For the past two years, at around this time of year, I have focussed on reading books from only one country. Two years ago, it was Iceland. Last year it was Russia. I could easily have done Russia again but, as the title says, I will be focussing on Japan for the next few weeks. I suppose, for many Westerners, Japan has an attraction because of its exoticism. They wore different clothes (but now they wear Western clothes). They ate different food (but now we all eat sushi). The language remains different and difficult. However, though their literature has been heavily influenced by Western literature, it still has a certain special Japanese flavour. Murakami, for example, may well be influenced by US hard-boiled detective novels and Kafka, but it is still peculiarly Japanese.
My first real introduction to Japanese literature was not modern novels but the great classics and I read many of them, from The Tale of the Genji to the The Tale of the Heike, from Basho to the Ugetsu Monogatari. And that leads me nicely on to Japanese cinema. Apart, naturally, from US and UK films, I have seen more films by Japanese directors than any other nationality and I suspect that I have seen more films directed by the great Kenji Mizoguchi than by any other director (with Hitchcock in second place.) Mizoguchi’s best-known film, at least in the West, is his superb adaptation of Ugetsu Monogatari though I prefer Utamaro and His Five Women and Princess Yang Kwei-Fei. However, all of his films, including his early silent ones, are well worth watching. Japan has produced a host of first-class film directors, such as Ozu, Kurosawa, Oshima, Ichikawa, Kobayashi (whose film Samurai Rebellion is one of my favourite films), Shinoda, Imamura, Teshigahara, Yoshimura and many others.
Two Japanese writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature: Kawabata and Oe. Tanizaki should have won it and Murakami is often tipped to win it, though not everyone agrees. However, the number of first-class Japanese novelists who have been translated into English and other Western European languages is huge (and the number I have not read is embarrassing). I have read Yukio Mishima and found his work less than interesting so you will not find him on my website but there are still plenty more to read. Even after I have finished this reading event, there will still be dozens of Japanese writers still to be read. Here is the first one, a fierce feminist novel.