BEHIND THE MASK by Ian Buruma

BEHIND THE MASK

On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers, Transvestites, Gangsters, Drifters And Other Japanese Cultural Heroes

KIRKUS REVIEW

Lots about the difference between Japanese Buddhist aristocratic culture and Shinto popular culture--with examples from films, plays, novels, prostitution--pegged, indeed chained, to the familiar idea that "hedonism is held in check by social taboos." I.e., "what one sees on the screen, on stage and in comic-books is usually precisely the reverse of normal behavior. The morbid and sometimes grotesque taste that runs through Japanese culture--and has done so for centuries--is a direct result of being made to conform to such a strict and limiting code of normality." Nonetheless Buruma rejects the idea that the Japanese are unique: rather, they resemble Europeans of the Middle Ages. So: "while the heroes and heroines of this book tell us something about the culture that created them. . . they tell us far more about ourselves." As cultural analysis, this is neither coherent nor subtle. Buruma starts off by distinguishing between Japanese progenitors Izanagi and Izanami and Adam and Eve--or "pollution" vs. Original Sin. He likens the samurai to the European knight-errant--save for "the Christian ideal of principled, indiscriminate compassion." He seconds Ivan Morris' observation that all Japanese heroes are anachronisms. As an olla podrida of comments and description, however, this has its truths and its voyeuristic attractions. Across the board, high to low, "everyone is dressed for his or her part." While the Westerner "appeals to a sense of logic," a Japanese appeals "to his own heart." Etc. As to the Japanese underside, we visit a strip tease (which climaxes in a magnifying-glass display of genitals), take in the violent and/or pornographic plot-lines of innumerable popular entertainments, see the salary man (sheepish) at home and (randy) after hours. But with the same few, stereotypical points made over and over.
Pub Date: April 26th, 1984
ISBN: 0394537750
Page count: 284pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1984




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