Friday, September 25, 2009

'Be With You'

Be With Youby Takuji Ichikawa
Translated from the Japanese by Terry Gallagher
Original Title: いま、会いにゆきます (ima ai ni yukimasu)
Fiction, 2003 (Japan), 2006 (English translation)
Viz Media, trade pb, 263 p.
When Mio suddenly returns home one rainy day, her husband and son can’t believe their eyes. For a year they’ve been mourning her sad and untimely death. Now here she is again. How could such a thing be possible? Did love bring her back from the grave? And most importantly, is she here to stay? Together, the reunited family start looking for answers to these questions. What they discover is a secret buried deep in the past … and the future.

Back in 2003, Takuji Ichikawa’s heartbreaking story of a couple’s second chance at first love captivated millions of Japanese readers. The novel was so popular it inspired a blockbuster movie, a top-rated TV series and a best-selling manga. Now published in the U.S., Be With You proves one thing: Love is a miracle that lasts a lifetime and beyond.                                                            [From the back cover]
I wrote in an earlier post while I was in the middle of reading Be With You, that I wasn’t sure if it was a touching love story or just plain cheesy. The author himself says in the Afterword: “This book uses the framework of a traditional ghost story to say something about time and memory. There is no evil or violence (in fact it is quite sentimental). For me, though, that is what makes this book so real.” Sentimental is an apt description and for me it was the kind of overly sweet story that simply left me feeling manipulated. You know what I mean, don’t you? The kind of story where it feels like the author has purposely written it in a way so as to elicit a certain emotion. I tend to resent that device and I do have a pretty low tolerance for overly saccharine stories and prose, so even though I found it a bit too much, I can understand why it was so popular. I felt the same sense of emotional manipulation in The Notebook, a book and movie that is also extremely popular, so that should tell you whether to listen to my review of this book or not.

I do like the sentiment behind the story, the idea of a second chance at falling in love, and I usually enjoy stories that deal with memory and the passage of time, but ultimately I was disappointed with the way this one was told. One of my main complaints is that the writing was really quite awkward and childish. I’d love to know how it reads in Japanese but not having read the original I can only guess that perhaps the author was, in fact, going for that effect. On the other hand it could be due to the translation. Either way it seemed almost a bit condescending, and kept me from really getting into the story. Added to that there were a couple of times that I was dragged right out of the story by a description that ran counter to every other assumption I had made about the characters. I imagine most people wouldn’t even notice but trying to figure out whether it was intentional, or not, was highly distracting. The eventual explanation for her mysterious return a year later also felt, to me at least, to be at odds with the tone of the rest of the story, and to be honest, didn’t fit in with my expectations of the book's billing as a  “modern Japanese ghost story”. Don’t let my cranky review put you off though; be sure to check out the two reviews below as they both liked the book much more than I did.

I’m a little curious about the film now and wouldn’t mind seeing how it compares to the book. You can read about the movie or watch a trailer at the TBS website. Interestingly, while googling for stuff about the book, I also found out that Jennifer Garner is apparently going to star in an American remake of the movie. Hmmm…

Buy this book at: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca |Amazon.co.uk

My Rating: 2.5/5
(#47 for 2009, Japanese Literature Challenge 3, Reading Japan Project, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Save Ophelia: 'Be With You' features the perfect romance – one that doesn’t require explicit declarations of love or devotion. The love seems natural. What affected me about this book was its lack of any traditional climax or conflict. It relied entirely upon the love story and the story line. It ended up being just enough to hold your attention and create a perfectly enjoyable experience.
Chick with Books: A simple yet beautiful story...

If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

11 comments:

  1. I'm sorry you didn't like it as much. I'm not usually one for romance stories either but... I liked the simplicity of this one.


    Let me know how you like the movie - I have a copy of it but haven't had a chance to watch it yet!

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  2. I am sorry this one didn't live up to your expectations, Nat. I confess I did really like The Notebook, both the movie and the book (although I haven't read anything else by the author)--but it isn't my usual choice for reading.

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  3. Is it just me or do you also feel this kind of plot is overused in Asian dramas? I'm sure I have watched something similar in the past -- about the "ghost" of someone's love coming back.

    However, I totally love The Notebook. It's one of my all time favorite movie. But I'm biased, because my love story somewhat resembles their story ;)

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  4. Sorry to hear this didn't work for you. It reminds me that I really need to start the Japanese reading challenge, though. I have two books for it out from the library and haven't read either of them!

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  5. I know *exactly* what you're talking about w/ manipulation and it really bothers me too. I loathed The Kite Runner for just that reason.

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  6. Oh I really don't like it when you feel an author is trying to manipulate you. I felt that way when I read a Jodi Picoult novel. I guess there's a fine line right? Sorry this one didn't work for you.

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  7. I did enjoy the Notebook and only watched the movie one time because I don't like crying like that. I guess I'm a sucker for the sweet but heart-wrenching books.

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  8. I'm sorry to hear you were let down! I'm not a fan of saccharine either, but I was thinking about what you said and I can't remember ever feeling manipulated by a book. But it's possible that I just don't realize it when authors do it :P

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  9. Lena - I guess I just thought it was too simplistic? I have no idea when I'll get around to watching the film but I'll let you know if I do.

    Wendy - I know many people loved both the book and the movie of The Notebook and obviously many loved this story as well. I guess I'm just not the right audience.

    mee - I have to admit that I haven't really watched many Asian dramas due to the language barrier, but many of the ones I have seen have been rather sentimental.
    You're probably right though. There seems to be stories of ghosts and returning spirits all through Japanese literature right from the beginning. And you've made me curious about your personal love story. ;)

    Kelly - It was a really quick read so I don't feel like I wasted my time on it, besides I am glad to have read it.
    So which books did you borrow for the Japanese Literature Reading Challenge?

    Eva - I'm glad someone knows what I'm talking about! I didn't love or loathe The Kite Runner, but I did feel it was a bit manipulative too. I've watched the trailer for the movie a couple of times but haven't yet felt inclined to rent it.

    Iliana - It is a fine line, that's for sure. I've felt the same about Jodi Picoult's novels too.

    Staci - I like a sweet, or bitter-sweet story sometimes, I guess for me it comes down to how the story is told, and whether I believe it or not.

    Nymeth - Feeling manipulated by a book/author is a frustrating feeling so consider yourself lucky. :)

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  10. Sorry that this book didn't work for you. I bought it in Singapore for my sister Rose's birthday this year. She loves Japanese literature and anime, so I thought this book would be perfect for her. I'll borrow it from her one of these days.

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  11. Alice Teh - The book and movie were hugely popular in Japan so don't listen to me, hopefully you'll both like it.

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