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Profile for Mr. Michael D. Kruse > Reviews

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Mr. Michael D. Kruse (Japan)

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People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman
People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman
by Richard Lloyd Parry
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Reportage, 11 Oct. 2011
I enjoyed reading this book immensely, although it addresses a truly depressing subject. I've been reading the other Amazon reviews, and I am struck by how polarised readers' reactions to the book seem to have been. Two of the reviewers accuse Mr Parry of gross inaccuracies, but, as far as I can understand, they are objecting to his portrayal of a protagonist's character, hardly something that can be done "accurately" as the process is of necessity impressionistic. It would be safer, I suggest, to argue that one may have formed a different impression; it certainly seems an unwarranted leap to say that the book is grossly inaccurate in general. One of the reviewers claims that Mr Parry's admitted obsession with the Blackman case precludes him from being able to be objective about it, but this is clearly a false premise: if obsession were necessarily a bar to objectivity, we wouldn't have half of our greatest scientific discoveries.

I felt that the book was, in general, an honest attempt to account for an awful crime, describing a Japan that I recognise all too clearly (although I must disclose that I have never lived in Tokyo and know none of the people in the book; I have lived in Japan for nearly 25 years and am certainly familiar with Roppongi), and I was especially struck by the palpable effort Mr Parry made to be fair to everyone. If he failed with a minor individual I do not think that should put one off the book as a whole.

I would also add that I find his analysis of what "went wrong", as it were, with the prosecution, entirely convincing, and again, as a judgement, very fair.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone interested in a solid account of the Blackman killing and its aftermath.

Japan Through the Looking Glass
Japan Through the Looking Glass
by Alan MacFarlane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 10 Oct. 2011
It seems clear to me that there are two problems with this book:

i) Although it is clearly not (nor I believe was it intended to be) an academic work, it is replete with specialised technical anthropological vocabulary, and as such is mystifying to a layman like myself. For example, at one point, Professor MacFarlane discusses "giri-ninjo". I think it would be prefectly simple to explain this notion by summarising one of Chikamatsu's tragedies, or by explaining the situation of any Japanese girl today who wishes to marry someone other than her parents' choice. However, Professor MacFarlane seeks to explain it in terms of "association" and "community", these terms having specialised anthropological senses rather than their common ones, and, as a result, I - who have lived in Japan for nearly 25 years - was barely able to recognise "giri-ninjo" in his explanation.

ii) Professor MacFarlane is almost entirely uncritical of his sources. In some cases, he is quoting 19th Century travellers, and we may instinctively realise that these are to be taken with a pinch of salt; more worrying is when he (often) writes, "Toshiko and Ken told us..." I have no idea what anthropologists learn, but I hope that on day one of Anthropology 101 they are apprised of the fact that it is very unwise to take what someone tells you about their own culture AT FACE VALUE - especially when the speaker is Japanese (this is the nation, after all, whose government once justified barring the import of foreign skis on the grounds that Japanese snow was different from foreign snow). Professor MacFarlane's discussions of the Yakuza, of the Japanese legal and court sytems, and of the supposed Japanese distaste for litigation, for example, are so naive as to be breathtaking.

In summary, what Professor MacFarlane has given us here is a more sophisticated rewrite of the same tired old stereotypes and cliches about "weird" Japan.

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