much attention or affection from his parents now that he has a baby sister. However, Kun is then visited by a future version of his sister as well as other versions of all of the people around him in an adventure of love, family, and learning.

Now, this story was presented as an anime film first and then later adapted into the light novel as presented with this book. Much like your name. or even manga adaptations such as Wolf Children (also a film by Hasoda) or the Boruto series, it’s not uncommon to have the books come after the film/series is released. It doesn’t always work, and despite enjoying the story, I do feel like Mirai is an example of one better seen rather than read.

It felt a little jumbled in places and I am honestly not sure if that is due to parts of the story being lost in translation between the original Japanese and this English edition, or if it just is simply how the story is paced. It was still very cute and an interesting look into modern family living in Japan, but I think it would have had more emotional value in the form of a manga rather than a novel.