Monday, March 29, 2010

Schubert, Solti, and the Critics

I originally wrote this really long post on David Hurwitz and his criticisms of classic classical recordings. I meant for it to be a criticism of a critic, but then I realized something: who would want to read it?  So, instead, I have decided to focus on Sir Georg Solti's recording of Schubert's Symphony No. 9, which Gramophone called "a winner among the many recordings of this symphony" and Hurwitz called a "driven, joyless bow-wow of a Schubert performance."

This is not the first time that Hurwitz and various music critics at Gramophone have clashed on a recording's merits: other examples include two famous Mahler recordings by Bruno Walter (Das Lied von der Erde with Ferrier, and his 1938 recording of the Ninth Symphony).  Also, occasionally, Hurwitz will praise something highly that Gramophone will think less of.

But I digress.  The question is, who is correct?  Well, let's look at where they agree: both do not much care for the repeat in the finale.  For Hurwitz it "knocks the whole structure out of balance."  For T.H. (the Gramophone reviewer), it makes Schubert sound as if he is "going through the motions."

Hurwitz also points out (correctly), that the diminuendos, especially on the last note of the symphony, are bizarre and don't make any musical sense (Schubert had horrible handwriting, so some people thought his accents might actually be diminuendos, which is strange, since they would be placed on the bottom of the staff if diminuendos, and above the notes if accents).  T.H, on the other hand, points out some of the great climaxes that Solti employs, and in which bars they occur.

Okay, so you have two men who are looking at a score while they are listening to this piece.  Interestingly, T.H. also admires Adrian Boult's many readings of this symphony, which he compares the Solti version to.  Hurwitz hates both conductor's readings.  So maybe there's more of a personal opinion thing going on here than either one would care to admit.

My take: the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  Solti plays up the brass a little too much in the first movement, at the expense of the woodwinds and strings (which sound a little screechy).  There is a lot of brass in this symphony, but one has to be careful that it doesn't overpower the more lyrical aspects of the score.  After all, as his song cycles prove, Schubert was the most lyrical of composers: the John Keats of classical music.  Solti should be commended for not pushing the music as hard as he often did in his younger days (Wagner can take it, to an extent; Schubert can't), but there's still a little too much power and not enough glory.  Conversely, when there should be an explosive build-up right before the first movement's main theme, it's not nearly tense enough.

The difficulty in the second movement is in making the music sound both taut and relaxed at the same time. Solti treats the first subject as a severe march, but doesn't let the strings relax enough to let more of the lyricism through.  He does better with the second subject, which includes some great woodwind playing, but then tightens up a little too much when it becomes more march-like.  In the third and fourth movements, which have more of an excitement factor to them, Solti fares better.

Personally, I don't give a shit about repeats.  Only in Mozart's Symphony No. 41 do I think that the finale sounds better without the exposition repeat.  I'd have to compare this recording to one which doesn't include it to see which one I prefer.  But again, while some of the climaxes in the third and fourth movements are done well (not as brassy, for some reason, as in the first movement), the sheer joy to be found in the best interpretations of this piece is somewhat lacking (only at one point during the symphony did I crack a smile in response to what I was hearing).  One wishes for more sweetness (and better balance among strings and brass), for more relaxed tempos, for less precision.  Not that we want lazy conducting, but one of the reason's Toscanini's fabulous 1941 recording of this symphony, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, is so great is because it feels so relaxed.  The musicians sound as if they are having fun.  Solti gets some of that fun factor in the third and fourth movements, but never exploits the sheer joy that this symphony should create in the listener.  Schumann talks about it having "the sound of everlasting youth" in it, and -- like in most things -- Schumann was right.

So, in conclusion, this is a pretty good -- but not great -- recording of this symphony.  I would still recommend Toscanini's 1941 version over this one any day (and I hear it's now in better sound).  If I wanted a more modern recording, I would check out the Krips version (highly recommended by both Gramophone and Hurwitz) or the Tennstedt LPO version (which is, apparently, stylistically similar to Krips's vision of the symphony, and who I love as a conductor via his Strauss and Mahler recordings).  Also one of Gunter Wand's versions, as he seems to have been the most recent Schubertarian to appear on the music scene, even if we're talking about recordings made in the last millenium.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writers' Meat

Last night marks the first time that I shared any part of my novel with other human beings.  My parents have not seen any part of it.  My friends have not seen any part of it.  My reading of the first two pages of my novel was a world premier event.

It took place at a Writer's Meetup that I belong to, the first meetup for this group I have been able to attend (and that wasn't canceled).  Seven other people shared parts of their stories that night.  All are incredible writers.  I felt my piece did not measure up to their brilliance.  And yet mine was discussed by the others as much as any of the other pieces were.  My child did not falter in his first introduction to the world.  I must not falter in finishing this novel.

The host of this event asked me, since I told them I have been working on it for eight years writing and many more years planning, if I ever worried that I wouldn't finish it.  The answer is "yes."  My other fear is that I thrust it out into the world before it's ready, just to get it out there.  But, at some point past the due date, birth must be induced.  This year the inducing process begins.

The meetup followed a French theme: we ate blood sausage and drank red wine, sampled Israeli cous-cous and indulged in some sort of massive pie with plums in it.  There was also absinthe to try (the legal stuff, not the stuff that'll make you cut off your ear and mail it to a prostitute).  The legal stuff, however, is still quite potent: one of the bottles I picked up was 62% alcohol.  I meant to try some, but the process of drinking it was so complicated that I couldn't be bothered.  It involves gizmos and sugar and cold water and measuring, which should be followed for the full effect, but which can be tiresome to set up.  Also, who knows how powerfully it would affect me.  I mean, 62%!  I often top out at two beers.

Blood sausage is meant to be eaten with horse radish, which I didn't know the first time I tried it.  I ate my second sausage with horse radish, however, and it made it that much better.  Here's what my plate looked like, sans cous-cous, horse radish, and the awesome pie:

I felt energized after last night's meetup, and still do.  I needed that energy, too, as it has been sagging as of late.  Job hunting with a crappy Internet connection will do that to you.  Of course, the view out the host's front window, which encompasses Lake Washington and several mountains (the Cascades?), didn't hurt.  Now I wish I had taken a photo of that view, rather than of this nasty-looking (but rather tasty) blood sausage.

Is this the beginning of the story proper?  Something tells me this is going to be quite a year.

Correction:  Actual absinthe has been legal in the U.S. since 2007 (thanks, desk calendar!), so this was the stuff that, if drunk in sufficient quantities, could cause you to cut off your ear and mail it to a prostitute.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie Review: Late Spring (晩春: Banshun)

Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara as father and daughter in Late Spring (1949)

Did Yasujiro Ozu ever make a movie that was less than a masterpiece?  I have seen four of his films now, and I have yet to find one that isn't great.  I started with Tokyo Story (東京物語: Tokyo Monogatari), then saw A Story of Floating Weeds (うきぐさ物語: Ukigusa Monogatari)Floating Weeds (うきぐさ: Ukigusa), and now Late Spring.  Maybe it's because, with most directors, the characters exist for the sake of the story, whereas with him, the story exists for the sake of the characters.

Ozu once famously said that he was a tofu maker in regards to his films, but if you know tofu, you know that different varieties of tofu can be as different from each other as apples are from pears.  Ozu's films may all deal with similar aspects of human existence (and similar aspects of family life), but they are all quite different from each other (when he remade A Story of Floating Weeds as Floating Weeds, though the dialogue didn't change much, the way he handles the material in the later film is different from how he handles it in the earlier film).  Tokyo Story is the most solemn of the films I've seen by him, Floating Weeds and A Story of Floating Weeds both engage in goofiness before getting serious, and Late Spring has some moments in the beginning of the movie at which I laughed out loud.

The plot is simple: four years after the end of World War II, 27-year-old Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is still living with her widowed father, Professor Somiya (Chishu Ryu).  Somiya's sister/Noriko's aunt, Masa Taguchi (Haruko Sugimura), and Noriko's friend, Aya Kitagawa (Yumeji Tsukioka), thinks that it's time Noriko marries.  While she had been ill during the war, she is healthy now.  The only problem is that she doesn't want to leave her father, and her father doesn't want her to leave.

This may be the best acted of all of Ozu's films--at least, of the ones I've seen.  Hara, Ryu, and Sugimura were used again and again by Ozu (in fact, many of the same actors can be found in all of his films), and Hara and Ryu were probably his two favorite actors (according to Roger Ebert, whose great review of this film can be accessed below).  Here, the two of them put on an acting clinic, with strong support coming from Sugimura and Tsukioka.  Notice how, time and again, Noriko will say something, but Hara's face will convey the opposite, or how Ryu uses his eyes alone to convey what his character is feeling.

And then there's Ozu.  He uses more tracking shots here than he normally does, but in a movie so filled with big decisions, it's understandable (a camera moving in an Ozu film usually signals an emotional turning point in a character's life.  In Late Spring, he first uses it to convey the joy of a bike ride, but the next two times he uses it are at critical points in the film, for Noriko in particular).  On the back of my DVD case, someone wrote that this movie "almost alone justif[ies] Ozu's inclusion in the pantheon of cinema's greatest directors."  Well, the scene in the film that cements it is one that lesser directors would have trimmed.

We are watching a Noh drama onstage.  The camera shows Noriko and her father, kneeling side-by-side.  The camera shows the drama unfold.  The scene continues.  On and on.  We wonder what the point of this scene is.  Then the camera focuses on Noriko and her father again.  Her father sees someone and bows.  Noriko notices this same person and bows.  The camera then shows who they are bowing to.  Back to Noriko.  She looks at her father.  His reaction to the drama.  She looks at the woman they bowed to.  Her reaction to the drama.  Back to Noriko and her father.  Noriko, wracked with sadness.

Unless you count the dialogue being chanted as part of the drama onstage, there is no dialogue in this scene.  Dialogue would have destroyed it.  Instead, you have several minutes that tell you all you need to know about Noriko, her relation with her father, her beliefs concerning her father's relationship to the woman, her feelings about that kind of relationship, what she thinks of the other woman, what she thinks of her father remarrying, and what that means for her.

In a way, it's good that so much of this movie depends on Hara and Ryu, for they are what elevate this film to the heights of great cinema.  I thought Floating Weeds suffered some because the actor playing Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) wasn't as good as the actor who played Shinkichi (same role, different name) in A Story of Floating Weeds.  Also, the kissing scenes felt a little unnatural.  And yet I love Floating Weeds, just as I love A Story of Floating Weeds, because they are about people, and about the cruelty people inflict, knowingly or unknowingly, on other people.

While watching this film, I took dozens of mental notes of things I wanted to comment on, shots I wanted to point out, scenes I wanted to highlight.  These mental notes went on and on and on, so perhaps it's best that I didn't write them down, though I will mention a few things that you should look for: Somiya's arc of reactions when Noriko tells him that a man he thinks would be a good match for her is "just her type," but is also engaged.  How Noriko enters her home each time (particularly the one time she doesn't say, "Tadaima," to signal that she's home).  In the second tracking shot (not including the bicycle scene), which occurs right after the Noh performance, notice the spacing effect that occurs after Noriko crosses the street, and--as always--how Ryu and Hara act this scene.

My last mental note: at one point in the film, Noriko's aunt wants to introduce her to a man.  Noriko finally agrees to meet with him, due to some pleading from her father, but we never see him, though he is described to us (looks like Gary Cooper from the mouth down), and his name is mentioned several times.  I think Ozu does this for two reasons: 1.) it doesn't matter who this man is, just that he exists, and 2.) it allows the story to continue focusing on the father/daughter relationship, rather than complicating it by having us (the viewers) decide on whether or not this man is worthy of Noriko, and whether her feelings toward him are justified or not, and what those feelings are.

The theme of Late Spring is that two people, who are perfectly happy in the routine that they are in, destroy their happiness for the sake of each other, and for the sake of society.  Noriko doesn't want to get married, but will do it to please her father.  Her father doesn't want her to leave, but encourages her to marry because he feels that it will be best for her.  Society is the aunt, telling her to get married because she's "at a good age."  Society is her divorced friend Aya, who tells her she needs to leave her father's house.

I have other reasons for loving this film, besides excellent acting from Hara and Ryu (and a final scene that is guaranteed to break your heart--again, look how Ryu conveys so much emotion through his eyes alone.  It's astonishing!).  The Noh drama takes place on a stage that I believe one of my friends performed at as part of a shamisen concert (unless the back of all Noh stages are painted with a large tree).  When father and daughter go to Kyoto, I've visited the rock gardens that are used as pillow shots.  And, on a slightly different note, I loved Hara in Tokyo Story, so I enjoyed seeing her onscreen again.

Sometimes I feel my life is an Ozu movie, or could be.  This story, in particular, somewhat deals with my situation.  No, I'm not a Japanese woman living in postwar Japan with my father, but I haven't quite moved out of my parents' house.  I mean, physically I'm in Seattle, but my roots still run deep in Connecticut.  At one point in the movie, Noriko wants to learn to be a stenographer so that she can leave her father's house without having to get married.  Like her, the only two ways I can establish roots elsewhere are to get a job or to get married (and probably in that order).  Unlike her, I am not happy with the arrangement of living with my parents well into adulthood, but like her, I fear the chasm of the unknown that awaits people when they decide to leave home.  And she grapples with the same issue I grapple with, which is that she wants transient things to remain permanent, even though she knows they cannot.  Mono no aware, a melancholy awareness of the impermanence of things, is the central theme of most of Ozu's films.

In closing, I give this film my highest recommendation, and I encourage all of you to watch it carefully, closely, and many, many times.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Signs of Spring, and Memories of Japan

Last Saturday, I got to walk among the cherry blossoms.  Over ten magnificent cherry trees stand in the Quad at the University of Washington.  The color of the buds matched those of the trees I saw in Japan, in what nows seems an eternity ago.  The buds on the trees closer to my house are darker, and have mostly fallen.  I imagine that most of the trees on the Quad have dropped their pedals by now, too.  Beauty, like life, is fleeting.  Which is why I carry a camera. :-)

As you can see, I wasn't the only one enjoying the beautiful weather--and the cherry blossoms.  Though there were few hanamatsuris (cherry-viewing parties), there were lots of people taking photos of the blossoms, mostly from Asia or of Asian descent.

Even the trunks were budding.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Memorable Teacher

In my elementary school, kids feared Mr. Lessig.  He was the authority figure.  No matter how loud the cafeteria was, as soon as kids spotted him walking into the room, the whole place went quiet.  If you were oblivious to the silence around you and continued to talk or goof off, you would soon hear yourself being addressed by this white-haired, gray-suit wearing man, whose most visible physical characteristic was little skin growths that dangled near his eyes.  And heaven help you if you left something on your plate.  Then, you'd hear one of the most recognizable catch-phrases in the school fall from his lips:

"Try it!  You'll like it.  And so will I."

In all my years of schooling, no one commanded respect like Mr. Lessig.  No one, not even school principals, possessed his authority.  Part of it could have been how young we were--you tend to fear and respect your elders more before you hit adolescence.  But part of it was that aura that he cultivated--that of a strict disciplinarian, who wouldn't take crap from anybody.  And if you gave him any crap, you'd find yourself spending recess in his classroom, copying out several pages from the dictionary.

In fifth grade, I had Mr. Lessig for math.  My ability in math has always hinged on who is teaching it.  Fifth grade was the first year that I did really well in that subject, and the first year that I really enjoyed math, yet I don't remember much of what I learned that year.  What I do remember reveals a different Mr. Lessig from the one that could silence a cafeteria full of rowdy kids.

Each classroom at my elementary school had two doors: one led from the hallway to the room, one led from the room to the outside.  On warm days, the outside door was left open, which often let in wasps (they also came in through open windows, since none of the windows had screens in them).  In the springtime, when the weather was nice, gym classes had to walk past Mr. Lessig's windows in order to get from the gym to the softball field.  One time, some of the kids walking by were a little too boisterous, so Mr. Lessig stood in the doorway, yelling at those students who were either talking too loudly, or running.  As the group continued by, he saw a kid trying to play a blade of grass by cupping it in his hands.  After the kid had tried unsuccessfully to make the blade vibrate with noise, Mr. Lessig yelled at him, "Hey! Kid! Come here!"  He then picked up a strand of grass and showed the kid how to play it, though he also had trouble making a noise.  That's right: this disciplinarian was holding up math class so that he could teach a kid, who wasn't one of his students, how to play a blade of grass properly.

Another time, I had a cold.  In the strict world of elementary school, we not only had to ask the teacher if we had to go to the bathroom, we had to ask him or her if we wanted to get up for any reason, including grabbing a tissue from his or her desk.  I was quite shy as a child and so feared asking Mr. Lessig if I could get up and blow my nose, despite having to sniff a lot to prevent snot from dripping onto my math book.  As Mr. Lessig walked by my desk, he stopped.  In his hand was a tissue.

If Mr. Lessig's math class was the first time I did well in math, it was also the first class in which I failed a quiz (or it might have been a class assignment).  Our punishment was that we had to copy a word and its definition out of the dictionary.  In fact, copying pages out of the dictionary was Mr. Lessig's unique brand of punishment.  I forget what the word was, but I remember that it was something related to our failure (like, if we had failed to listen, the word would have been "listen.")  So, that night, I picked up a dictionary and wrote out the definition at home.  I found out during recess on Thursday of the following week that we were supposed to be in Mr. Lessig's room at that moment, copying out the dictionary definition several times. I was horrified to think what would happen to me, but I wasn't about to go in and cut my recess short, just because I had misunderstood the specifics of my punishment.

Well, nothing happened to me.  Either he forgot that I was supposed to be writing those definitions on that day, or he let it go.  To this day, I'm not sure which scenario is correct.

The last story I have of Mr. Lessig involves my two best friends in elementary school.  One of them was being a jerk to me on the playground, so the other one fought him right before the whistle sounded, signaling the end of recess.  I left, not wanting to get involved in a fight.  Of course, the first class after recess was math.  As the students came in, details about what had happened on the playground emerged, especially after Mr. Lessig noticed that Matt, my friend who had fought on my behalf, was absent.  The students knew general details about the fight and its aftermath (such as Matt being in the principal's office at that moment), but not the underlying cause.  For my part, I remained silent.  Several minutes later, when Matt came into the room, Mr. Lessig got the whole story (in increments) from him, including the fact that he had fought on my behalf (not that I had asked him to).

I should mention that I was a tall and skinny kid, and while Matt was tougher than me, he was several inches shorter.  At the time, too, Matt wore glasses, while I did not.

Anyway, the class laughed when they heard he had been fighting for me, while Mr. Lessig wondered aloud why I needed Matt's protection, since I was bigger than he was (which I think was accentuated by one of his perfectly-timed stares and deadpan delivery).  I remember my face got red, but I also remember that Mr. Lessig didn't dwell on the story once it was out in the open, though I could tell it amused him.  We went from the story to our math lesson for the day, and he never mentioned it again.

Mr. Lessig died during my junior year in high school.  He wasn't that old when he died, but he had been a heavy smoker (I'm pretty sure the paper listed him dying at 57, but that can't be right, unless smoking really had aged him--67 seems more likely, though I haven't been able to track down his obituary to confirm this detail).

Many of the students who went to my elementary school have a Mr. Lessig story.  What's interesting is how affectionate these stories are.  Even the kids he made eat their vegetables, even the kids he made copy whole pages out of the dictionary, don't have anything bad to say about him.  And although I was fortunate enough to be taught by many good teachers, from elementary school through college, I never had one that was so iconic.  Everyone knew who Mr. Lessig was, even if they never have him as a teacher.  Ironic, then, that his reputation rested on the least of his qualities.  And that, of all the things he taught me, math was the least important.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Favorite Movies: King Kong

The climactic battle

The first movie I ever rented (and on VHS, at that) was King Kong.  If you're wondering which version I'm talking about, then you're thinking of the wrong one.  To me, there is only one.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to buy a newly restored and remastered DVD version (well, new as of 2006), which is certainly much clearer than my old VHS version was.  The main reason I bought it was to revisit a movie that I loved, and that has strong ties to my movie watching days as a child, but the main reason I saw it last night was to make sure that the scene where Kong undresses Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) was kept intact (hey, I like my movies uncut).  It was, but what I also noticed were snatches of dialogue and (because of the better picture) screen images that I hadn't noticed before, or that hit me anew with their power.  In its remastered form, the first appearance of Kong is still one of the scariest and greatest scenes in all of cinema, and it's one of many.  That's one reason why, despite having one of the worst love confession scenes ever (Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones might have been worse), and acting that isn't anything special (minus Wray's lungs--yep, she was the original scream queen), this film has withstood the test of time.

The plot follows a famous movie director named Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), who leads an expedition to a mysterious island to make his next picture.  Unfortunately, his leading lady (Wray) is kidnapped by the tribesman as a gift for a mysterious deity that they worship called "Kong."  Many men, including Denham and First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), who has fallen in love with Ann, trek deep into the island in the hopes of rescuing her.

One could be cynical and say that this movie is all about special effects, and, to a large extent, it is, but it's also about great shots.  Notice how, when Kong first appears, we don't see his face right away, as he's looking down at some trees that he's destroying.  Instead, what we notice is his size.  When we do see his face, it's with teeth bared, and then comes the first closeup shot of his head which, to my surprise, gave me the creeps.  I haven't felt that way about the opening shot since the first time I saw it, and I was much younger then.  Other great scenes (in chronological order) include the log scene, the fight with the T-Rex, the gate scene, the train scene, and--of course--the climactic battle atop the Empire State Building.  That's five excellent scenes, plus his first appearance makes six (and that's not including some great scenes early in the movie, including the boat's approach to the island in the fog).  All done with stop motion animation and puppetry.  Even today, the effects hold up, despite and because of their fakeness, much more so than questionable computer animation will generations hence.

This brings up another point: King Kong was remade twice, once in the seventies with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, and then a true-to-the-original remake with Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts.  All better actors than Cabot and Wray (minus Wray's formidable screaming), and the Peter Jackson version (the newest one) contains the latest special effects.  So why, then, do people still prefer this somewhat clunky version from 1933, myself included?  The answer, I think, would save us from any more special editions or new, computer-generated remakes of great films.

We love movies for two reasons.  The first time we see a movie, we love it because of how it makes us feel.  When we see a movie years later, we love it because we remember how it made us feel that first time, and how it continues to make us feel.  Change part of a film, and you change our relationship with it.  It would be like watching an old movie of yourself, but instead of acting foolish, armed only with the knowledge you had as a child, you act intelligent, armed with the knowledge you have now.  Less embarrassing to watch, perhaps, but you wouldn't want to watch it again and again, because movies are meant to be timeless while evoking a specific period in time.  I want to see Star Wars the way I saw it when I was a child, because the movie carries with it part of my childhood.  The Special Editions may be what Lucas wanted, but they are not what I originally saw.  They are not the same films.  So even though, by all accounts, Peter Jackson made a version of King Kong that was better than the original, it is the original to which I shall return again and again (being over an hour shorter than Jackson's version helps, too).  To be fair, he remade the film as an act of love, but the greater act of love would have been to leave the movie alone, just as we most honor the people we love by accepting them as they are, instead of trying to change them for the better.

Note: I have not seen the Peter Jackson version of King Kong.  Part of the reason why is because I feel no urgent need to see a three-hour version of a movie that I enjoyed so much in its original one hour forty-five minute incarnation.  While I do hope to see the film at some point, I know that even if it's the best movie I've ever seen, it will not replace the area in my heart reserved for the original, for the reasons I've discussed above.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Afternoon with Rieko Matsuura

Most of you reading this post have no idea who Rieko Matsuura is.  If I had not gone to Japan, I would have no idea who Rieko Matsuura is.  In fact, even now, I only know that she is a Japanese writer in her early fifties who wrote a scandalous book back in 1993 about a girl whose big toe turns into a penis.  The book in question was a landmark book in terms of dealing with sexuality in Japanese literature, much as Joyce's Ulysses was a landmark book in terms of dealing with all of human experience, including sex.  And, like that book, some people in Japan labeled The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P (its translated title) as little more than pornography, or they tried to categorize it as lesbian literature (which Matsuura-san says she doesn't mind, though it ignores what she was trying to do).  Until I read the book myself, I cannot comment on it (and yes, I will be commenting on it at some point, so look for that review in a few months), though I can comment that Matsuura-san is interested in why sex is always at the center of relationships, and often writes about nonsexual relationships that are just as fulfilling as sexual ones (like masters and their pets in Kenshin, though the dog in question was a woman who wanted to be a dog, and who chose the woman she wanted to be her owner).

Rieko Matsuura looks like a normal Japanese housewife.  In fact, she is probably a normal person.  Like most Japanese women, she looks much younger than she is, and despite being somewhat attractive, would not stand out in a crowd of people.  Also, she either speaks very little English, or (like me with Japanese) is embarrassed to make the attempt beyond a few words.

The lecture consisted of her speaking in Japanese, followed by a translator speaking her words in English.  Then she read from the original book (a real treat, since how many times do you get to hear something not written in English spoken in its original language?), followed by Michael Emmerich reading the same passage from his translation, which came out just last year (and is the first--and, so far, only--of Matsuura-san's novels to be translated into English).  The assembled panel then asked her some questions, followed by an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.  I wanted to ask her about her views of how sex is handled in Japanese literature today, especially among female writers (like Amy Yamada, who has also been denounced for the way she uses sex in her novels and short stories), and what she thinks of this resurgence of female authors in Japan (unlike Western countries, Japan has had a strong tradition of female storytellers, going back to at least the Heian Period, which is when Lady Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji).  I didn't, even though it would have been a perfect follow-up to an earlier question about sexuality in Edo Period literature.

I also almost won a door prize: a signed copy of the book (Matsuura-san drew number 24; I had number 23).  Instead, I bought a copy and had her sign it.  I should have tried some Japanese with her, but I didn't.  And, when she was trying to find a scrap of paper so that I could write my name down (she couldn't quite catch my pronunciation), I could have just taken a business card out of my wallet.  Stupid.  Or, as the Japanese would say, ばか (baka).

Anyway, I got my book, I will be reading it soon, and I'll let you all know what I think.  I even plan on taking notes.  This event is just another reason why I love this city, and hope that I can continue to support myself living here.  Otherwise, it's back to Connecticut I go, with much less money than when I left.

Here's the book on Amazon, where you can pay a lot less for it than I did, sans signature: