Item description for Ashes by Kenzo Kitakata & Emi Shimokawa...
The vice and virtues of middle age are espied with an eagle eye in this hardboiled story about a mid-career gangster. Unfolding thorugh chiseled sketches and run through with tantalizing motifs, Kitakata's masterpiece follows the fortunes of a yakuza mobster as his moment of truth approaches. Cool, real, and cleansing, Ashes is a literary tonic. "Ashes is a fascinating look at the largely hidden world of the yakuza, Japan's mafia." --Japan Visitor
"This yakuza fable reads like a treatment for a Takeshi Kitano film, and its aging mobster Tanaka evokes Beat's sullen screen ennui." - Mary Jacobi , The Village Voice
Kenzo Kitakata is the undisputed don of hardboiled and mystery writing in Japan. Immensly popular wiht mature readers both male and female, his works have won numerous literary awards.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 0.75" Width: 5.75" Height: 9" Weight: 1.9 lbs.
Release Date Jun 1, 2003
ISBN 1932234020 ISBN13 9781932234022
Availability 3 units. Availability accurate as of Oct 23, 2016 04:14.
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I've read a lot of crime novels from around the world, including several from Japan: Miyuke Miyabe's "All She Was Worth", Natsuo Kirino's "Out", Akimitsu Takagi's "The Informer", and Seicho Matsumoto's "Inspector Imanishi Investigates". And it has to be said that this slim, terse book from the man considered the grandmaster of Japanese hard-boiled is a disappointment. Originally published in 1990 and turned into the film "Like A Rolling Stone" (unavailable in the U.S.), it's a virtually plotless character study of an ambivalent mid-level yakuza named Tanaka. Kitakata's framework is somewhat unusual, the first half of the book, Tanaka is observed from the third-person, and the second half of the book is written from Tanaka's first-person perspective. Despite the different perspectives, the prose remains flat and dry, stylized to the point where it has no life whatsoever. This may also be an issue of poor translation, either way, it's not particularly engaging.
In any event, Kitakata seems to be trying to draw parallels between the life of a yakuza and the life of a typical Japanese salaryman. Tanaka is in the midst of a classic mid-life crisis, he's worked for the same boss for twenty years (including eight lost years in jail), and lives an emotional vacuum, has no home life, and has devoted his adult life to professional advancement. And like many men is such situations, he spends a great deal of time in a haze, questioning himself: "Sometimes I wonder why I've stayed in [the yakuza] world for so long.... There's a part of me that resists being a real yakuza. . .Why did I become a yakuza? Maybe I'd had no choice." Amidst all this angst, there's a bare bones plot involving the boss ordering Tanaka to branch off from the main clan and run a little crew on his own. We see Tanaka being violent, cruel, manipulative, and scheming as he plots his way into becoming the next boss. It's pretty standard issue yakuza stuff, with the attention to ritual and brand names one expects.
But without any action to move the story along, the book merely seems like an impressionistic collection of related vignettes. As a character study, it's just far to elliptical to have any power. A much, much better Japanese book about the inner life of an outsider is Akira Yoshimura's "On Parole."
Documents Kenzo Kitakata as a world class literary talent Sep 15, 2003
Superbly translated into English by Emi Shimokawa, Ashes is a gritty, hard-boiled mystery written by Kenzo Kitakata, a Japanese author who is so popular in his native Japan that not one of his more than one hundred novels has ever gone out of print! Presenting the mind and thoughts of a middle-aged gangster in Tokyo's multilayered underworld, Ashes depicts yakuza (Japanese mafia) life with a unique understanding and edge-of-your seat reality. Highly recommended reading for mystery/suspense enthusiasts, Ashes clearly documents Kenzo Kitakata as a world class literary talent.
SiCi Mafiosi with Soy Sauce Sep 8, 2003
Picture yourself in Japan, in Kyoto on a downtown sidewalk flooded with pedestrians and your eye catches two men, slipping through the crowd, walking with the uptempo of L.A. crack dealers, one having a pompadour "do," the other, you notice, missing a knuckle on one of his fingers. These are yakuza, a Far Eastern edition of The Sopranos, or SiCi mafiosi with soy sauce. ASHES by Kenzo Kitakata takes us into the world of yakuza Tanaka-san, a forty-ish mobster, who is either in a mid-life crisis or about to realize his life's ambitions.Author Kitakata, known primarily as a mystery novelist (he's a past president of the Japan Mystery Writers Association) has stepped outside genre fiction to write this absorbing character study, part Spillane, part Dostoevsky, but always hard-boiled.A big risk Kitakata takes in this novel is dividing the book into two parts: "The Man Within" and "Within the Man," and telling the story in two voices. The first part is authorial third person, with expressionistic revelation of character in scene details reminiscent of good Hemingway. For example, sitting on a park bench, yakuza Tanaka shows us beyond-redemption cruelty by plucking feathers out of a live pigeon he's grabbed.In the second part, we've jumped inside the mind of Tanaka with first-person narrative piling up the rest of a compelling portrait of our outlaw anti-hero. Somehow the jump from exterior to interior point-of-view--in that order--works because the gangster we get to know, while not without repulsive traits (the sexist observation, All women are the same once you've had them, is typical), also has an appealing samurai-like code. For example, real yakuza do not go to a doctor for knife wounds. With needle and thread, Tanaka stitches bleeding wounds closed himself.Moreover, ASHES is anything but a stop-and-drop action yarn. As might be expected in formal Japan, the yakuza have their share of well-observed rituals too (Pico Iyer has pointed out even yakuza carry calling cards). Much of the drama in Tanaka-san's struggle has to do with the Boss's decision to allow Tanaka to splinter off from the main clan and start his own gang. Relations among gang members--who may address the other as "Brother," who deserves to be called "Uncle," and other niceties give this novel texture. That's yakuza honor--on the surface. That Tanaka is a survivor owes quite a bit to his manipulative skill at bluff and exaggeration as he gets the better of his fellow gangsters.Tanaka comes across as tough to love, not capable of compassion for women, in particular, or helpless animals (pigeons and goldfish fare badly here). So in a bit of a surprise, Tanaka shows emotion crying in the presence of the ailing Boss of the main clan. As if Tanaka can only respond emotionally to the father figure, who would have to do, in this life.While ASHES doesn't measure up to that master of the hard-boiled, American James M. Cain (who in turn influenced French Albert Camus), this is also not genre fiction one finds in supermarket or airport fiction racks. No, it makes for a compelling portrait of a rogue, nihon-style, living out a few twisted premises.
Chewier than I expected Aug 12, 2003
I read about this novel in the Village Voice and bought it expecting a regular crime story, only set in Japan. It was a little confusing at the beginning, but by the end I thought it was the most literary crime novel I've ever read. Tanaka, the hero, is cool; he had my attention from beginning to end. Although he's somewhat misogynistic, one of the women in the novel is so wacky that I think there's more to it than just sexism. It's a trip and I recommend it.