In his introduction to this anthology of 13 stories, Pete Hamill recalls his first impressions of Tokyo, a disorienting sensory assault that was, nonetheless, “eerily familiar.” Published almost 30 years ago, touches of prescience haunt the experiences of his characters.
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In “Samurai,” anticipating the fixation with manga, anime and gaming, he depicts a young American whose vision of Japan is dictated by the warrior films of Akira Kurosawa. In “A Blues for Yukiko,” Big Boy Carter, a blind musician visiting Tokyo, encounters obstacles communicating with his female interpreter, finding that cultural differences, even when mutually fathomable, may not always be reconcilable.
As a stage for existential shifts, Tokyo is ideal. Hamill’s characters drift into chance relationships, even felicitous ones, as in the story “After the War,” in which an old affair between an American anchorwoman and a Japanese combat photographer is rekindled. In another, an elderly American apartment tenant, hostage to memories of the city he first knew as a young man, is threatened with eviction from a venal landlord. Faced with the prospect of having to leave behind his library of Japanese classics, his solution to dealing with the past is, literally, to perish with it.
In the final analysis, “Tokyo Sketches” is less homage to Hamill’s character constructs, their yearnings and disillusionments, than a tribute to a city, where, flitting through the refracted images of past and present, even the most implausible outcomes have a spirited chance of changing lives.
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