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Judith Frank, originally a Jewish girl from the Bronx but now an expert on Japanese films, goes to Japan for the first time at the invitation of a Tokyo newspaper. But the sledding for her--as a single woman, as a woman who's a foreigner, as a Westerner claiming to be an expert on an Eastern culture's art--is hardly smooth. At seminars, she's made to feel a terminal dolt, that she can never truly ""understand"" her hosts' sensibility. Ironically, by book's conclusion, she herself seems to agree--thanks to an encounter with a man: she meets a Japanese named Matsushita, the producer and factotum of the famous director Kuronuma, and they commence a strange relationship. Matsushita is ambiguous in sexual preference, a veritable eel, always slipping free of Judith's amorous and intellectual jaws. And he ends up brutalizing her physically, too. For a while, she simply takes it--masochistic, implacable, refusing to go down--but in a coda of selfreconciliation, set in a country bathhouse, she comes to some chaste peace with herself, her body, and her Western-ness. Mellen, a writer of film (Japanese and otherwise), is certainly knowledgeable when it comes to her heroine's field, and she works heatedly at capturing Judith's away-from-home angst. Ultimately, however, the theme here seems surprisingly simplistic (not all that different from cliches about the ""inscrutable"" East), and the identity-crisis at the center is one of limited appeal.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
Publisher: Dial