Lew Paper’s new book In the Cauldron charts the diplomatic road to Pearl Harbor, mostly through the eyes of the then-US Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew. Paper portrays Grew as a voice crying in the wilderness, showing the way to peace when everyone around him in official circles in both Japan and the United States drifted towards war.

Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000, Mark Schilling, Tomoki Watanabe (illus) (Awai Books, November 2019)
Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000, Mark Schilling, Tomoki Watanabe (illus) (Awai Books, November 2019)

From popular genre films to cult avant-garde works, this book is an essential guide to Japan’s vibrant cinema culture. It collects two decades of the best of Mark Schilling’s film writing for Variety, Japan Times, and other publications.

Very few people (other than Anthony Janson in his monumental History of Art, published in 1968) would attempt to write a history of an entire country’s art, and even fewer could do it in one volume and cover a period from 15,000 BCE right up to the present day. Professor Tsuji does this for Japanese art with ease, elegance, humor and consummate erudition in an attractive volume printed on first-class paper and packed with quality color and black-and-white illustrations. What’s more, it isn’t a large format coffee-table book like Janson’s, which means a reader can actually curl up on a chair and read it quite comfortably. As Tsuji says, though, “to survey the vast sweep of Japanese art history was a great challenge and a daunting task;” but we are lucky that he also tells us “not only did no such book exist, but I needed one myself!”

Toward the end of his life, Algernon Blackwood famously reminisced that “I used to tell strange, wild, improbable tales…” The tale of the friendship between Lu Xun and Uchiyama Kanzō would have met Blackwood’s standard—a look at Shanghai during those times, now nearly 100 years ago, suggests why.

The Chronicles of Lord Asunaro is a curious little volume. In length, perhaps 10,000 words, it is long for a short story but short for a novella. The protagonist, a minor feudal lord in late Tokugawa Japan, was an actual person (apparently: like much else here, it is hard to be sure), his life heavily fictionalized according to the author’s note. While labeled a “tale” or “story”, the narrative in fact lacks much of might conventionally be called a plot.

The Refugees’ Daughter, Takuji Ichikawa, Emily Balistrieri (tr) (Red Circle Authors, November 2019)
The Refugees’ Daughter, Takuji Ichikawa, Emily Balistrieri (tr) (Red Circle, November 2019)

In a society rife with conflict and a world on the edge of extinction, who should we turn to for answers: society’s strongest or weakest? This is the question Takuji Ichikawa, one of Japan’s most imaginative and unusual authors, poses in The Refugees’ Daughter, a magical modern parable for our troubled times.