introducing readers to writers since 1995

March 31, 2004

Takahashi Takes Manhattan

by Ron Hogan

PW calls Sayanora, Gangsters "amusing, sexy, moving, intelligent and maddeningly obtuse--often all at the same time." And that's about right. I went to the Japan Society to hear Genichiro Takahaski read from his debut novel, first published in the early 1980s but never before available in English. (He read in Japanese, while Michael Emmerich, who translated the novel for Vertical, followed him in English. And just for the heck of it, and because it's always good to encourage headline writers to throw in Sisters of Mercy references, here's an interview with Emmerich, this time about translating Banana Yoshimoto.)

Before Takahashi did his thing, though, Chinese theater director Meng Jinghui introduced his first film, Chicken Poets, in which an unsuccessful poet named Yun Fei moves in with his best friend, who runs a chicken farm near Beijing, then comes across a CD-ROM that transforms him into the most famous poet in the nation (in scenes that echo parts of Hal Hartley's Henry Fool, but are even more surreal). Yun becomes so ubiquitous a part of Chinese pop culture that he even gets his own URL,, though in real life that appears to be a corporate site for "Ruian Feiyun Machinery Works." He showed sequences totalling about half of the movie, I'd say, and it was engaging enough that I'd like to see the rest eventually.

It turned out to be a good fit, since Sayanora, Gangsters is also about a poet who hasn't quite lived up to his ambitions. The approach is much different, however, and the novel's ambiguously futuristic setting and vignettish structure reminded me a lot of Donald Barthelme. (He turned out to be the one American postmodernist Takahashi cited as an influence when I raised the point during the Q&A; he also invoked Phillip Roth, but admitted he was more of a high modernist.) I'll be quoting some choice passages in a day or two, so be on the lookout for that.

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