Monday, November 07, 2005

Media Review

Since my book and movie reviews have been rather dominating this blog recently (both in terms of length and of number), I have decided to shorten my commentary and combine it into one omnibus entry, as it were. US Senators, take note!

Though I have been reading mainly fiction as of late, I also like my non-fiction. One must have one's food for thought, n'est ce pas? With that in mind, my second load of books from the library included Robert M. March's "Reading the Japanese Mind: The Realities Behind Their Thoughts and Actions". This book attempts to explain why the Japanese act like they do, and what they really mean when they say hai and mean "yes", "no", "maybe", "I see", "I hate you", "I love you", etc. This basically boils down to 本音 and 建前 (hon'ne and tatemae, or "true feeling" and "external presentation"), and March does an excellent job of explaining these concepts and how they inform Japanese behaviour. All in all, this is an excellent book, which is worth a read for anyone who is starting what could be a long relationship with the Japanese. Businesspeople will especially appreciate the read. The book's only weak point, in my opinion, is when March tries to spew some academic language to justify his opinions, which is not really necessary, as this is not an anthropological tome (and all the better for it). My opinion? Thumbs up.

I have also consumed two more John le Carré novels, the first of which was "A Perfect Spy". "A Perfect Spy" is about, strangely enough, a British spy who might just be perfect at what he does, namely: spying. Got that? The plot can be summed up rather easily: a spy goes missing. Has he left the reservation? Is he a double agent, working for the Sinister Forces of Communism? Is he insane? I have claimed before that le Carré is a slightly literary chap, and I offer "A Perfect Spy" as further proof thereof. A good bit of of the action takes place within the mind of Magnus Pym, the main character, presented to the reader as his writing. The rapidly switching pronouns are confusing at first, but soon start to make sense, and offer interesting clues into the psyche of the character. My opinion? Thumbs up!

The second le Carré novel that I read was "The Russia House", which is the closest that le Carré has yet come to your standard Cold War pulp fiction. Which is not at all an insult, since I love that sort of thing. "The Russia House" opens with a beautiful, enigmatic Russian woman slipping a manuscript to a British publisher. The manuscript finds its way to the British secret service, and turns out to be priceless intel. Upon which the secret service (AKA the MI6, the SIS, etc.) drafts the publisher as a spy. Said newly minted spy returns to Russia, falls in love with enigmatic woman, and then the big plot twist. Which I will not reveal, even unto pain of death. My opinion? Thumbs up!

Now that I have read two of le Carré's spy novels (I need to find a copy of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"!), I feel qualified to offer the following opinion: le Carré is not what you should read when you are looking for a thrilling spy yarn. Why? Because le Carré gives you far too much to think about. Consider le Carré Tolkien as opposed to Tom Clancy / Weis and Hickman; the latter pair are great authors and very entertaining, but their writing cannot be called literature, as such. Which is not to say that le Carré and Tolkien are not entertaining and worth reading, just that they make you think whilst entertaining. So there!

The final book to be reviewed in this review is "Ninja Justice: Six Tales of Murder and Revenge", by IKENAMI Shotaro and translated by Gavin Frew. This is complete candy: just the guilty pleasure that I expected when I snatched it off the shelf at the library. (I thought immediately of Chall, of course!) The book is a collection of six short stories concerning the exploits of Baian, a master assassin, and Hikojiro, his best friend and fellow assassin. Baian, of course, is also a master acupuncturist who works as a doctor between contracts. Just call the duo assassins with hearts of gold... This book is pure entertainment, and at a mere 184 pages, can be digested in a single sitting. So put a pot of tea on already and check this book out of your local library! My opinion: thumbs up!

And now for a movie review. Let's choose a recent movie at random, say, "Wedding Crashers". And let's say that this movie can be summed up as follows: a vehicle for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Which makes the movie, of course, funny. Which is not to say that it is in any way comparable to the brilliance of "The Royal Tenenbaums" (on which Owen Wilson actually shares the writing credit with the immortal Wes Anderson) or "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" or "Swingers". It has more in common with the Owen Wilson / Ben Stiller vehicle that was "Starsky & Hutch": funny yet forgettable. My opinion? Thumbs up if you are in the mood for a dumb comedy. Thumbs down if you are looking for something especially witty. Try one of the above movies that I have linked if your mood craves intelligent comedy.

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