Tune In Tokyo
By Mat Colegate.
Andrew Stevens (ed.), Love Hotel City, Future Fiction London, 2009
Contemporary Japan takes up a similarly glamorous mental space in the minds of western experimental writers and artists to that occupied by American high-schools in the brain-pans of European teenagers. Both have the allure of alien exoticism: alternate universes where everything’s the same yet crucially skewed, positioned sideways to our own. Of course the advantage that Japan has over Degrassi Junior High is that everyone’s a Ninja and it looks like Bladerunner. Obviously. Over the last few years there has been a whole series of cross-fertilisations and exchanges happening between the West’s avant-garde and its Japanese equivalent. From Boredoms unequalled take on the possibilities inherent in psychedelia and krautrock, to Kenji Siratori‘s sinister circuit bendings of Artaud and Pierre Guyotat, and a book that accurately reflects this rich seam of possibility and wonder is long overdue.
So to Love Hotel City, the latest release from Creation Books’ Future Fiction imprint. Subtitled “12 authors/12 visions of Japan” it’s an attempt to…well, actually I’m not sure what it’s an attempt to do, as there’s no introduction or effort made to contextualise the various pieces, which is a bit of a shame as the subject matter is certainly wide-ranging enough to merit one. To this slight gripe must be added another, I’m afraid, and it’s a matter of presentation. Now, Creation have been responsible for some truly fetishisable tomes over the years, so it’s a bit disappointing that this book resembles in production values one of those National Trust guides that you can buy in gift shops the length and breadth of the land. Yeah, I know, times are tight, but the great shame is that the slightly cheap presentation gives lie to the contents which are, on the whole, pretty fucking good.
Obviously a concern with notions of Japanese ‘transgression’ is represented. There’s Kenji Siratori, chattering away to himself like a stuck fax machine, which I gather is the point. Always good to read drunk, is Siratori. Just let the prose slip down like a clock part from a clam shell and try not to barf it back up. Stephen Barber‘s contribution, taken from his Tokyo Supernova novel, pretty much confirms his status as the high king of techno-fetish pulp splatter, while Steven Wells‘ piece, while a bit of a hoot, is mainly notable for being the first piece of his writing I’ve seen that doesn’t feature the word ‘Prolapse’.
But it’s when the collection moves away from Urotsukidoji-esque sex and death numbers that it comes to life. Both Lee Rourke and Ken Hollings‘ offerings capture perfectly the numbed melancholy of big city existence, while John-Ivan Palmer’s ‘Shoe Boy’s Private Reflections’ provides that rarest of beasts, a happy ending that doesn’t make you want to barf. Michael Gardiner’s ‘Atari’, meanwhile, while suffering slightly from its unconvincing apocalyptic setting, has a strange sad spell all of its own. Other stories, from good folk such as Ben Myers, Steve Finbow and Richard Marshall, are the usual mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent, but, taken together, form an always interesting tapestry of paranoias, passions and obsessions in the face of Japan’s hyper-modern culture.
However, despite the undeniable quality of some of the writing Love Hotel City still comes across as a bit of a missed opportunity. There is no doubt in my mind that a fascinating, rich and strange book could be written (or anthologised) about the West’s fractured and kaleidoscopic relationship with the Land of the Rising Suicide Rate. A book of lies that springs full-formed from half-remembered myths of used-panty vending machines and Samauri, whisky bars and Avant-rock. Such a book could perhaps tell us a great deal about our predjudices, desires and fears in the face of what appears to many of us to be an ever-shifting and unknowable culture. This is not that book. But nonetheless I eagerly await the next volume. One with tentacles in it this time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mat Colegate is a magician and poet who lives and works in London. His writing has been featured in the blogs Mindless Ones and 20 Jazz Funk Greats. His first collection of poetry Black Triangle Scrapings will be published later this year. He has obviously never been to Japan.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, February 11th, 2009.