4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars
Enthusiastic Punter of Japanese Myths and Generalisations, 13 Aug 2011
(My original title for this review was: 'Consistently favouring the uncritical endorsement and propagation of incipid mystical impressions of victorian romantics' ..... but since amazon decided my review was probably a little too good at reducing sales, and trashed it, I've decided to rebrand it a little).
This is probably the book which the Japan National Tourism Organisation wishes it had written, but I couldn't get 40 pages through the book before bawling with disbelief at Macfarlane's complete inability to discern mystical fantasy from reality. At least, owing to the lengthy and otherwise pointless introduction, we can get a good sense of when his mind began voluntarily to cloud over: So shocked at having his absurdly naive assumptions shattered by actually going to see the place and being talked to by Japanese people, Macfarlane fell head-over-heels for the ideas of the nearest Japanese academic, sage, or Western counterpart, who usually by definition have been earning their living from producing tantalising generalisations about their countrymen for the entertainment of foreigners, and the equally monetarily compensating career of pandering to the Japanese ego (see the history of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword). So too, then, Macfarlane has become an enthusiastic punter of Japanese myths.
The book operates like a horoscope, unfolding topic by topic, while we are showered with 'impressions' and 'a certain sense of [the ethereal]', consciously avoiding concrete statements, never quantifying, and always 'alluding to'. The Japan Macfarlane describes is an anomaly to everything, and can only be described in terms of opposites, with no feature consistently prevailing over the other, except when it comes to the 'fascinating' and 'inspiring'.
When he does offer a less obscure arguments (all the while pertaining to 'suspend judgement' and 'sail a middle course'), they come in the form of spurious generalisations. And while for every generalisation there are exceptions, in Macfarlane's arguments I have found there to be more exceptions than consenting examples.
Opening the book on a random page, I have just spotted this excellent example, which a seasoned Japanese observer could have a good chuckle about: 'What is striking... is the absence of sex... when women are shown in Japanese adverts, they are usually demure and innocent'. As though the 'demure and innocent' was in any way lacking appeal (remember the Geisha, the hentai craze, the local nopankissa...)
The most disappointing thing is that, by repeating the same ideas as the noble adventurers of old, we are left with a very boring and limited impression of the nation and its people as they are today. The truth is that Japan is not a homogeneous society, and a much wider variety of ideas, characters, and experiences can be found there. I can only say that this book doesn't begin to do them justice.
Finally, I'd just like to propose another correction: Lost in Translation is not a film about 'the difficulty of inter-cultural understanding', as Macfarlane insists it is. That is merely the context in which the protagonists are able to realise that they are 'lost' in their own lives. It's my humble opinion that a self-proclaimed 'observer' who fails to see even this, probably shouldn't be encouraged to begin analysing the hundreds of millions of people and two thousand-odd years which give Japan its name.