Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Ashes, by Kenzo Kitakata

(hb; 1990, 2003: translated by Emi Shimokawa)

From the inside flap:

"The vices and virtues of middle age are espied with an eagle eye in this hardboiled story about a mid-career gangster. Unfolding through chiseled sketches and run through with tantalizing motifs, Kitakata's masterpiece follows the fortunes of a yakuza mobster as his moment of truth approaches..."


Male yakuza-filtered brutality and observations define and structure this edgy, masterful work.

Ashes is divided into two sections: "The Man Within" and "Within The Man".

The first section, "The Man Within," is written as a string of jigsaw-pieced, third-person-POV'd chapters, showing Tanaka, a middle-aged, middle-management yakuza as he, in unconventional fashion, extorts and dispatches orders to his "punk" underlings.

These reader-teasing, motif-recurrent chapters may prove frustrating for readers who are used to having their narratives spoonfed to them. (Those finding themselves put out by Kitakata's structuring of Ashes may enjoy Kitakata's The Cage more -- it sports a more-linear, noir-traditional structure.)

The second section, "Within The Man," ties the characters and motifs of the first section into a first-person narrative. Seen through the eyes of the punk-spirited esoteric Tanaka, the events of the second section -- results of what happened in the first section -- are more linear, and easier to follow, culminating in a finish that is character-progressive and sublime.

Spillane-eseque and worth owning, this.

Fans of filmmaker/actor Takeshi "Beat" Kitano may enjoy this writer. Kitakata shares Kitano's offbeat, yakuza-stark humor, as well as Kitano's sense of structuring.

1 comment:

ladynyo.wordpress said...

Oh jeez...

I am going to have to get this book.
I have just become interested in this issue: yakuza. I don't know where I was before, but probably floating in the "Floating World" amongst the sodden lilies.

I have been reading Ruth Benedict's "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" that plays around with the Japanese culture and psyche, but of course gives almost nothing about this issue.

I think it's tied very much to the still-potent samurai culture of not so long ago...the daimyo stance, perhaps a modern, updated version of this.

There is always a moment of truth.

Thanks for this review. You make it....delectable and unavoidable.

Jane Kohut-Bartels (also Lady Nyo at times)

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