The Directors of Ghibli

When you hear about Studio Ghibli, the first that comes to mind for most people would be Hayao Miyazaki. You recognize his works from Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and many others. He’s THE Director of Ghibli, a personification of the biggest the most famous Japanese movie studio in the world.

Spirited AwayPrincess MononokeMy Neighbor Totoro

What a lot of people seem to miss though, is another Director, whose works are rather different with Miyazaki’s, but in my opinion, definitely not any less. A long-term colleague of Miyazaki and a co-head of Ghibli, Isao Takahata is Ghibli’s second person. His films are possibly less known to audience outside of Japan, but a couple of them are my absolute favorites, like Grave of the Fireflies, which I have re-watched many time, Pompoko, and My Neighbors The Yamadas.

Grave of the FirefliespompokoMy Neighbors the Yamadas

Grave of the Fireflies is a heartbreaking film about brother and sister struggling to survive in Japan during World War II; Pompoko about shape-shifter racoons (in Japan there’s old belief that racoon can shape-shift into human form) struggling to prevent their forest home being destroyed by human’s urban development; and I would describe My Neighbors The Yamadas as The Simpsons of Japan, only instead of a very American family, it features a very Japanese family. With gentle humour and interesting Japanese daily life bits, you’ll be surprised how much you can relate with them. The Yamadas are your “everyday family”, hence the title My Neighbors (they can be anyone’s).

Only YesterdayWhile Miyazaki generally uses the Wow factor, Takahata painstakingly goes for realism (as seen in Only Yesterday and Grave of the Fireflies). I see Miyazaki as the highly imaginative popular kid, always surrounded by many other kids on the playground, while Takahata as the serious and more reserved kid, working hard at the craft that he believes in among the lesser crowds. The sweet thing is, they believe in each other’s talents.

As you probably know by now, I have a soft spot for Takahata’s works, I do. He’s not a Miyazaki so don’t expect him to be, but his movies are so full of heart I’m sure you’ll fall for them too. If you haven’t watched any of his movies, I encourage you to. Come back when you have and tell me all about it :)

takahata miyazaki

Takahata-san on the left, Miyazaki-san on the right

I have been thinking to post about this for a while, when Tanabata’s Hello Japan August & September mini-challenge came up. I knew then I needed to participate. Thanks for hosting tanabata!

Book Fairy Struck Again!

I haven’t done Book Acquisition post for about 4 months, and now I wonder why I didn’t. Perhaps I subconsciously tried to pretend that not that many books have come into my house. Really, how bad can it be right?

Well it’s time to face reality and do a head-count. Even though I had it coming I still had the shock of my life. 50 books! Yes, 50! All I have NOT read, apart from a couple! (not all pictured below as I couldn’t bother to keep taking photos of the forgotten ones)

acquisitions 09-10

But first, I’d love to show you a couple of highlights. I got The Changeling by Nobel Laurette Kenzaburo Oe in gorgeous hardcover complete with what looks like semi-transparent Japanese rice paper for dust jacket from my book fairy Jess of friendly Allen and Unwin. It is so pretty it literally took my breath away. Gasp!

Moreover it came with The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I have wanted to read since… forever. Jess described it as “pitch-perfect”. Mmm.. delicious!

changeling - oe

To top it off, she sent me this spectacular looking graphic novel, also in hardcover, which is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg. It came close to my birthday, after I came back from my holiday. A nice coincidence! :)

There’s just something about hardcover that excites me so much, because we rarely have hardcovers in Australia. Most books are published in trade-paperback format. Nicki Greenberg first graphic novel was a retelling of The Great Gatsby, which I’ve seen several times at our library, but I never pick up, because I’m not fond of Gatsby (school read and all). But I’ve never read Hamlet, and in all honesty I don’t think I’ll ever read Shakespeare, so I so look forward to dip into this one!

hamlet - greenberg

It’s fully colored too!
hamlet - greenberg

So here are the 50 books in no particular order:

Books received from Publishers:
1 Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg
2 The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe
3 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
4 Room by Emma Donoghue

Books bought from Basement Books (all new):
5 Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry ($2.95)
6 When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne ($4.95)
7 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ($4.95)
8 Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris ($5.95)
9 Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss ($2.00)

Books bought from book depo:
10 Hunger by Knut Hamsun
11 Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
12 The Complete Polysillabic Spree by Nick Hornby
13 The Arrival by Shaun Tan (I’ve read this but would like to own it!)
14 The Red Tree by Shaun Tan (I’m on Shaun Tan’s spree since I met him a couple of weeks ago)
15 The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan (Spree!)
16 Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
17 American Gods by Neil Gaiman (bought because he visited us in Sydney a couple of weeks ago too)
18 Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Books bought from charity shop:
19 Echoes of an Autobiography by Naguib Mahfouz ($1) (would like to read Palace Walk first)

Books bought from the library sale ($1 each):
20 Middlemarch by George Eliot
21 The Thousand Nights and One Night Volume I (translated from French of Mardrus by Mathers)
22 The Thousand Nights and One Night Volume II
23 The Thousand Nights and One Night Volume III
24 The Thousand Nights and One Night Volume IV
(I’m quite excited to find these four volumes of The Thousand Nights and One Night. I remember devouring it hungrily as a kid, though it was the simplified possibly watered down version of 1001 Nights. But then I found out these series are not exactly the translation that’s recommended by the people of Arab Lit Challenge. What to do? Should I go ahead and read these ones?)
25 No Shitting in the Toilet by Peter Moore

Books received FREE from the library:
26 The World is the Home of Love and Death by Harold Brodkey
27 Animation: From Script to Screen by Shamus Culhane
28 Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
29 Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide
30 Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

Books received FREE from the Japanese Foundation Library:
30 San’ya Blues: Laboring Life in Contemporary Tokyo by Edward Fowler
31 The Mother of Dreams and Other Short Stories: Portrayals of Women in Modern Japanese Fiction, edited by Makoto Ueda
32 And Then (Sore Kara) by Natsume Soseki
33 The Incident at Sakai and Other Stories: Volume I of the Historical Literature of Mori Ogai
34 Love and Other Stories of Yokomitsu Riichi
(I had never heard of all these books here, apart from Natsume Soseki. From flipping through the introductions, they seem to be quite popular and influential in Japan, probably just not overseas.)

Books brought back from Indonesia: (most of these I bought when I was in Singapore a couple of years ago)
35 The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
36 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
37 Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich
38 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
39 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
40 Brick Lane by Monica Ali
41 A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
42 The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe
43 Losing my Virginity: The Autobiography by Richard Branson
44 The Cave of the Yellow Dog by Byambasuren Davaa & Lisa Reisch
45 When Madeline was Young by Jane Hamilton
46 First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
47 Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia by Louise Brown
(The two books above I bought when I visited Cambodia. Being quite cheap I took the chance. After browsing around, the first one should be good as it gets lots of praise, but the second one seems to be very flawed.)
48 Laskar Pelangi by Andrea Hirata (In Indonesian. This is a bestseller in the country!)

Bookcrossing books from lovely azuki (who I met once in Hong Kong):
49 Golden Boy (also known as Gweilo) by Martin Booth (very fitting as this is a book set in Hong Kong)
50 After Quake by Haruki Murakami

If you’re still reading, is there any book that caught your eyes? Any that I need to bump up my to-be-read-immediately pile?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

one hundred years of solitudeOnce in a while you would find a book that defies all your preconceived notions of how a novel should be. I think One Hundred Years of Solitude falls in this category. While a novel normally has a beginning, middle, and an ending, with some kind of climax no matter how little the peak is in the middle, Solitude does not have such trivial things! Telling a long tale about seven generations of a family in fantasy village of Macondo (based on Colombia where Garcia Marquez is from), the book is purely about the life of the characters, the long and the short of it. There’s no main storyline with which everything is tied together. The genealogy tree ties everything together.

Reading this book is like entering a long dream. Though it didn’t cause me bursts of emotions, I was completely entranced from beginning to end. The language is absolutely glorious that I could probably randomly pick one passage from the 400+ pages and it would be great, greater than most books.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is probably my first venture into magical realism. I’m very familiar with fantasy and surrealism, but magical realism was new. The “problem” with it is, while in fantasy and surrealism you’re completely prepared for something “illogical” to happen since the physical setting is non-realistic since the beginning, magical realism is set in realistic world which is only peppered by the “magic” once in a while. The magical aspects are never explained, people don’t seem to think they’re magical, and it doesn’t bother them that they’re often inconsistent. The inconsistent part was actually what bothered me at first. For example some carpets can fly and one character ascends to heaven all of a sudden, but nobody questions why it’s not happening for the rest of the carpets and people. With magical realism you need to let your feet off the ground once in a while and be not bothered about it.

In this book there are about two dozens of main characters, with even greater number of minor characters, many with similar names. Apparently it’s a culture in South America to take your father’s first name. My Argentinian friend has the same first name as his father and his grandfather. Prior to reading Wuthering Heights many people have mentioned that they had troubles with a number of characters with similar names (I did not have such problem). If only they read One Hundred Years of Solitude. It brings the challenge to a completely new level! The genealogy tree on the first page, which I had to refer to quite often, is your survival tool, what with the additional complexities of adopted children, children out of marriage, and grandchildren adopted as own children.

With such a huge number of characters, you’d think that they would all start to mesh together, but they don’t. Here’s where the skill of Garcia Marquez as a storyteller shines. The story of each character is unique, so I never got bored. It was one amazing tale after another. Characters and events are exaggerated, at times to the point of comical, that adds to the magical touch to the book.

Though I completely loved the book, I don’t think this is a book for everybody (Confirmed when it came to my knowledge that the three people sitting next to me at work have all tried to read it but never finished. One is Argentinian–who reads all GGM’s in Spanish apart from One Hundred Years.) But fortunately for me, it’s exactly my kind of book! If there is ever a book that I think would show what kind of person you are, this book is probably it. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book for a dreamer, who loves continuous magical tales, without needing to get the point or rushing to get to the end (Because, uum.. there’s nothing at the end. It’s the journey that matters.) Are you a dreamer? Then this book might be for you!

5 stars
1967, 422 pp

I picked One Hundred Years of Solitude for my Best Books Project from Claire’s list of Best Books Ever. Are you in the love camp or hate camp? You know where I am now. Count me in for the GGM fan club!

First line
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.


“A few months after his return, a process of aging had taken place in him that was so rapid and critical that soon he was treated as one of those useless great-grandfathers who wander about the bedrooms like shades, dragging their feet, remembering better times aloud, and whom no one bothers about or remembers really until the morning they find them dead in their bed.” ~ p72

“In the dream he remembered that he had dreamed the same thing the night before and on many nights over the past years and he knew that the image would be erased from his memory when he awakened because that recurrent dream had the quality of not being remembered except within the dream itself.” ~ p271

“It was a useless torture because even at that time he already had a terror of everything around him and he was prepared to be frightened at anything he met in life: women on the street, who would ruin his blood; the women in the house, who bore children with the tail of a pig; fighting cocks, who brought on the death of men and remorse for the rest of one’s life; firearms, which with a mere touch would bring down twenty years of war; uncertain ventures which led only to disillusionment and madness–everything in short, everything that God has created in His infinite goodness and that the devil had perverted.” ~ p375

1982 Nobel Prize (author for body of work)

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die | Nobel Laureates in Literature

Also reviewed by

Love! — Sasha & The Silverfish | Nonsuch Book
Did not like! — Arukiyomi (comment thread is quite funny!)
Many covers of the book: Signature Illustration Blog

I’m actually surprised to find so few reviews on the book (though I didn’t look especially hard). Perhaps many people have read it pre-blogging time?

Room by Emma Donoghue

room by emma donoghue

Arrived back in Sydney on Sunday and it’s been super frantic catching up with life. I have a couple of unfinished reviews in draft, but to keep up to date with the recent events for once, I’m going to talk about Room NOW.

If there were a modern book fairy, it must work like this: wish upon a star send an email to the Big Man and express your wish to read the book, forget about it, and get the book in the mail unexpectedly. Well that’s what happened to me. Thanks Pan MacMillan AU! Regular readers know that I rarely ever read books published in current year. This time however, I made an exception, for the book was screaming, Read Me, Read Me.

I started reading a couple of days before I left for Indonesia and finished it on the plane on my way there. The flight was around 7-8 hours and I did not let it go once. The hell with in-flight entertainment!

Told from the point of view of a 5 year old boy, Room is a page turner in the truest sense. Jack is born in 11×11 feet Room and lives inside with his Ma. Room is his entire world, the only world he knows. While Ma is aware of the horror they are going through, for Jack Room is a place of safety, the only place that is real.

The story is inspired by the Fritzl case, a case which fascinated me since I first heard it. The whole imprisonment and sexual enslavement of own daughter is truly mind-boggling. Donoghue however, opted to not include the incest factor. And by telling the story from the child’s point of view, it becomes a rather unsentimental almost adventure-like tale. You don’t have to worry about anything graphic. I thought there would be much more emotion in the book, but there wasn’t, which is a good thing in this case. It’s the type of book that make you think, rather than feel.

I was a bit impatient at the beginning about the description of their day to day life and Jack’s voice felt somewhat gimmicky. But the pace started to move quicker after the circumstances have been fully introduced and he really grew on me. I was very fond of him at the end and satisfied with the ending.

The inclusion of Room in the Booker shortlist was a nice surprise. I’m not sure if it’s literary enough to win the prize, but I think once in a while they need to take a chance and go ahead with guts. I would bet my virtual money for Room to win. Hah! :)Emma Donoghue

4.5 stars
2010, 321 pp

Shortlisted for 2010 Man Booker Prize

First line
Today I’m five.

Quote (possible spoiler)
“Also everywhere I’m looking at kids, adults mostly don’t seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don’t want to actually play with them, they’d rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn’t even hear.” ~ p287

Also reviewed by
Farm Lane Books Blog
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