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Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction

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Cyberpunk, sci-fi and erotica all meld together in this collection of cutting-edge short stories. The authors tend towards near-zero emotional chill, stunned urbanity and a shiny kind of violence.


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Cyberpunk, sci-fi and erotica all meld together in this collection of cutting-edge short stories. The authors tend towards near-zero emotional chill, stunned urbanity and a shiny kind of violence.

30 review for Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    A.J. Howells

    Alfred Birnbaum's introduction to this book downplays the fiction in this volume as neither serious literature nor pulpy trash; rather, he tells us it finds its stride in the middle of the road. The stories are artfully displayed, hence the sushi, and bounce frenetically between a variety of subjects, much like the unmindful "monkey brain" of Buddhism. To put less metaphorically, these stories are enjoyable, possibly escapist realities. This really downplays the content of this anthology. There i Alfred Birnbaum's introduction to this book downplays the fiction in this volume as neither serious literature nor pulpy trash; rather, he tells us it finds its stride in the middle of the road. The stories are artfully displayed, hence the sushi, and bounce frenetically between a variety of subjects, much like the unmindful "monkey brain" of Buddhism. To put less metaphorically, these stories are enjoyable, possibly escapist realities. This really downplays the content of this anthology. There is a lot of serious literature to contemplate here. There is forbidden love, symbolic parody, and satire, just to name a few examples. Even when the stories seem boring, they end up attacking the reader's palate with a thick piece of gristle, as in Osamu Hashimoto's Peony Snowflakes of Love in which a housewife leaves her husband and daughter for a female truck driver. You can see where the story is headed based upon the first interaction of the two women, and the detailed description of the bored housewife who is chronically unappreciated by her family. What you don't see coming is the violent familial interaction that serves as the catalyst to her abandonment, jarring you out of a haze of tedium. The same goes for Amy Yamada's Kneel Down and Lick My Feet, in which an S&M queen relays to the reader her daily interactions with men desperate for under-the-counter love. Nothing here is shocking in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey (though I'm sure for 1988, the year of publication, it was) and I found myself drifting away during the description of unusual sexcapades. However, when a man arrives with an unusual request denied by all but one dominant and it is described in exquisite, gag-inducing details, I was caught a bit off guard. Not so much like this: More like this: Somehow, though, Yamada makes this bit of shocksploitation relevant to the story. The man, like the women, has something to hide. It is something deep seated and relevant to his previous love, which is now completely removed from his life. Perhaps our main character's motivations are deep seated too, but I’ll never know, which brings me to a major qualm about this book. Quite a few of the stories are novel excerpts. This is a common complaint in other reviews, but I do not mind novel excerpts. Many argue it destroys the integrity of a work, but it certainly does not. Reader’s Digest Condensed Books destroy a work’s integrity. Audio abridgements destroy a work’s integrity. An excerpt does not. An excerpt drives the reader to seek out the rest of the work, which I did, only to find that the rest of Kneel Down and Lick My Feet is unavailable in English. Nor is this the only excerpt where the rest of the text is only available in Japanese. Kyoji Kobayashi’s Mazelife is the second half of an untranslated novella. In fact, the “maze” referred to in the title is largely the focus of the first half of the novella, so without access to this, you’re left with an intriguing work about a rule-obsessed man seeking to hide from emotion and create his own god. Fascinating plot, no? Too bad you’ll never finish the story if you do not speak Japanese. Overall, though, each of these short stories is well-worth a read, even if you sometimes might not know what the hell the author bios are trying to convey. Here is an excerpt from Osamu Hashimoto’s: “Japanese reader’s of Peony Snowflakes of Love would immediately recognize this story as a sexual inversion on the classic Toei truckdriver-genre films scenario.>” How’s that for esoteric? Luckily, it doesn’t impede the emotional resonance of the story. There’s a wonderful satire piece by Yoshinori Shimizu entitled Japanese Entrance Exams for Earnest Young Men which skewers standardized testing. The work might have been published in 1988, but it is more-than-relevant to American public schools. I started having flashbacks to my days as an Exam Preparation Coordinator where I taught students how to take tests, not how to advance or appreciate their knowledge. Check out this gem of a paragraph: “Ichiro loved to study now. He even came to like Japanese, which he had hated so much before. When he saw through the traps that the test writers had set for him and sidestepped them with ease, he felt the same exhilaration he felt when he dodged and outran a pursuer on the soccer field.” (253) This is easily one of the best stories in the book. There is even a manga by Michio Hisauchi called Japan’s Junglest Day that is based on the true story of soldiers discovered on a remote island in the 1970’s who still believed WWII raged. The manga involves a philosophical discussion of misery moderated by a giant, talking mess kit and a space alien dedicated to collecting money for needy children on his home planet. Okay, so a few story elements might not have actually happened. There is something in each of these stories to love, and quite a few things that disgust, but everything it has to offer is highly thought-provoking (and not in a faux, attempting depth kind of way) and entertaining.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    I have a thing for short stories. I love writing them. I love reading them. I also am somewhat of an (un?)closeted Japanophile. Thus Monkey Brain Sushi caught my eye at a discount book store. I have to admit that a handful of these stories were somewhat too odd/creepy/oversexualized for my taste, but this collection houses a few real gems. My personal favorite was Mazelife by Kyoji Kobayashi. It's a beautifully crafted story about a man seeking God, who quickly becomes disappointed with all the avai I have a thing for short stories. I love writing them. I love reading them. I also am somewhat of an (un?)closeted Japanophile. Thus Monkey Brain Sushi caught my eye at a discount book store. I have to admit that a handful of these stories were somewhat too odd/creepy/oversexualized for my taste, but this collection houses a few real gems. My personal favorite was Mazelife by Kyoji Kobayashi. It's a beautifully crafted story about a man seeking God, who quickly becomes disappointed with all the available options and decides to create one of his own. Perhaps because the story serves as a vivid allegory to humankind's search for security, perhaps because Kobayashi's writing style reminds me of Ray Bradbury, I loved it to bits. Overall, a great collection.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Intortetor

    bah: alla fine "fiocchi di neve di peonia" sa essere toccante (ed è di gran lunga la cosa migliore qua in mezzo), "il giorno più buio del giappone" fa alzare un sopracciglio per la curiosità (ma è roba di un attimo)e "il diario di yamada" sorprende nel suo anticipare (1988!) i videogiochi alla "the sims" (ma poco altro: la solita storia di adolescenza buttata via). peccato che tutto il resto non si lasci ricordare...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Fabio Miarelli

    Buona antologia con numerosi autori molto apprezzati in madrepatria

  5. 5 out of 5

    Strong Extraordinary Dreams

    Read this years - decades - ago. It really expanded my then young mind as to what short stories could be.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    (Original pub date: 1991) This is a collection of "modern" (compiled in 1991) Japanese short stories. Except, many of them aren't even short stories, I discovered, but excerpts from novellas. What the heck was the editor thinking?!? It destroys the integrity of the work if you cut half of it out; there's almost no point in reading it at all. It's like a sampler of various author's writing styles, presented without any possibility of deriving some meaning from the work. Some of it was ok, and most (Original pub date: 1991) This is a collection of "modern" (compiled in 1991) Japanese short stories. Except, many of them aren't even short stories, I discovered, but excerpts from novellas. What the heck was the editor thinking?!? It destroys the integrity of the work if you cut half of it out; there's almost no point in reading it at all. It's like a sampler of various author's writing styles, presented without any possibility of deriving some meaning from the work. Some of it was ok, and most of it was really out there, but the realization that a lot of them weren't actually short stories killed it for me. Murakami's The TV People was a for-real short story, but I was not impressed. It was kind of just random, and I couldn't figure out the point. Maybe it's been too long since I thought critically about serious literature? The freakiest one, about a dominatrix, I actually liked because it seemed to have a few interesting things to say, and drew an intriguing portrait of the narrator. The Yamada Diary, essentially a tale of a boy for whom the line between reality and a video game world starts to blur, actually takes that cliche premise and handles it with subtle deftness. Japanese Entrance Exams for Earnest Young Men was possibly the most accessible and fun story, with its skewering of the whole standardized test game. Bonus hilarity points for this collection go to Momotaro in a Capsule, in which the author doesn't even bother to coyly introduce phallic symbols (for instance, a motorcycle). The main character blatantly calls each phallic symbol exactly what it is, and neatly reverses narrative conventions by framing everything he does explicitly and consciously in terms of maleness and phallic obsessions (rather than having that become a hidden message running through a more normal story). Not that I really liked this tale much, either, but the gimmick was interesting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I stumbled across "Monkey Brain Sushi" (what a title, right?) on the shelves of the local Half Price Books back in the mid-90s. "New tastes in Japanese fiction" the cover declared. Well hey, I enjoy manga and anime, so why not? Plus it was five bucks--can't go wrong there. I'll echo the comments of several other reviewers here in that I was disappointed to discover that many of what I thought were stand-alone short stories were, in fact, just chapters or excerpts from longer novels. That's not to I stumbled across "Monkey Brain Sushi" (what a title, right?) on the shelves of the local Half Price Books back in the mid-90s. "New tastes in Japanese fiction" the cover declared. Well hey, I enjoy manga and anime, so why not? Plus it was five bucks--can't go wrong there. I'll echo the comments of several other reviewers here in that I was disappointed to discover that many of what I thought were stand-alone short stories were, in fact, just chapters or excerpts from longer novels. That's not to say those stories are bad, just that at the end you're often left with a feeling of something missing. It's like reading those excerpts of literature in your textbook: you can get a sense of the story and the style, but the overall effect is diminished slightly. That said, it's still a fun collection despite the fact a few years have passed since its publication in 1991. Many people mention Murakami's "TV People" and Kobayashi's "Mazelife" as the standouts of the collection, and they're right. But while these two may be the strongest entries, my own personal favorite has always been Gen'ichiro Takahashi's "Christopher Columbus Discovers America" for reasons I've never quite been able to put my finger on. Its opening is certainly one of the most humorous, with a group of young schoolchildren informing their exasperated teacher that they'd all like to be Christopher Columbus when they grow up, and if that won't work, then being physically handicapped ("having a handicap in your phys" as one of them states in all seriousness) would be just fine too. While it was fresh in the early 90s, this isn't a book I'd choose to give someone aching to break into Japanese literature today. Instead it's one I'd give them after they've already developed an interest in the subject and wanted to see what the scene looked like in the late 80s. A good collection, not great, but not for the uninitiated at this point.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ippino

    Questa antologia presenta otto racconti ed un fumetto, scritti tutti tra il 1984 ed il 1988. Tra questi, spiccano per tipologia "La ragazza", unico fantascientifico del lotto, e "Il giorno più buio del Giappone", il fumetto appunto. Rispetto alla qualità, invece, si fanno notare il geniale ed ironico "Esame di ammissione di giapponese per studenti zelanti", l'originale "Il diario di Yamada" ed il pimpante "Sproing!". Non è una raccolta eccezionale, anzi: alcuni racconti sono soporifieri e mancano d Questa antologia presenta otto racconti ed un fumetto, scritti tutti tra il 1984 ed il 1988. Tra questi, spiccano per tipologia "La ragazza", unico fantascientifico del lotto, e "Il giorno più buio del Giappone", il fumetto appunto. Rispetto alla qualità, invece, si fanno notare il geniale ed ironico "Esame di ammissione di giapponese per studenti zelanti", l'originale "Il diario di Yamada" ed il pimpante "Sproing!". Non è una raccolta eccezionale, anzi: alcuni racconti sono soporifieri e mancano di ritmo; chi avrà la costanza di proseguire, però, verrà ricompensato da pagine scritte comunque bene, che hanno il merito di descrivere un mondo diverso da quello che ci potremmo aspettare. I protagonisti hanno una sensibilità "aliena" per noi, nel vedere ed affrontare le cose, nel gestire le situazioni che gli autori decidono di far loro affrontare. Ed in questa continua scoperta il lettore troverà soddisfazione. Personalmente, ho trovato molto interessante "Fiocchi di neve di peonia", che racconta con straordinaria raffinatezza il tema dell'omosessualità femminile nel Giappone di oggi. Invece "Cristoforo Colombo scopre l'America" è per me il più debole tra tutti: noioso, inconcludente e leggermente confusionario. Consigliato a chi vuol leggere qualcosa che si discosti dai canoni occidentali. A chi è curioso. Sconsigliato: a chi ha un'immagine stereotipata del Giappone.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Páez

    Interesante compendio de relatos y extractos de novelas publicados a finales de los 80. Entre los autores se ven algunos que hoy en día son muy populares (o lo han sido) como Haruki Murakami o Amy Yamada. Es interesante descubrir nuevos (para mí) autores. En conjunto me ha parecido una antología irregular y con pocos relatos destacables, pero por aquel entonces esta iniciativa me hubiera parecido excelente. Pero colocar fragmentos de novelas largas que no se han llegado a publicar en inglés me p Interesante compendio de relatos y extractos de novelas publicados a finales de los 80. Entre los autores se ven algunos que hoy en día son muy populares (o lo han sido) como Haruki Murakami o Amy Yamada. Es interesante descubrir nuevos (para mí) autores. En conjunto me ha parecido una antología irregular y con pocos relatos destacables, pero por aquel entonces esta iniciativa me hubiera parecido excelente. Pero colocar fragmentos de novelas largas que no se han llegado a publicar en inglés me parece un error enorme, pues el lector se queda colgado ante la narración. Por eso he evitado leer estos relatos. Relatos: -TV People, de Haruki Murakami 4/5 -Sproing!, de Eri Makino 2/5 -Christopher Columbus Discovers America, de Gen'ichiro Takahashi 4/5 -Mazelife, de Kyoji Kobayashi 3/5 Aunque este es el fragmento de una novela. -Momotaro in a Capsule, de Masahiko Shimada 2/5 -Japan's Junglest Day, de Michio Hisauchi 2,5/5 (Este es un manga) -Kneel Down and Lick My Feet, de Amy Yamada (No leído debido a ser sólo el 1er capítulo de una novela) -Peony Snowflakes of Love, Osamu Hashimoto 3/5 -Japanese Entrance Exams for Earnest Young Men, de Yoshinori Shimizu 4/5 -Girl, de Mariko Ohara 3/5 (¡Uno de ciencia ficción!) -The Yamada Diary, de Masako Takemo 3/5

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    Absolutely amazing! One of the few fiction books on my shelf and one of my favorite books ever. A very varied and interesting collection of Japanese authors that are hard to find in English. I was sad to discover that one of my favorite short stories here is excerpted from a larger work, a Japanese novel that I can't ever read because it isn't published in English. Like many people I like Haruki Murakami but until this book I didn't realize just how much amazing Japanese fiction there is out the Absolutely amazing! One of the few fiction books on my shelf and one of my favorite books ever. A very varied and interesting collection of Japanese authors that are hard to find in English. I was sad to discover that one of my favorite short stories here is excerpted from a larger work, a Japanese novel that I can't ever read because it isn't published in English. Like many people I like Haruki Murakami but until this book I didn't realize just how much amazing Japanese fiction there is out there besides him that is simply inaccessible to us in the west due to the language barrier. I'm surprised this is out of print given the popularity of Murakami and the number of English-speaking people out there interested in Japanese fiction these days. I first discovered this at the library and liked it so much I bought a second hand copy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    Oddly, I was given this book by one of my high school English teachers after expressing an interest in Japan and Japanese literature--and these are a collection of tales I find myself going back and reading over and over again. They are all modern to post modern, and as such have intriguing and often sexual themes from authors who are either quite popular in translation now or have yet to be published otherwise in English. Amy Yamada's Kneel Down and Kiss My Boots remains one of my favorite stor Oddly, I was given this book by one of my high school English teachers after expressing an interest in Japan and Japanese literature--and these are a collection of tales I find myself going back and reading over and over again. They are all modern to post modern, and as such have intriguing and often sexual themes from authors who are either quite popular in translation now or have yet to be published otherwise in English. Amy Yamada's Kneel Down and Kiss My Boots remains one of my favorite stories, and I would say this is what propelled my interest for Japan's postmodern literature into what it is today.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    This anthology was an amazing surprise. It was full of the kind of contemporary Japanese writing I've always suspected existed, but haven't seen much of since so little of it is translated. I originally came across this book hunting for obscure translations of Genichiro Takahashi (his piece alone is worth checking the book out), but there some other great finds as well, especially Kyoji Kobayashi and Masahiko Shimada.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Roberta

    Ma, non era quello che mi aspettavo. Due o tre bei racconti, il manga ha un bel finale, ma non mi ha coinvolto come altri romanzi o racconti. Forse devo rimanere sulla letteratura giapponese standard.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Raditya Dika

    a collection of angry, experimental writing of contemporary japanese writers. i hate how murakami wrote in this one. dwarfs and all, this kind of stuff to, ehm, artly-advanced for me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Will E

    A grab-bag, and out of date now, but nonetheless an interesting collection of stories.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sae-chan

    Well, it's true that excerpting from a book doesn't do any justice to the book. But what can I say, excerpt or no excerpt, I really liked them. They are the edges of edgy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Clark

    Spotty good/bad. Another book I picked up solely for the Murakami short (TV PEOPLE), which upon completion in this case made me feel very uncomfortable.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Noah Parks

    This is the book that got me interested in Japanese fiction. That was a long time ago and I should reread it as I cant remember a single story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    An excellent introduction to the world of contemporary Japanese fiction... A few stories are less stellar than others but overall an excellent collection of short stories.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christiaan Keaton

    I’m thoroughly enjoying this read. It is bizarre, edgy, hilarious & bold…in other words, it’s so me!

  21. 5 out of 5

    charlotte Phillips

    Japanese contemporary short stories. Includes Haruki Murakami’s “TV People.” Some amazing stories, some really wacky ones.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mikael

    one story actually a comic or graphic story for shonen knife groupies/fantagraphics dandipsters

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    TV People by Haruki Murakami is surreally hilarious and engrossing. Mazelife by Kyoji Kobayahshi is a madcap Stanislaw Lem style take on personal philosophy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Flora

  27. 4 out of 5

    Abby Chambers

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fil

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gwern

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ami

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