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Lost on Fuji

Thanks to Sheila who generously released her copy to the wild, I've just finished American Fuji by Sara Backer. It's a fun read, about an expat woman in Japan who reluctantly tries to help another American get to the bottom of the death of his son. It's closer to nonviolent suspense/whodunit than the literary fiction it's been marketed as, pitched maybe at the level of a good Elmore Leonard book albeit with more rounded characters. Like the suspense and mystery genres, it's vulnerable to occasional puncture by unlikely coincidences and "say what?!" plot points, but then you read on and the boat soon rights itself.

American Fuji

I wonder what people familiar with Japan would make of it, particularly after all the slams that Lost in Translation received for allegedly perpetuating stereotypes of the "inscrutable" Japanese. For what it's worth, American Fuji's gaijin characters are not as clueless as those in Lost in Translation, but I'm not sure the Japanese fare much better for being better understood. (Adam, Jenny -- have you read it?)

books 2004.06.08 link


I haven't. I'd be game to.

As I understand it, Lost in Translation wasn't slammed for perpetrating the "inscrutable Japanese" stereotype but for focusing on, say, the wacky TV show personality, and for showing the Americans as being uninterested in digging below the surface of Japan. I'm not sure how that's insulting to Japan, really, and as for the wacky TV personality, well, if you turn on a TV in Japan, you're going to see something that, and it's going to make an impression.

Adam Rice [adamrice cxe crossroads punkto net] • 2004.06.09
Well, then, look for a book release near you!

As for the charge of racism against Lost in Translation, it's tough for me to argue the finer points of a critique I don't really agree with. Googling for "lost in translation" and the word "inscrutable" I see quite a few hits, but maybe they are not representative of the consensus of the movie's detractors.

Here's one that seems pertinent from Mizuko Ito writing in Joi Ito's blog: Is it racist to celebrate and perpetuate racial categorization through one's art, to sharpen the vision of a racially divided world? Some apparently feel that this is okay since it is "true": ie. "Japanese really do speak terrible English and are small dark and inscrutable." I prefer to see art that challenges these established racial hierarchies.

I'm quoting it but it doesn't really resonate for me. My personal take is that the core of the movie wasn't about Japan, it was about two gaijin/gringos -- okay, two people -- stranded like visiting Martians in a culture they weren't prepared to deal with. Yes, the gags were about Japan, but it could have been set in Russia in which case the gags would have been about Russians.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.06.09
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