Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Haruki Murakami's1Q84

1Q84 features two seemingly parallel storylines: Aomame, a physical trainer who kills violent, abusive men and Tengo, an aspiring novelist who ghost writes a promising short story he feels particularly drawn to.  The first two books of 1Q84 are magnificent.  They draw you in immediately and introduce you to the strange and sometimes creepy world of 1Q84 in which there are two moons instead of one and policemen carry semi-automatic weapons instead of revolvers.  The pacing is tight and characters are motivated to act.  The third book of 1Q84 feels weak.  Another character's POV is introduced (he doesn't really add all that much to the story) and things that should get resolved sooner drag on.  The antagonists in the story are also surprisingly disappointing, especially when they've been built up as so omniscient and cunning.

I liked Tengo right off the bat and initially looked forward to his part of the story more.  As the story went on, I found myself liking Aomame more.  Her struggles are deeply moving and become more fascinating as the novel progresses while Tengo seems to take a more passive role.  There're many minor characters and I wish more of them had felt more like real characters rather than plot devices.

Of the minor characters, my two favorites were Fuka-Eri and Ayumi.  Fuka-Eri is the mysterious teenager whose story Tengo ghostwrites.  Fuka-Eri is wise beyond her years but deeply damaged and oftentimes unable to communicate her wisdom.  She also had this strange, intimate dynamic with Tengo that I almost wish Murakami had explored more.  I would love to read a whole novel just about her.  Ayumi is a policewoman who befriends Aomame.  Ayumi has had a very damaged background just like Aomame but deals with it in a very different way.

IQ84 is at its best when it builds up to its fantastic climax- it's exhilarating and terrifying.  There are a lot of moving pieces and it's especially satisfying to see the characters behave unexpectedly.  I also really enjoyed the stories both about the characters (the dowager's history, Aomame's friendship with Tamika) and about the books that they read ("The Cat Town" and "Air Chrysalis").  Cat Town and Air Chrysalis are both haunting in their own ways and Air Chrysalis does live up to all the hype the characters in the book put around it.

In many ways, the love story in IQ84 feels like the weakest part.  Despite the relationships they develop in their parallel story lines Aomame and Tengo both still feel terribly alone and only find solace in their idealized love for each other .  In some ways, I wish the author let them develop deeper relationships with others around them because those relationships felt very raw and much more realistic though what the love meant to Aomame is genuinely moving.  

I also still have so many questions about Air Chrysalis and the world of 1Q84 and if any of you have read it I'd love to get into a debate about what the more mysterious things in the book meant.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mace's Five Favorite Lesser Known Films

I saw this question posed on a movie forum recently and gave it some thought.  I'm sneaking in one extra.    

The Wedding Banquet (dir: Ang Lee) is about a gay Taiwanese man who fakes a wedding to a woman with his partner to please his traditional Taiwanese parents who don't know he's gay.  It's funny, poignant, and heartfelt.  

This might just be my favorite Ang Lee film because he captures the Chinese parent-child relationship so well especially when there's that generation/cultural gap between the parents who live in the home country and the kids who move to the US.  To some extent I think every Asian kid can relate to the relationship- how there are things you don't tell your parents because you don't think they'll get it (but they do or they'll try their very best to). 


Another one of Ang Lee's earlier films that I really enjoy is Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, which is is about a former chef and his three daughters. Like the Wedding Banquet, it starts off with a light, comedic tone but reaches quite a different and more serious tone towards the end.  Eat, Drink, Man, Woman is about growing up and moving on.  It also features some really magnificent Chinese cooking.  One of my favorite food sequences on film is below.  


The Children's Hour. The Children's Hour is a haunting story about how a little girl ruins the lives of two of her female teachers (Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine) after she spreads a rumor about them. I was impressed by how progressive it was since it was made in the 1960s.  

This one is definitely a downer but I do wish more people knew about this movie since the messages it conveys are so important.  It also has fantastic performances from Hepburn and Maclain.    


Marty (1955).  Marty () is a very well-liked butcher in his town, but he can't seem to get a girlfriend. When he finally finds someone he really likes and gets along with, none of his friends or family approve of her. 

This is another older, black and white movie.  Marty holds a very special place in my heart because this was one of the first older movies that I really enjoyed and connected with.  I remember catching it on Turner Classic Movies and just being really charmed by all of the characters and the lovely plot development.  

The Science of Sleep (dir: Michel Gondry)- a very imaginative movie about an eccentric man (who confuses his dreams with reality.  The Science of Sleep is filled with beautiful, creative imagery- it's really beautiful what they do in this movie without CGI using cardboard, foam, and other basic art supplies  At a deeper level, Science of Sleep draws you in because of how personal the movie feels.  

The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Before it was the Denzel Washington thriller, The Manchurian Candidate was a really haunting and gripping thriller about conspiracies, brainwashing, and assassination