Yoshimoto, Mahoko 1964–
Yoshimoto, Mahoko 1964–
PERSONAL: Born July 24, 1964, in Tokyo, Japan; daughter of Takaaki "Ryumei" (a literary critic) and Kazuko Yoshimoto; married; children: one son. Education: Graduated from Nihon University. Politics: Nonpolitical. Religion: "No particular one." Hobbies and other interests: "To take a walk with my two dogs."
ADDRESSES: Agent—Japan Foreign-Rights Centre, 27-18-804, Naka Ochiai 2-chome, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 161, Japan.
CAREER: Writer and novelist. Former waitress in Tokyo, Japan.
MEMBER: Japan Writers' Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Izumi Kyoka Prize, 1986, for "Moonlight Shadow"; New Writers Prize, Kaien magazine, 1987, for Kitchen; Izumi Kyoka Literary Prize, Kanazawa City Council, Cultural Affairs Department, 1988, for Kitchen; Geijutsu Sensho, Japan Ministry of Education, 1988, for Kitchen and Utakata/Sanctuary; Shugoro Yamamoto Award, Shincho-sha Publishing Company, 1989, for Tugumi; Literary Prize Scanno, 1993, for NP; Murasakishikibu Prize, 1995 for Amurita; Fendissime Literary Prize, 1996; Literary Prize Maschera d'argento, 1999; Bunkamura Duet Magot Literary Prize, 2000, for "Furin to nanbei."
FICTION; UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Shirakawa yofune, Fukutake Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1989.
Tsugumi/Yoshimoto Banana=Tugumi (novel), Chuo Koronsha (Tokyo, Japan), 1989.
Fruits Basket: taidanshu (literary criticism), Fukutake Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1990.
N.P. (novel), Kadokawa Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1990, translation by Ann Sherif published as N.P., Grove (New York, NY), 1994.
Tokage (short stories), Shinchosa, 1993, translation by Ann Sherif published as Lizard, Grove (New York, NY), 1995.
Tachihara Masaaki, Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1994.
Banana no banana, Metaroqu (Tokyo, Japan), 1994.
Amurita (novel), Fukutake Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1994, translation by Russell F. Wasden published as Amrita, Grove (New York, NY), 1997.
Yoshimoto Takaaki x Yoshimoto Banana, Rokkingu On (Tokyo, Japan), 1997.
Asleep (novellas), translation by Michael Emmerich, Grove (New York, NY), 2000.
Goodbye, Tsugumi (novel), translation by Michael Emmerich, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Hardboiled and Hard Luck, translation by Michael Emmerich, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of novels Kanashii, Yokan, Honeymoon, and SLY; also author of Utakata/Sanctuary, Pineapple Pudding, Argentine Hag, and Song from Banana.
ADAPTATIONS: Kitchen has been adapted twice for film, once as a Japanese television feature and the second as a film in Hong Kong, 1997; Goodbye, Tsugumi was adapted as the film Tugumi.
SIDELIGHTS: Mahoko Yoshimoto first attracted serious attention in Japan in 1988 with her premier work, Kitchen, two short works of fiction about life and death in contemporary Japan. Kitchen sold over two million copies in Japan and won several literary awards. Four years later, Yoshimoto's audience expanded to the United States when an English translation of Kitchen made its way onto bestseller lists. Yoshimoto believes that Kitchen's success is a result of its appeal to a young audience, particularly women in their twenties.
The title novella revolves around the life of a female college student, Mikage, who struggles to cope with the death of her grandmother, with whom she has lived for years. Mikage is invited to live with a friend of her grandmother, Yuichi, and Yuichi's father, who has undergone a sex change operation. When Yuichi's father/mother, in turn, is killed, the two college students console each other, a process that leads them toward a more intimate relationship. Like "Kitchen," the accompanying novella, "Moonlight Shadow," deals with the themes of love, death, and the confusion of reality. It portrays two college students, a woman and a man, both of whom lose their loves to death and cope in varying ways.
American reviewers were split over Yoshimoto's accomplishment. "Kitchen is light as an invisible pancake, charming and forgettable," stated Todd Grimson in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "The release of information to the reader seems unskilled, or immature," Grimson continued, "weak in narrative or plot." In the New York Times Book Review, Elizabeth Hanson criticized the overall effect of the book, writing that "the endearing characters and amusing scenes in Ms. Yoshimoto's work do not compensate for frequent bouts of sentimentality." Other reviewers were more taken with Yoshimoto's debut. New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani called the book "oddly lyrical" and compared Yoshimoto's prose favorably to that of American authors Jane Smiley and Anne Tyler. Kakutani sounded one reservation in noting that "Ms. Yoshimoto occasionally allows her narrator to meditate at length about suffering and death, and these interludes have a way of growing maudlin…. Fortunately," Kakutani pointed out, "such passages are relatively rare, and they are offset by Ms. Yoshimoto's wit, her clarity of observation, and her firm control of her story. She has a wonderful tactile ability to convey a mood or a sensation through her description of light and sound and touch, as well as an effortless ability to penetrate her characters' hearts."
Yoshimoto followed Kitchen with N.P.: A Novel, published in the United States in 1994. The book centers around an author, Sarao Takase, who committed suicide after completing a collection of stories, and this fate is also shared by three people who attempt to translate Takase's book. Several years after the last of these suicides, the book's narrator, Kazami Kano, the exgirlfriend of one of the unfortunate translators, becomes involved with the author's children. Their investigation of the story collection leads to startling discoveries for all involved. Critics were mixed in their assessment of the novel. A critic for Publishers Weekly found the book "off-beat, intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying." Donna Seaman in Booklist, on the other hand, was more positive, arguing that "Yoshimoto's fans won't be disappointed." David Galef in the New York Times Book Review faulted the work for lack of depth and banal prose. Meg Cohen in Harper's Bazaar, however, lauded the book's "insightful prose," concluding: "N.P., with its eccentric plot twists and charming superstition, proves not only that Yoshimoto has broken the language barrier but also that there's plenty more where this came from."
Yoshimoto's Amrita is the story of actress Sakumi who, after the death of her younger sister, falls down some steps and loses her memory. The novel then follows Sakumi on an emotional journey wherein she "tries to replace her lost, pre-fall self, seeking some connection between dream and reality, past and present, the dead and the living," summarized Yoji Yamaguchi in the New York Times Book Review. Critical reception to the work was again mixed. Margot Mifflin in Womenswire argued that the work has "all the guileless zeal and intimate detail of Yoshimoto's earlier books—and none of the concision…. With more plot and fewer epiphanies, Amrita might have soared; as it is, it reads like a running commentary on a story that never quite happens." Donna Seaman in Booklist commented: "Yoshimoto 'tells' instead of dramatizes, but even so, she spins a mesmerizing and haunting tale."
Yoshimoto's 2000 novel Asleep is a collection of three novellas, "each telling a somewhat mystical tale of haunted slumber," noted Kathleen Hughes in Booklist. The first novella is the story of a woman mourning the death of her lover; the second involves a woman who is in love with a man whose wife is in a coma; the last involves a woman who is haunted by the ghost of a woman with whom she had previously shared a lover. Each "woman sees herself as an incidental or supporting character, in refreshing contrast to Western self-involvement," wrote a critic for Publishers Weekly. "The writing is introspective and, although simple, extremely thought-provoking as Yoshimoto takes her readers on a journey in search of absolution for each of her characters," noted Shirley N. Quan in the Library Journal. Other critics were also positive in their reviews of the work. "This collection," concluded Hughes, "is delicately tinged with sadness and lovely to read, and Yoshimoto's fervent American fan base will clamor for it."
Yoshimoto's short story collection, Lizard, contains an "engaging, rather lightweight collection of six stories" revolving around the "romantic adventures, spiritual yearnings and familial troubles of a hip set of young, Japanese professionals," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Coincidence and spiritual insights guide the characters through the inevitable changes they encounter in their lives. The protagonist of "Blood and Water" escapes from the rigors of her parents' provincial Buddhist village, but when she falls in love with a man in Tokyo, she finds the strength to navigate her own religious journey. In "A Strange Tale Down by the River," a woman realizes that her casual sexual encounters are meaningless, that she has a true connection with nature, and that the solidity of marriage is right for her. The narrator of the title story mends his relationship with his antisocial lover, an acupuncturist named Lizard, through a religious pilgrimage to an ancient temple and through secrets shared from his past. In "Newlywed," a man already bored with his new wife procrastinates on returning home, only to encounter a seemingly magical being who transforms from a vagrant to a beautiful woman and back again. "All six stories are linked to one another and share similar elements—fear and healing in the present, memories from the past, and hope for the future," observed Yoshiko Fukishima in World Literature Today.
In Goodbye, Tsugumi Yoshimoto tells the story of two cousins, one critically ill, who spend a final eventful summer together. Narrator Maria Shirakawa recounts the tale in retrospect from the vantage point of an adult. As a youngster, Maria lives with her mother at her aunt and uncle's small inn by the seaside. Maria's family life is complicated by the fact that her parents never married, and she and her mother are separated from her father, who has been unable to get a divorce from his current wife so that he could be with them. Much of Maria's and the other characters' attention revolves around her cousin, Tsugumi, terminally ill but possessing a "mischievous charm that both maddens and amuses her family," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In some ways freed by her illness, Tsugumi does not adhere to the individual and social restrictions that Maria and other girls must observe. To the contrary, Tsugumi is belligerent, foul-mouthed, rude, interested in boys, and conniving, willing and able to engage in shocking behavior and quick to take her pain out on those around her. For staid and thoughtful Maria, Tsugumi's behavior is not only scandalous, but secretly enviable and admirable. Maria's father and mother are finally reunited, and her father takes them to Tokyo, where she enrolls in college and embarks on a life outside the influence of Tsugumi or her small seaside resort town. When Maria returns home for one final summer before the inn where she grew up is demolished, she finds profound changes in her family, old friends, and, especially, in Tsugumi. The book's "slightly odd ending, which casually thwarts expectations of a tragic denouement for Tsugumi, reminds us that this author never settles for the expected," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic, who further called the novel "lyrical, accessible, enchanting: Yoshimoto deserves her international popularity."
Hardboiled and Hard Luck contains two extended novellas from Yoshimoto. The first, "Hardboiled," is a supernatural story about a woman's hike through the mountains and her search for resolution to past guilt. As the woman travels the mountain roads, she reflects on her past affair with the otherworldly Chizuru, a woman with psychic gifts and supernatural sensitivity. Chizuru died in a fire shortly after the narrator broke up with her, which has caused her a great deal of guilt. Following an unpleasant experience at a small roadside shrine characterized by a circle of black, egg-shaped stones, she cannot stop thinking about Chizuru. Strangely, the stones from the shrine keep reappearing in unusual places. In a dream, she is confronted by an angry Chizuru. A lost hotel guest who came to her room for help turns out to be a wandering ghost. Far from finding these supernatural occurrences disturbing, the narrator uses them to help her overcome her guilt and reach her peace with Chizuru. In the second story, "Hard Luck," a young woman is emotionally distraught while facing the death of her recently engaged sister Kuni, the comatose victim of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered in the stress of preparing for her wedding. In the course of the story, the protagonist develops an attraction to Sakai, the older brother of Kuni's fiancé, who regularly visits the stricken young woman. Her budding relationship with Sakai helps her accept the inevitability of her sister's death and to think of the positive aspects of the life she led and the memories she will leave for her survivors. Yoshimoto offers a "subtle, graceful look at the relationship between the sisters" and the effects of grief on their family, "elevating her little book from fine to downright moving," stated a Publishers Weekly critic. The author writes about "profoundly complex matters of love, life, decorum, guilt, and death with the precision and grace of a traditional calligrapher," commented Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 84, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Furuhashi, Nobuyoshi, Yoshimoto Banana to Tawara Machi, Chikuma Shobo (Tokyo, Japan), 1990.
Yoshimoto, Banana, Banana no banana (interviews), Metarogu (Tokyo, Japan), 1994.
Yoshimoto, Takaaki, Yoshimoto Takaaki x Yoshimoto Banana (interviews), Rokkingu On (Tokyo, Japan), 1997.
Booklist, February 1, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of N.P.: A Novel, p. 996; July, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Amrita, p. 1801; April 15, 2000, Kathleen Hughes, review of Asleep, p. 1501; June 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Hardboiled and Hard Luck, p. 1759.
Entertainment Weekly, July 25, 1997, A.J. Jacobs, review of Amrita, p. 67.
Harper's Bazaar, March, 1994, Meg Cohen, review of N.P., p. 170.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of Goodbye, Tsugumi, p. 768; April 15, 2005, review of Hardboiled and Hard Luck, p. 451.
Library Journal, June 15, 1997, Janet Ingraham, review of Amrita, p. 100; May 1, 2000, Shirley N. Quan, review of Asleep, p. 156; June 15, 2002, Michelle Reale, review of Goodbye, Tsugumi, p. 98; June 15, 2005, Shirley N. Quan, review of Hardboiled and Hard Luck, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 10, 1993, Todd Grimson, "The Catcher in the Rice," review of Kitchen, p. 3.
Nation, August 11, 1997, Diane Simon, review of Amrita, p. 30.
New Statesman, July 25, 2005, Helen Gordon, "Bad Dreams," review of Hardboiled and Hard Luck, p. 54.
New York Times, January 12, 1993, Michiko Kakutani, review of Kitchen, p. B2.
New York Times Book Review, January 17, 1993, Elizabeth Hanson, review of Kitchen, p. 18; February 27, 1994, David Galef, review of N.P., p. 23; August 17, 1997, Yoji Yamaguchi, review of Amrita.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1993, review of N. P., p. 61; January 23, 1995, review of Lizard, p. 62; June 9, 1997, review of Amrita, p. 39; May 8, 2000, review of Asleep, p. 206; July 8, 2002, review of Goodbye, Tsugumi, p. 29; May 30, 2005, review of Hardboiled and Hard Luck, p. 38.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1995, Patricia L. Parker, review of Lizard, p. 877; April-June, 2003, Yoshiko Fukushima, "Japanese Literature, or 'J-Literature,' in the 1990s," review of Lizard, p. 40.
Banana Yoshimoto Home Page, http://www.yoshimotobanana.com (November 12, 2006).
Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (November 12, 2006), interview with Banana Yoshimoto.
Internet Movie Database Web site, http://www.imdb.com/ (November 12, 2006).