“Kabuki is like the manga of its time.” “No it isn’t.” “Then go to sleep.”
Such bickering between father and son peppers Peter Carey’s new book, Wrong About Japan: A Father’s Journey with His Son. Carey, two-time winner of the Booker Prize for his fiction, here attempts a work of nonfiction, a memoir of his travels in Japan with his 12-year old son, Charley.
Spurred on by his son’s interest in manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animated films), Carey and his son travel into the world of artists, business-minded people, and visionaries involved in the anime industry. Diehard fans of anime include 15-year old Takashi, Charley’s friend via Internet, whom he meets in person upon reaching Tokyo. Throughout, Carey doesn’t know what to make of his son’s Japanese friend, but Takashi’s sudden appearances become cornerstones for his Japanese travels, signaling moments of true conflict for Carey.
Highlights of the book include the many intimate portraitures revealed when Carey and his son find themselves in one bizarre situation after another: sipping noodles in a restaurant in the Entertainment Area (where they suspect all others around them are geishas or gangsters), forgoing sushi one morning in the pursuit of doughnuts with sprinkles, or posing for photos with famed anime directors.
Throughout Carey’s interviews with the Japanese, he is treated as almost always wrong in what he assumes about the relationship between the films and Japanese culture. While at times such upsets may be humorous, the gaps left when Carey poses a question without a real understanding of the answers given leaves the book with too many threads left untied. That, combined with the number of locations the father and son seem to jump to, leaves the structure of the book scattered—more of a patchwork of episodes than a sense of a tighter whole.
Wrong About Japan is at its best when we learn about anime and manga through Carey’s detailed analysis. Describing the anime, Totoro, Carey writes:“…like all of Miyazaki’s work, the film exhibits the most pleasurably detailed physical world, landscape in all its complexity, and architecture so keenly observed that one immediately recognizes it was drawn from life. This is something far richer and more sophisticated than the flat, cute world of Disney.”
Carey’s fascination with anime is contagious. Upon seeing the visual artwork included in the book, readers will undoubtedly find what Carey and Charley found, images so compelling, they’re only the beginning of the search.
Reviewed by Roseanne Pereira