This is Machu Picchu at a Llama’s eye view.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A struggling novelist named Ruth finds a watertight package containing a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed ashore on an island off the coast of British Columbia. Ruth’s initial assumption is that it’s debris from the March 11, 2011 tsunami that scoured a large swath of coastal eastern Japan out to sea. However, her husband, Oliver, who has more expertise in these matters, tells her that it’s unlikely that the box could cross the Pacific so quickly and that it would be jettisoned out of the currents that consolidate plastic rubbish into large debris fields like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. When the lunch box’s contents turn out to include a teenage girl’s journal and a number of letters, it seems as though the mystery might be solvable.
The journal is written by a Japanese girl in turmoil named Nao. Nao grew up in American, her father working for a Silicon Valley computer firm until he lost his job. A major factor in Nao’s depression is that she has to return to her ethnic homeland of Japan as a stranger. Her formative years were spent in America, and she is out-of-place in Japan and—as a result—she falls victim to vicious bullying. Furthermore, her father is unable to find a job in Japan and becomes suicidal. The household has to tighten its proverbial belt because Nao’s father, Haruki #2, isn’t working and Nao’s mother has limited earning potential. (FYI: the “#2” refers to the fact that Nao’s father had an uncle for whom he was named who’d been a scholar forced to serve in a kami kaze squad during the war.)
Nao also becomes suicidal, but she is firm in her conviction that she will not fail like her father has done on two occasions. There’s one thing that she must do first and that’s to pen the story of her great-grandmother Jiko. Jiko is a centenarian Buddhist nun and the family matriarch on Nao’s father’s side of the family. Nao stays a summer with Jiko, and the old nun in all her wisdom becomes an anchor in the girl’s tumultuous life. With a level of narcissism appropriate to a teenager, Nao ends up telling us a story that’s more autobiographical than an account of Old Jiko.
A Tale for the Time Being interweaves two storylines. One line is Nao’s journal entries and letters from the lunchbox. The other line is Ruth’s journey as she reads the journal and becomes obsessed with discovering more about Nao and her family members. Eventually, Ruth’s investigation turns up information about Haruki #1 and Haruki #2 that Nao apparently didn’t know, and that both Ruth and the reader hope the girl will learn. Nao comes to idolize Haruki #1 in part because he was committed to his fate as a kami kaze. It’s not that she believed in the kami kaze objective (she identifies more as American than Japanese), but she sees Haruki #1’s commitment in contrast to her father’s behavior. Nao’s myth about her great-uncle turns him into a counterpoint to the father that she loves but thinks a pathetic loser. In a way, this novel is a cautionary tale about drawing conclusions about the virtues and vices of others without knowing their whole story.
Ozeki does a great job of creating characters multi-dimensional enough for us to become intrigued by. Just as Ozeki has her same-named secondary protagonist, Ruth, sitting on the edge of the seat wanting to find out what happened to Nao and her family, we—too–are pulled into that mystery. The challenging approach of weaving Ruth’s story into the journal’s contents works well.
Ozeki hints that there may be something supernatural about the world in which her characters inhabit. There’s a member of a species of crow that shouldn’t be on the American side of the Pacific who shows up at about the same time as the lunch box. Also, we can’t tell whether some of Nao’s stories are the wishful delusions of a tormented girl or whether they reflect some kind of subtle magic. It’s a similar approach to that of other literary fiction authors such as Haruki Murakami.
I’d recommend this novel. It’s gripping and readable.
As promised, I’m updating this post at mid-year because in January there’s a lot of uncertainty about what movies will actually come out and when. If you’re comparing notes, my original 2015 Martial Arts Movies post was here.
Wild Card (January 30 in US): This may be a cheat given what I said above. However, it’s a Jason Statham film, and like the “Transporter” films it probably doesn’t amount too much without the ass-kickery. Let’s face it, you’re not going to see Jason Statham for his extensive acting range.
Dragon Blade (February 19 in China, March for India, September for US): Featuring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody. This is a period piece, and–as you can tell from the casting–is big budget as martial arts flicks go.
Wolf Warrior (April 2) [China]: This looks like more of a shoot-em-up action film than a martial arts film, but some have listed it as a martial arts film and the close quarters action is definitely reminiscent of a martial arts film.
Skin Trade (April 23, direct to DVD): This film stars Tony Jaa and Dolph Lundgren as the good guys and Ron Perlman as the villain. As the title suggests, it’s set around a theme of human trafficking.
Kung Fu Killer (April 24 in theaters, July 21 on DVD): A Donnie Yen action flick in which Yen is in prison.
Pound of Flesh: (May 15 limited theater, June 23 to DVD, etc.): Jean-Claude Van Damme. The blurb says: “A man’s heroic attempt to help a woman in distress ends up with him waking up the next day without a kidney and plotting his revenge.”
Redeemer (June 12 in theaters, August 31 to DVD): A hit-man goes good. This is a 2014 movie that’s receiving an expanded international release.
SPL (Sha Po Lang) II / A Time for Consequences / SPL2: Rise of Wong Po (June 18): This Hong Kong film will feature Thai superstar Tony Jaa. (Like Donnie Yen, this guy is in everything. I don’t know whether they’re cloning these guys or what. Maybe they just don’t need to sleep, eat, or poop like the rest of us.)
The Monk Comes Down the Mountain (July 3): This movie is based on a popular Chinese novel entitled Dao Shi Xia Shan (A Monk Comes Down the Mountain) and is a comedic kung fu flick.
Underdog Kids (July 7, straight to DVD / online): Looks like The Karate Kid but with a lower budget but more [karate] kids. Here is the trailer:
The Boy and the Beast (July 11) [Japan]: This is an animated film, but martial arts is a prominent and necessary feature of the movie. (I believe I included one of the Kung fu Panda movies in one of my past posts, so I think this is fair game.)
Brothers (July 31) [India, in Hindi]: An Indian remake of the American film Warriors. In the American movie, two estranged brothers must fight each other in an MMA bout. (Hence the name of the Indian version, Brothers.)
The Martial Arts Kid (August 21): As the unimaginative title (a generic knock-off of the alliterative “Karate Kid”?) suggests, this is a low budget work, and the acting–if the trailer is any indication–is atrocious. It features competition martial artists-turned actors Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend (August 28): Interestingly, this sequel to an immensely popular film will be released on Netflix and IMAX simultaneously. If this were some risky, low-budget film, going straight to Netflix wouldn’t be at all surprising, but this is the sequel to the highest grossing foreign language film in America.
The Transporter: Refueled (September 4): Another “Transporter” film, but Ed Skrein plays the role of Frank Martin in this one. As with “Wild Card” it may be a cheat to include it as a martial arts film, but car chases and shoot-outs don’t get these movies all the way to watchability.
Skiptrace (December 24): This is a martial arts comedy featuring Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville as buddies on the lam.
Movies with unspecified release dates:
The Bodyguard (undesignated release) [China]: Featuring and directed by Sammo Hung. The lack of trailer makes me not optimistic for a 2015 release, but who knows…
The Chemist: A grain of salt on the 2015 release. This is an “assasin-who-can’t-bear-to-kill-his-victim-and-ends-up-protecting-her-instead” film. It’s been in post-production for a while.
Iceman 2 (in post-production): This Donnie Yen sequel doesn’t have a set release date and I expect a 2016 release, but it’s still listed as a winter 2015 film. It’s a Kung fu Encino Man. I haven’t seen any publicity, but the plot blurb is: The imperial guard and his three traitorous childhood friends ordered to hunt him down get accidentally buried and kept frozen in time. 400 years later pass and they are defrosted continuing the battle they left behind
Close Range (in post-production): A guy is looking for a girl. It looks like a low budget Taken, but the fight scenes may be better.
Unlikely 2015 Releases:
White Tiger: Another film with Don “the Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
A Man Will Rise: A Tony Jaa and Dolf Lundgren film with a “delayed” release status.
Black Salt: (in post-production): The blurb is: With time winding down towards world-ending devastation, the fate of mankind rests in the hands of Interpol agent Samuel Tharpe.