The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai

thesettingsunTo put it simply, The Setting Sun is a story about post-war Japan struggling and torn between Western modernization and deep aristocratic values.

The main character is Kazuko, a 29-year old daughter of an aristocrat who lives with her mother and brother and now have fallen on hard times. There are times when I find Kazuko difficult to understand but that’s okay, I find there are a lot like her in the world. I love every part of the book with the mother and so it was really sad when she died.

I liked the idea of Naoji’s letters that served as flashbacks before he committed suicide. It’s sad, really sad, though it did not surprise me at all. Through this letters, we discover his struggles in an aristocratic society and post-war Japan.

This is my first Osamu Dazai book. There’s not much action really and it was really sad but definitely a pleasure to read.

Quotable Quotes:
“To wait. In our lives we know joy, anger, sorrow, and a hundred other emotions, but these emotions all together occupy a bare one percent of our time. The remaining ninety-nine percent is just living in waiting. I wait in momentary expectation, feeling as though my breasts are being crushed, for the sound in the corridor of the footsteps of happiness. Empty. Oh, life is too painful, the reality that confirms the universal belief that it is best not to be born.”
“When I pretended to be precocious, people started the rumor that I was precocious. When I acted like an idler, rumor had it I was an idler. When I pretended I couldn’t write a novel, people said I couldn’t write. When I acted like a liar, they called me a liar. When I acted like a rich man, they started the rumor I was rich. When I feigned indifference, they classed me as the indifferent type. But when I inadvertently groaned because I was really in pain, they started the rumor that I was faking suffering. The world is out of joint.”
“I like roses best. But they bloom in all four seasons. I wonder if people who like roses best have to die four times over again.”
“I am afraid because I can so clearly foresee my own life rotting away of itself, like a leaf that rots without falling, while I pursue my round of existence from day to day.”
“Addiction is perhaps a sickness of the spirit.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

kitchenTwo beautifully woven storylines that dealt with grief and loss with wonderful narration which I thought would have been really good novels instead of short stories. Banana Yoshimoto and these two stories remind me very much of Haruki Murakami and his ability to turn daily life into something magical.

This is a quick and easy read with lots of important ideas each of us should understand. Also, I like books for its simplicity and Yoshimoto’s writing style was so simple which made me like the book more. I’m not really sure if this is really Yoshimoto’s writing style or was it the translation but yeah, it came out simple and easy to read. I wouldn’t have to reread several pages to fully understand.

I guess what the author is really trying to tell us in both stories is to live our lives to the fullest. The loss of a loved one or anyone dear to us doesn’t always have to bring us sadness or grief because it won’t bring us back the people we’ve lost. The world is unfair so better just make the best out of it while here.

Quotable Quotes:

“People aren’t overcome by situations or outside forces. Defeat comes from within.”

“No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.”

“As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won’t let my spirit be destroyed.”

“Over and over, we begin again.”

“I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that the ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn’t up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

pachinkoPachinko follows the story of Sunja and her family through four generations across Korea and Japan. It describes the experiences of Koreans during the Japanese occupation in Korea and the harsh discrimination they had to endure in Japan during that moment in history. Sunja and her family, as well as many Koreans, didn’t have much choice at that time but to struggle in order to survive.

There are so many characters in this book, some we encounter very briefly while some take part throughout the entire story. Even with a large cast of characters, Min Jin Lee was able to let us glimpse into each one of them and how they lead their lives. What I found most interesting was how she managed to put the characters in similar situations and how the characters chose to deal with it.

It’s a lengthy read but don’t let that stop you from reading for the book was greatly-paced, you wouldn’t want to put it down.

Min Jin Lee’s writing style is simple but elegant. The characters seem to speak in a such a way that it penetrates through the heart and touched me and made every part of the story realistic. Somehow, I did not want the book to end. I love that I’ve learned more about some part of history I have been keen of knowing more since I was in high school. And the fact that I have been working for a Korean company for quite some time now makes the read more interesting. In a way, I sort of feel like I understand more about them now.

This was a very entertaining and wonderful read and it could even be a great TV drama.

Highly recommended to everyone.

Quotable Quotes:

“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”

“Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge—it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.”

“Yes, of course. If you love anyone, you cannot help but share his suffering. If we love our Lord, not just admire him or fear him or want things from him, we must recognize his feelings; he must be in anguish over our sins. We must understand this anguish. The Lord suffers with us. He suffers like us. It is a consolation to know this. To know that we are not in fact alone in our suffering.”

“You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.”

“No one is clean. Living makes you dirty.”

Rating: 5/5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

 

 

 

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

cranesThousand Cranes is an Oedipal narrative told by Kikuji, who is strongly attracted to his deceased father’s last lover. Set after the end of World War II, it’s a sad, sensual, delicate, somewhat depressive, quiet novel.

Since I started reading Haruki Murakami’s books, I became very interested with other Japanese authors and Japanese culture as well. I’m not much into drinking tea but I’ve read a few things about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony which plays a fundamental part in this book. I’m fairly certain I didn’t quite understand everything about the tea ceremony (or the book entirely) but how Yasunari Kawabata uses these tea cups, tea bowls and utensils to make memories come alive and trace history of these items’ ownership was one reason why I really enjoyed reading this.

I was slightly disappointed with the ambiguous ending but thinking about it now as I write this, it wasn’t really a bad thing.

Quotable Quotes:

“Now, even more than the evening before, he could think of no one with whom to compare her. She had become absolute, beyond comparison. She had become decision and fate.”

“Your mother was such a gentle person. I always feel when I see someone like her that I’m watching the last flowers fall. This is no world for gentle people.”

“He could not call up the faces of his own mother and father, who had died three or four years before. He would look at a picture, and there they would be. Perhaps people were progressively harder to paint in the mind as they near one, loved by one. Perhaps clear memories came easily in proportion as they were ugly.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

downloadSilence is set during the early years of Christianity in Japan and the story revolves around Father Sebastian Rodrigues who sets off with two other fellow priests after hearing news that his mentor Father Ferreira apostatized. No one knew for sure whether Father Ferreira is still alive and no one can confirm if the news/rumors about him renouncing his faith were true. Rodrigues embarks on a journey that may cost him his life. Sounds like an adventure given that as a gist of the story, right? However, it takes a different scenario focusing on Rodrigues’ faith, feelings and conscience.

The story started too slow for my taste, to be honest, I wouldn’t have continued reading if I had another book with me at the time. It’s a novel about faith and one’s personal view of God and leans heavily on Catholic theology specially for the first part of the book.

The main issue is, as the title suggests, silence. We see very terrible things happening around us and if you believe there’s a God, at some point, it makes you ask why doesn’t He intervene, why doesn’t He do something, why does He allow evil things to happen? Does God see us in our breaking points? God himself said, “pray and I will hear you and that I will love you and comfort you.” But then, silence is all there is. The first words in Silence were the first words I’ve read from Shusaku Endo, I have never read anything by him before. But it kinda felt a bit odd though to find out that he is a Catholic, thus, he ought to understand the nature of their faith. I mean, it would make faith meaningless if God is a vocal God. Isn’t that what’s powerful about faith? That it exists without a conclusive proof of God’s existence?

Anyway, God was silent to the end of the book. Rodrigues has to choose between renouncing his faith and save the Christians from being tortured or refuse to apostatize and see more Christians die from torture. I have mixed feelings about the ending maybe because I was expecting the story to end in martyrdom which is actually one of the main issues raised in the book about Christian missions and yet, Father Rodrigues apostatized. Be that as it may, Shusaku Endo was somehow able to reflect man’s thoughts in the face of adversity.

A character who matters a great deal though is Kichijiro who represents Christianity’s greatest villain, Judas. A Japanese “Gollum.” A weakling. He comes and goes throughout the book but in his character is something we can find uncomfortably real. The relationship between Kichijiro and Father Rodrigues makes us understand about the latter’s torment.

I’ve read reviews a few minutes before purchasing this book but I’m left slightly disappointed. I felt I’ve read a different book. I was raised a Christian but no longer share the faith so maybe that’s why I couldn’t really warm up to the main conflict of the story, but still, this book may appeal to many with regards to the juxtaposition it depicts, culture, the pitiful characters and their unanswered prayers and the tough what if questions people are perhaps afraid to address because it could lead them, or not, to conclude that there probably is no God.

I’m interested to watch the movie adaptation though. Have you guys seen it? Would you recommend me watching it? Please share your thoughts.

Quotable Quotes:

“Man is a strange being. He always has a feeling somewhere in his heart that whatever the danger he will pull through. It’s just like when on a rainy day you imagine the faint rays of the sun shining on a distant hill.”

“Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

“It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Ballad of Narayama

balladAdapted from the novel of the same name, The Ballad of Narayama happens in a small, remote Japanese village in the mountains where survival rules over compassion. I’m not very sure but it seems the movie is set a century ago where people try to survive in brutal conditions.

Orin is approaching her 70th birthday and is now looking forward to her trip to Narayama. One of the village’s customs says that once a person reaches 70 years of age, they are to be taken to Narayama, a secret, mystical place high up the mountains where they are to die. She now tries her best to settle the affairs of his sons before she leaves.

It’s a movie I found difficult to watch. I for one get bored easily and if the first scenes don’t catch my attention right away, I’d stop watching. However, I continued with the film to avoid another unproductive weekend. (Well, if watching this would mean being productive!) In the first few minutes was a scene where the corpse of a baby is found in the rice paddy. There was also a scene where Orin deliberately bashed her mouth to a kind of stoneware knocking out some of her teeth (Ouch!) because she thinks her sons might not want to send her up to Narayama if she still looks healthy. Another would be Risuke’s (Orin’s youngest son) exploits with a dog (Eeewww!), he has never been with a woman before. This scene was one among the several which were probably necessary to emphasize how the people at that time were desperate to escape the hellish life they’re living and finding solace in the smallest (or weirdest) of comforts.

Orin never questioned her fate however hard it is. She believes there’s an order and purpose to it. No one can question her fidelity to gods and tradition. And so when she was able to tie all loose ends, she prepared herself for the journey to Narayama. She intended to go in time with the first snow fall as she believes that it’s a sign that her death has been blessed by the gods. The last half an hour or so was nearly wordless but captivating.

What left me thinking about after the film though was the idea that the family or the community matters more and thus must be served/followed more. Orin understood this perfectly and abides by the law/tradition without fear. I’m left appalled because I for one glorify individualism. I think it’s harsh to be governed by such mores. And it would have been interesting to have Tatsuhei’s father in the film because he questioned some of the laws/customs in their village which is why he refused to take his mother to Narayama.

The end felt empty for me. With Orin disappearing then reappearing again, kind of went away from the consistent objective approach in the film. Though this practice of going to Narayama was regarded as sacred, it also seemed useless as much as I have seen. I would’ve preferred if the story kept its indifferent tone to the end.

Has anyone of you watched The Ballad of Narayama? I would love to know your thoughts about it and perhaps understand and appreciate the film more. There are probably things I didn’t quite understand and watching movies aren’t really my thing. But still, I’d recommend you watch it.