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Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with His Son Hardcover – January 11, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Novelist Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner (Oscar and Lucinda; True History of the Kelly Gang), and although his latest work is presented as nonfiction, his fiction readers won't be disappointed. This travel diary reads like a scintillating novella, and Carey has, in fact, added his own fictional embellishments to the real-life events he reports. After his shy 12-year-old son, Charley, began reading English translations of Japanese manga, their Saturday mornings at the Manhattan comic book store Forbidden Planet spurred Carey's own interest. As their "cultural investigation" of manga and anime widened, "the kid who would never talk in class was now brimming with new ideas he wasn't shy to discuss." This father-son bond deepened when they flew to Japan to meet manga artists and anime directors, including Yoshiyuki Tomino (Mobile Suit Gundam). At publisher Kodansha, they learned of manga's history, and touring Studio Ghibli, they encountered the "most famous anime director in the world," Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away). Their guide to Tokyo's cartoon culture was Takashi, a teenager the narrative says Charley met online (yet, as Carey revealed in a newspaper interview, he created the imaginary character of Takashi because the narrative needed conflict, and Carey wanted to avoid "conflict with anybody in real life"). Carey's fluid and engaging writing style gets a boost from 25 energetic b&w anime/manga illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
With two Booker Prizes to his credit, Carey has little left to prove in literary circles. But he admits straightaway that he’s a horrible reporter. So horrible, in fact, that one of the characters of his new nonfiction book, Wrong About Japan, is entirely fictional. That reviewers let such trickery slide attests to Carey’s remarkable writing skills, as does the rich variety of critical responses to his book. It’s an homage to his son, a study of dislocation, and an intellectual inquiry into the roots of Japanese animation. A few critics knocked Carey for not being the best travel companion on the page and meandering rather than driving straight at his point. Wrong About Japan is a slight book, but just as with the best animation, one should not dismiss it as child’s play.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Pulling it off the shelf at my local bookstore, I was surprised by the physical lack of substance. At 120 easily-digestible pages, I had it read in less than two hours. Granted, 120 pages doesn't give you much room to manoeuvre. I would have liked to have seen what Carey could've done with this book had there been an extra hundred, or even fifty pages.
But as it stands, 'Wrong About Japan' is a surface account of anime and manga culture in Japan, that goes into no specific detail, except in giving synopses of the opening scene of 'Blood: The Last Vampire' and the first half hour of 'My Neighbour Totoro'. It does contain the occasional laugh and genuinely funny culture shock. but for the most part I felt as if Carey was just giving me excuse after excuse as to why he's not delving past the surface of this world that is always talked up as being so different to the West.
As the book progressed, and as Carey's own 'misreadings' of anime and manga are turned aside by a series of Japanese industry folk (who might as well have all been played by one actor in different costumes, for all the individuality the narrative accords them), I was left with the slightly sour impression that Carey himself, whilst faithfully recording these put downs, wasn't all that open to considering them.
I felt his growing frustration with being told no, his analysis was not correct (and why on earth he never asks 'why not?' is beyond me; as far as i'm aware, Barthes' declaration that the author is dead still holds some weight). I can sympathise with that, as can anyone who has been to another country and felt the culture shock. But I could not warm to Carey as either narrator or author - my problem with his work, and this book proved no different, is his sheer arrogance. Nowhere did Carey show us as readers that he was seriously attempting to engage with Japanese culture - the sense I got was that he just wanted his questions answered so he could get the hell out of there, back to New York and his ivory tower, where everything's "normal".
Honestly, I'm not even sure why Carey decided to write this book. I never felt in the book that he was all that interested in anime and manga, either as legitimate branches of literature, or as anything other than strange novelties. My impression remains that Carey has taken a very high-brow attitude toward anime and manga - he's even quoting Tanizaki, the man who bemoaned all forms of modernisation in Japan as a death blow to traditional culture - and the novel suffers for it.
Several times, Carey speaks about finding the 'Real Japan', which he typically equates with swords and kabuki and communal bathing. I think he need only look to page 17, where his son's friend Takashi puts a more accurate spin on things:
"You saw pictures of temples? Yes, rocks, gravel, nice Japanese room, so simple. Houses with rough timber? Real Japanese people not like that."
I have lived and worked in Tokyo, where this specious memoir takes place, for two years now, and while I hardly fancy myself an expert on Japanese traditional or popular culture, I was noticing inaccuracies and flat-out mistakes from the first chapter on (if you can't even parse "gaijin" properly, I'm not likely to trust your insights elsewhere).
Peter Carey is excited about Japan. Great. Learning about Japanese pop culture is a way for him to connect to his son. Also great. He's read all the requisite authors (writers much better than he himself) -- Kennedy, Kerr, et alles. Still great.
Slapdash and shoddy research padded out with dull anecdotes to fill a scant 158 pages (and the volume is physically small, to boot!)? Not great at all.
Carey may be a fine novelist -- I take nothing away from his other books -- but this is hackwork. He puffs as though he's discovered a topic far more articulately and provocatively explored by literally dozens of other authors. And he lies, and flubs up, throughout. (Parenthetically, I hope he's a better dad than a journalist.)
Skip it. I got mine from the English-language section of my town's Japanese library, so it was a free if unfulfilling read. But I really wouldn't spend my money if I were you.
The author mentions visitng the Ghibli Musuem, but fails describe this wonderful place it at all! When interviewing the creator of Gundam, he is so narrowly focused on finding assumed hidden Japaneseness, he blows what could have been an entertaining interview. He knows nothing of these subjects. It's unfortunate that since Mr. Carey is a respected author he can get interviews with top shelf talent and waste everyones' time who is involved, including the reader's.
You will not gain much insight into anime, manga, or Japan from this book. If you are interested in these subjects buy "Cruising the Anime City" by Patrick Macias and Tomohiro Machiyama. It's a wonderful book that does a wonderful job of explaining the pop culture aspects of Tokyo.