June, 2017

Michael Pronko at large


I want to thank all members of the Sherriff posse (that means you) for recommending books and movies and just generally keeping me up to date with things I should know, but don’t. Anything I learn, I’ll share with you. A gold star goes to Deputy Nancy Crudts, who recommended Michael Pronko as a person of interest to this newsletter. I made contact with him and came back with a 2,000-word interrogation. It was a lot of fun to do, and I learnt a lot. You might too…

  1. And here it is, my interview with Michael Pronko, Tokyo essayist, American culture professor, and now novelist –– he only went and published his first crime novel on Wednesday. Read all about it and my review of his book, The Last Train.
  2. Fancy a trip round Jimbocho, Tokyo’s booktown? Spend two minutes with me on YouTube as I scout bookstores for good reads.
  3. How many of these nine “must read” books on Japanese history have you read? I’ve read zero, I hate to admit, although I might have Embracing Defeat on a shelf somewhere.
  4.  Speaking of ancient history, I completely missed the Ghost in the Shell movie phenomenon/flop of last month (year? Who can remember?) but Peter Tasker said it was good, and James Hadfield said it was bad. (I may be Trumping down their positions a bit).
  5. If you want to know what on earth is going on with Japanese politics, may I recommend blogger and politics professor Michael Cucek. He doesn’t blog much anymore, but he’s active on Twitter, and he’s still as sharp as ever.
  6. The Economist has discovered shochu. I’m on a shochu diet… there is no punchline to this, it’s just a lot lower in calories than beer, wine or whiskey.
  7. Why Japanese babies are upending the world of linguistics, according to Amanda Alvarez. It’s not that Japanese is particularly exceptional, just that English is not that universal.
  8. Photographer Martin Bailey conducts a great video interview with Lee Chapman, the best street photographer-blogger in Tokyo that I know of.
  9. This true tale of Australian convict pirates making it al the way to Japan in 1830 is great, made all the greater by being proven by an amateur historian.
  10.  Question of the month: What do you recommend I read to get a handle on modern Japanese history? I’ve read Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons and Mizuki Shigeru’s excellent Showa manga series, but what else should I be reading to help me understand recent Japanese history? As ever, email me your picks, I’ll share any recommendations with all next month. Which reminds me, last month’s question was “What Japanese movies or directors do you recommend I watch?” And once again, I was deluged with great suggestions from subscribers that I’ll share with you here. The picks and comments are from you all, not me, I knew next to nothing about Japanese cinema until you told me. Thank you…

    From Linda Lombardi:
    Animated: Tokyo Godfathers.  A trio of homeless people in Tokyo spend the Christmas season saving an abandoned baby. Much better than that sounds… Not sure that if you like this one you will want to watch all of the late Satoshi Kon’s other movies as they are rather different in my opinion, but he’s someone everyone should know about.
    Live-action, but more unreleastic than the animated suggestion: Thermae Romae. A fantasy about baths in Japan and ancient Rome, need I say more?

    From Maria Godebska
    Koreeda Hirokazu is a most excellent director. You may remember a movie he made a few years back that did well internaitonally – better than in Japan I imagine, due to the story – called Daremo Shiranai. His films, even if drama, often have a documentary-like feel – He makes films which are either focussed on everyday life in its normalcy, ups and downs; and fantasy (allegorical I guess).
    The first film by him that I saw is called “After Life” in English, and either Wandaafuru Raifu or Byuutifurur Raifu in Japanese, I forget which. It is, for me, a remarkable low-budget film, and I love it dearly. But honestly, anything by him is great. The most recent ones by him that I saw were “Our Little Sister”, or “Umimachi Diary”, and “I Wish” / Kiseki. “Like Father Like Son”/Soshite chichi ni naru got a lot of press because of the content, I haven’t seen it but am sure it is great!

    From Rochelle Kopp
    Tasogare Seibei (I think English title is Twilight Samurai).
    Anything by Ozu, Late Spring and Early Fall particularly good.
    Anything by Kurosawa, besides the usual suspects, try High and Low.
    Minbo no Onna
    Untama Giru
    Not quite as highbrow as the ones above but I liked Bakayaro a lot.
    Another director I quite like is Miike Takashi, and though he dabbles in horror and dark drama, a comedy he did, called The Happiness of the Katakuris / Katakurike no kofuku was a giggle.

    From Guy Yates:
    Baburu e go!! Taimu mashin wa doramu-shiki
    Suna no utsuwa
    Kon Ichikawa’s kagi
    The Always sanchome series are fun to watch too
    Tokyo biyori
    Anything by Ozu.
    Anything by Juzo Itami though one that sometimes slips by is Daibyonin

Have a good June, all. Hope you get something of value from this newsletter. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and tell a pal, leave a review on one of my books on Amazon or Goodreads or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. If you want to read any back issues of this newsletter, they all eventually find their way to the morgue, otherwise known as Letter from Abiko.

Next month, I’ll post an interview I’m looking forward to doing with True Crime Japan author Paul Murphy.

Thanks for reading,



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