Sunday, March 16, 2008

Last year I wrote about Usamaru Furuya's The Music of Marie (Marie no Kanaderu Ongaku*), but without having read it. Well, I finally got around to reading it; and while I can't say for sure that it's the best graphic novel I've ever read, it's definitely a contender. I don't have much to add to this excellent review by Carlos Santos, though (not without major spoilers, at any rate).

The first 200-odd pages of the first volume (out of a total of 274) are basically set-up: Furuya takes his time developing his world and main characters. But because the society and culture Furuya has created is fascinating, this isn't dull at all. The story itself, when it gets going, seems to be basically a familiar one -- up until Chap. 14, a little more than halfway through the second volume, which is where the fireworks begin. But when they do, they're spectacular. In fact, good as the first volume is, it's the second volume, and its retrospective effect on the first volume, that makes The Music of Marie a masterpiece.

There's publishing information in my earlier post. The volumes are in the Birz Comics Deluxe line. If you're fortunate enough to find these in a bookstore, note that instead of being labelled "1" and "2," the two volumes are labelled with the kanji for up and down, respectively. This is common for Japanese novels, which are frequently published in two volumes, but I don't recall having seen it in manga before.

I don't usually link to scanlations, but The Music of Marie is such an important work that I'm making an exception and linking to Kotonoha's scanlation. Unfortunately, only the first volume has been put up so far. If you can read French, the book has been published in French; but again, apparently only the first volume is available right now.

*As I remarked in my earlier post, a better translation of the Japanese title would be "The Music Marie Plays," and I don't know where "The Music of Marie" comes from; but the latter translation is probably too entrenched by now to dislodge.

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Monday, March 03, 2008


I recently saw a curious little Japanese film called Frog Song (Kaeru no Uta; aka Enjo-kousai monogatari: shitagaru onna-tachi). Directed by Shinji Imaoka, it's about a woman named Akemi who catches her boyfriend in bed with another woman, walks out, and enters into a stormy friendship with Kyoko, a woman who is a prostitute and aspiring manga creator. This is a "pink eiga (movie)": these are basically soft-core porn films, but the directors can pretty much film what they want as long as they put in the requisite number of sex scenes. A number of legitimate directors got their start in pink cinema (something like Roger Corman's 60s exploitation films in the U.S.). Frog Song has its quota of sex scenes, but they don't account for much of the movie and most of them aren't erotic. Nor is the film a comedy, despite the packaging of the U.S. DVD.

Oddly enough, the film reminded me of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, incongruous as it may seem to compare one of the great masters of cinema with an exploitation film by a nearly unknown director. Like Hou, Imaoka rejects the conventions of commercial movies, and in similar ways. There is a feeling of austerity to Frog Song. Characters' motives are frequently unclear. And there are often unexplained narrative gaps between scenes. For example, in one scene the two women are in a manga cafe after having had a fight, and one of them ostentatiously turns away from the other. In the next scene, they are in Kyoko's room and she is having sex with a client while Akemi watches, with no explanation given. And there is always an emotional distance between characters: unlike the conventional "odd couple" movie, Akemi and Kyoko never really connect with each other.

Aside from the direction, Konatsu gives a very good performance as Akemi. Frog Song is definitely worth checking out. Here's a good review.

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