Thursday, December 31, 2009

"This Year," Loudon Wainwright III

Listen HERE

This Year

Another year's gone
Here comes a new one
What's gonna happen?
This year

We're gonna make it
Not gonna take it
Make no mistake it's
This year

Last year was a fiasco
A real disaster
So full of sorrow

This year will be a great year
I just can't wait, dear
Until tomorrow

Forget the old pain
Sing a new refrain
Uncork the champagne
This year

No, it's not too late
We've got a clean slate
The future's our fate
This year

Last year was a fiasco
A real disaster
So full of sorrow

This year will be a great year
I just can't wait, dear
Until tomorrow

It's after midnight
I'm just a bit tight
Hey, but I'll be all right
This year

The year is brand new
The old one's all through
And it's time to kiss you
This year

--Loudon Wainwright III

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Confucius for US? Adbusters 2010

My latest contribution for Adbusters magazine is Confucius, a riff on the shifting winds of influence in the 21st Century, with special mention given to the now-iconic Sony Walkman.

Yoi otoshi o -- Happy New Year.


"What I only dimly knew then, of course, was that the Walkman was produced by a nation low on national resources, limited in space and keen on reinvention. A nation much like the world we are all living in now." [Complete story HERE]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Booking back at 2009

My "Year in Reading 2009" for the eds at The

"As a half-Japanese kid growing up in the Northeast, I masqueraded quite successfully as another disenfranchised suburban Caucasian dude, angry more at being nowhere special than for any definable reason. But two historical phrases instilled unease: 'Pearl Harbor' and 'The Bataan Death March.'
The former’s nasty ethnic stereotypes of the Japanese character—sneaky, cowardly, backstabbing—made me wary of my mother and half of my family, all of whom seemed otherwise sane and trustworthy to me. And the latter left me cold: How could such mindless barbarity even happen? One of these days, I used to think, I’ll be unmasked—as one of them ..." [more HERE]


Pats vs. Jags @ Gillette w/sis on Sunday

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy holidays ...

...with humble thanks from 'home' in New England, courtesy Remy Martin.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Our Hybrid Futures

Here's my latest and last 2009 column for the Yomiuri in Tokyo:

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Our hybrid future is here

Diana Yukawa, 24, is a violinist whose story is film worthy, melodramatically so. In 1985, her Japanese father died in the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history. Born a month later, Yukawa was moved to her mother's home country of Britain, where she was raised. But she performed in her early years in Japan at a memorial service for the victims of the JAL crash--and was promptly hailed as a child prodigy.

I first met Yukawa about five years ago, when she stopped by my Tokyo office. I found her remarkably level-headed and sincere, and I was impressed by her reviews and credentials. So I paid attention when her latest CD, The Butterfly Effect, landed in my mailbox this autumn.

Pop and classical music are uneasy bedfellows, as most attempts to meld the two demonstrate. But Yukawa brings a personal angle to the hybrid form: She is also a blend of two distinctive strains.

"I think it's something I'm lucky to have," Yukawa told me earlier this week by phone from Britain. "It's something really wonderful that I can tap into and explore further."

Butterfly boasts hypnotic dance club rhythms behind aching and sometimes otherworldly violin leads. The effect can be coolly quirky: French techno musician Jean Michel Jarre filtered through a quasi-Eastern voice.

It makes perfect sense to Yukawa. "When I was writing music with [collaborator] Andy [Wright], it was quite natural that some of the music sounded quite Japanese. It happened organically, it wasn't something I was consciously trying to do. I think it's because I'm really proud of my Japanese side and fascinated by Japanese culture that it just emerged naturally." [more @ YOMIURI HERE; & with more graphics @ 3:AM HERE]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

new review of Japanamerica from Fan to Pro

Here's a smart, thoughtful and genuinely balanced review of Japanamerica, penned by Steven Savage of FAN TO PRO:

"Japanamerica is a journey - in some cases literally - through the world of Japanese Pop Culture in Japan and America, the fused world of "Japanamerica". Mixing visiting historical places and persons, talking to individuals, and speculation, author Roland Kelts asks just why and how Japanese Culture is big in America, and what it may mean.

This is a phenomenally difficult task quite frankly, and he does a good job of it.

Kelts approaches his subject in several ways, mixing them together throughout the book:
  • The development of and traits of Japanese media companies.
  • The history of the U.S. interests and how those intersected with Japanese products.
  • The changing relations and technologies that made this possible.

The author handles these by using a mix of history, interviews, statistics, and speculation. Much as it's hard to break out one factor from another, Kelts doesn't really try - the entire "Japanamerica" phenomena is studied from its facets as opposed to broken down.

Thus the book looks at everything from the way Japanese media companies have developed the ability to produce effective niche media, to the effect of Star Wars and 9/11 on American media interests, to contrasts of artistic styles between Japanese and American aesthetics. The structure of the book itself is personal, almost like a story, and thus there are no "hard answers", so much as look at the players and their interactions.

I found the book to be very informative, mostly because of this approach - without overarching theories or simplistic answers, the book invites you to discover what's going on through the eyes of Kelts and the people he talks to. You don't go to this book for a list of answers - you go to it to get a feel for what's going on."

[read more Here]

Friday, December 11, 2009

My review of the Rough Guides to ANIME and MANGA

Bits and pieces--online HERE and HERE:

Britain’s Rough Guide series has been helping itinerant travelers navigate foreign destinations for nearly 30 years. As globetrotting becomes more casual, and print guides feel more extraneous with the internet’s immediate and wider scope, the presence of the Rough Guides and their counterpart, Lonely Planet, provides security amid the angst of 21st-century travel. We still like to carry paper in our bags—and the Rough Guides’ latest introductions to anime and manga are easy-to-read and suitably compact.

I have been asked too many times the same question about Japanese pop culture: “Where should I start?”

These books are your answer.

The Rough Guide toAnime takes you deep into the art form’s best stuff—without speaking down to you. You’ll learn about the major films, with author Simon Richmond’s easygoing guidance, and broaden your horizons via his questing voice. You will finally realize why Japanese animation “supersedes the American model,” as Richmond writes, without missing the goods. Richmond loves the form, and his prognostications and descriptions more than make upfor his lack of insider knowledge. “Mind Game is a surreal world unlike anything you may have encountered,” he writes about Studio 4 C’s 2004 epic. It’s a tasty tease.

Some might say that Japan is nothing more than a subculture of Western desires, but both books seek to debunk the silliness of subcultural mystique,without denying the fundamentals of attraction.

And so The Rough Guide to Manga serves its purpose—a 200-plus page introduction

to the magic of Japanese comics, penned by aficionado Jason S. Yadao. Yadao helps us understand why manga have become hugely popular in the West without watering down their essentials—good stories, smart drawings, and plenty of naughty suggestive images to keep the audience hooked.

Both books break down the forms into bite-sized categories. You will learn why certain titles have succeeded abroad, why others are local-only, and what makes them so special to begin with. You’ll find out why your kids get it while you don’t, and what you need to understand in order to be on the same page. Or why a little blue cat named Doraemon is huge in Japan, but virtually unknown overseas, and why another feline named Kitty White (a.k.a. Hello Kitty) is mightier worldwide than Mickey Mouse.

In short, Rough Guide’s two books on anime and manga arrive right in time for Christmas—when we all need a little help understanding how global our worlds have become. If you’re intrigued by Japanese pop culture but are not sure where to begin, these works serve as helpful catalogs. If you’ve never heard of these stories and want to know more, they are the books to get you started.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New column in Paper Sky

Here's my new column in the just-published, refurbished edition of Paper Sky magazine--to which I am honored to be a contributor. The column is focused on travel to hybrid locales (like Sydney, Tokyo and NYC) by hybrid travelers (like most of us).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Latest Yomiuri column--print edition scan

Replete with big-nosed, manga-like Perry portrait.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Psychology Today

I wrote this story about Japan's unique generation gap for Psychology Today. Things keep changing, but the fundamentals remain the same. Japanese youth are enacting a kind of Bartelby Rebellion--checking out, passively, to check in. The story can be read online here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Back from UK

And happy to be in Tokyo. Except my eye hurts, my back aches, and my knee is killing me. Otherwise, I feel great.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My latest for the Yomiuri: Obama and Perry bow

My latest column in the Daily Yomiuri in Japan--on Pres. Obama, Commodore Perry, and the new Asia:

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Soft power evolution from Perry's day to Obama's

Less than a week before U.S. President Barack Obama touched down in Tokyo last Friday, I took the train to Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, the tiny port city at the tip of the Izu Peninsula famous today for its beaches, seafood and hot springs. But 156 years ago, Shimoda earned fame for another reason: It was the landing site of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry and his Black Ships, a squadron of four military vessels equipped with threatening cannons and aiming to open Japan to international trade.

At the time, Japan's Tokugawa shogunate had successfully shut the nation's shores to the world for nearly 300 years. Perry, with his technologically advanced hardware and a letter of peaceful intentions from U.S. President Millard Fillmore, succeeded in his mission. The first Japan-U.S. treaty was signed, and Japan opened to world trade, partly in response to Western technological prowess, and partly in reaction to the press of what we now call globalization.

Today, Shimoda is a quiet place, and I was warmly welcomed by smart hotel clerks who helped me visit the area's major historical monuments and museums. My hotel room overlooked the ocean. The food was excellent, and a hot spring was offered at no extra cost on the top floor, with a picture-perfect view of the Pacific.

Among the displays of early encounters between the Japanese and Americans, I focused on the graphics--numerous mangalike watercolor portraits of big-nosed, hairy-faced Americans with long legs and vast heads of wild hair wandering amid lean, spindly-legged Japanese. One sequence is particularly memorable: American soldiers laughing at a display of Japanese strength, featuring two sumo wrestlers grappling on a beach, and a subsequent portrait of a sumo wrestler flipping an American soldier over his shoulder--eliciting laughter from all on hand. [more HERE, and co-hosted by 3:AM magazine HERE]

US Commodore Perry bowing before the Tokugawa shogunate/Samurai, circa 1853.

US President Obama bowing before Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, circa 2009.

the PONYO watch ...

... courtesy of Studio Ghibli.

new review of Japanamerica

Big thanks to Mr. M. Douglas for the latest enthusiastic review of Japanamerica, recently posted by the kind folks at

Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded The U.S.

Author: M. Douglas
Published: 10/19/09

Roland Kelts is a fiction and nonfiction writer, an editor of the literary journal A Public Space, and a lecturer at the University of Tokyo. His 2007 book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. explores the conceptual history regarding the use of Japanese pop culture and its influence within the Western world.

Serving as both an insightful and personal take on the infatuation of Japanese pop culture within the realm of Western consumers, author Roland Kelts’s book Japanamerica gives a broad overview of the what, how, and why of the American experience regarding the Japanese pop culture phenomenon. While not attempting to answer every question concerning the matter, Kelts selectively chooses various key areas to address and fundamentally builds upon factual truth amidst personal stories. From cosplaying to the Japanese domestic animation market, Japanamerica gives the reader a plethora of topics to delve into and think about. [more HERE]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monocle radio interview w/Tyler Brule on manga and Japanamerica

Had a blast this weekend chatting on the radio with Tyler Brule, founder and editor of Monocle magazine, based in the UK, about manga in Japan and Japanamerica--and my forthcoming novel, Access. You can hear it here, with the intro @ 1:00 and the entire conversation @ 22:00:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Redline" anime from Madhouse--in ANIMATION MAGAZINE

Koike and Ishii in Locarno, Switzerland

Ribbon-cutting for debut of "Redline"

Heart Like a Wheel -- ANIMATION MAGAZINE

Sunday, October 25, 2009 By: Roland Kelts

Redline, Takeshi Koike’s heady new anime feature, embraces the car culture of the West.

Two years ago the staff at Madhouse, one of Japan’s most adventurous animation studios, sat me down in a screening room in west Tokyo. A sequence of spasmodic images blazed across the screen: long sleek race cars burning past elaborate robots and rubber-faced aliens; mechanical ships soaring, bursting into flames and smashing into skyscrapers—and, most memorably, contorting humanoid faces with bulging eyes and curdled lips, grimacing and shrieking. The action ended as abruptly as it began: with a slashing crimson silhouette of a drag racer and a thin red band bearing the title, Redline.

The five-minute trailer soon appeared on the Internet and at successive Tokyo International Anime Festivals. Buzz and curiosity swelled. And after six years in development, Redline finally had its world premiere this summer at the prestigious Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. [Read more HERE]

Friday, November 06, 2009

Japanamerica in VANITY FAIR: How Japanese cute conquered America

“There’s no doubt that cuteness has been a part of the Japanese aesthetic since the postwar years,” says Roland Kelts, the author of the 2006 book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. “One theory, which has been proposed by a lot of Japanese artists and academics, is that, after the humiliation and emasculation of Japan in the postwar years, Japan developed this quasi-queer position of ‘little brother’ or ‘little boy.’ If you become ‘little brother’ or ‘little boy,’ the only way you can get big brother’s or fat man’s attention is by being so cute or puppy-like that he has to take care of you.” [more HERE]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Latest column for the Yomiuri / 3:AM on Miho and J-Pop in the USA

My latest column for the Daily Yomiuri, and co-published by 3:AM magazine in the UK, features interviews with Miho Hatori, formerly of Cibo Matto, and Reni-chan, a 'maid cafe' performer, both of whom have been transplanted from Tokyo to New York to make it in America. It's a little riff on the status of Japanese music performers in the US, via AKB48, of course.

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Japan's music-makers in America

When Japanese pop idol group AKB48, a heavily produced amateur team of late-teen and twenty-something dancers and singers, took to the stage in Manhattan's aging Webster Hall club last month, we all clapped. These were cute young Japanese girls making their debut in the heart of the West's media maw. Why not welcome them?

But the truth was, as always, more complicated. AKB48 flew to New York to make a splash in the world's biggest media pond. They had already sung and danced to devoted American otaku types at the New York Anime Festival. They filmed a music video in Central Park. A few New York media outlets promoted them heavily.

But during their 5 p.m. performance on a Sunday in the East Village, they were hardly noticed by most New Yorkers.

Although today's Asian pop music scene in America is led by the Japanese, there is a perception in the industry that it all depends on anime soundtracks.

That perception must change.

Last week in New York, I had tea with Miho Hatori, formerly part of the duo Cibo Matto, which was successful in both the United States and Japan. "I came to New York in 1993 and never looked back," Hatori said, sipping from her mug of hot green tea. "It's the most chaotic city in the world, and I love it."

There are just a handful of precedents in today's American music business: Yoko Ono (via John Lennon), Shonen Knife, Puffy AmiYumi. And for eclectic listeners, The Boredoms. Japanese pop music hasn't survived the flight to the United States well, despite the twin successes of anime and manga.

"Today, without anime soundtracks, we're nothing," a New York-based Sony promoter said to me. "We need to [move beyond] anime."

Is that possible? [more HERE, and HERE]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Private Worlds

Dark room with laptop

Late last year when Japan’s master animation artist Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Totoro) addressed a room of mostly Western journalists in Tokyo, many of us were expecting him to talk about his latest fantastical feature film, Ponyo, which was just about to open worldwide. Instead, the 68-year-old director spent 15 minutes issuing a stern warning about the dangers and delusions of living through virtual media. “All of our young people today derive their pleasure, entertainment, communication and information from virtual worlds,” he declared. “And all of those worlds have one thing in common: They’re making young Japanese weak.”

Miyazaki ticked off the usual suspects – cell phones, emails, video games, television – and he also included two more categories: manga and anime. “These things take away [young peoples’] inherent natural strengths,” he continued, “and so they lose their ability to cope with the real world. They lose their imaginations.” [Read more here]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Animation & Adbusters: two new stories

My latest contribution to Adbusters magazine is "Japan's Private Worlds," just released in the new November/December issue--the Virtual World/the Natural World. I set out to explore the nature of privacy in Japan amid questions of digital displacement and engagement, especially at a time when the nation's so-called 'digital natives,' those born and raised with intimate access to mobile and stationary digital media, are behaving very differently than their elders did and do.

My latest story for Animation magazine is "Heart Like a Wheel," also just out in their current October issue. Madhouse's forthcoming boffo anime release, "Redline," debuted at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland this summer and will be released in Japanese cinemas in April 2010, with a US release soon after. I speak with whiz-kid animator Takeshi Koike ("World Record" from The Animatrix) and screenwriter Katsuhito Ishii ("A Taste of Tea") about their attempt to make an anime film that will appeal to America's auto-obsessed inaka tribes in the Western hinterlands. I also try to place the film in the context of meta-anime--works like Afro Samurai that deliberately target Western viewers, and anime films that are, at least in part, about conventional anime conceits and styles, like Satoshi Kon's Paprika.

Both stories are print-only at the moment--but both of the magazines look and feel great.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jake Adelstein's TOKYO VICE

Pal and intrepid reporter Jake Adelstein's first book, Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, has just been published in the U.S., and Jake has embarked on a brief book tour ahead of an upcoming 60 Minutes/CBS report on related topics in early November. In our era of cheap armchair journalism and errant blog chatter (like this), Jake's book is something of an anomaly: an account of a singular story researched and written by a writer on the scene--or, more literally, on the beat, whose knowledge of his subject is unassailable, and whose intimacy is so stark it nearly got him and his family killed. What's more, the research, interviews, encounters and writing were initially done in Jake's second language. If you haven't deduced from his name, Jake is not Japanese, but he is very fluent, both linguistically and culturally.

Like most good books, Tokyo Vice is many narratives--a coming-of-age story about a boy from the American Midwest who follows a yellow brick road to his own Oz; a curtain-lifting expose of cronyism, corruption and sclerosis in the world's second largest economy; and a wise embrace of paradoxes--which we can all learn from in the 21st century.

Together with Bob Whiting's seminal account of postwar chaos in Japan, Tokyo Underworld, Jake's book reveals the underbelly of Asia's biggest economy and America's major ally across the Pacific, in English prose as plain and clear as a pool of carp.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Live from St. Louis -- It's Saturday Night!

Mid-afternoon Japanamerica talk (courtesy Fred Schodt)

Christopher Born, me, Fred, Jeni Plough and Patrick Danzen, at the end of a long but not lonely day in Saint Louis.

Friday, September 25, 2009

NYAF official schedule

My NYAF official sched is as follows:
NYAF Japanamerica sched:
9/25, 5:15-6:15, Yoshiyuki Tomino (GUNDAM)
9/26, 12:15-1:15, AKB48
9/27, 11:15-12:15, Yui Makino (Tsubasa Chronicle)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On Gundam, girl-power AKB48 and this weekend's NYAF

My new column for the Daily Yomiuri (co-hosted by 3:AM Magazine) covers Gundam's creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino, and girl-power via AKB48--both of whom are in town right now to prep for appearances at this weekend's New York Anime Festival at the Javits Center in Manhattan. I'll be hosting panels with Tomino-san, AKB48 and voice actress Yui Makino. (Full schedule forthcoming.)

Special thanks to NYAF Director Peter Tatara for his time and insights.

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Mecha auteur and mega girl group hit New York

This evening in New York, I will have the privilege of introducing and conversing with Yoshiyuki Tomino, veteran anime creator, director, screenwriter and novelist. Tomino is most famous for his now 30-year-old seminal mecha anime masterpiece, Mobile Suit Gundam. He has been making the rounds of late, granting public appearances and interviews both in Japan and overseas, and speaking out on topics as diverse as video games and world peace. Gundam, too, has resurfaced--most literally as a life-size, 18-meter-tall statue in Odaiba, Tokyo.

Organizers anticipated 1.5 million visitors to their gigantic giant robot. An estimated 4.15 million turned up over the statue's 40-day life span, which ended with its ceremonial dismantling earlier this month.

At least one couple even got married between its massive feet.

Tomino is in New York this weekend to participate in the third annual New York Anime Festival (NYAF), among the United States' largest and most media-friendly celebrations of Japanese popular culture. But while he and his giant robot are both consecrated classics at home, they may be yesterday's news--or not even newsworthy--for many of today's American otaku.

"Tomino is on the same level as Hayao Miyazaki," says Peter Tatara, NYAF's 26-year-old director of programming. We are at a folksy Japanese luncheon in Manhattan, where my shrimp-fry set is as much a sign of hybrid Japan's cultural presence in New York as the tower of nori seaweed perched atop his mushroom spaghetti.

"As soon as we knew he would come, we booked him," Tatara says. "But although he is legendary, the U.S. fan base is so young right now. They're 13 to 15, and skew slightly female. Tomino's name won't register at all with our younger fans."

To bridge the gap, Tatara has booked AKB48. [more here ; also at 3:AM]

Friday, September 11, 2009

@ NYAF, Sept. 25-27, w/Yoshiuki Tomino (Gundam), AKB48 & Yui Makino (Tsubasa)

from Medium At Large
Roland Kelts Comes To NYAF!

"I have the great honor of announcing that Roland Nozomu Kelts will be attending this year's NYAF! Roland is a half-Japanese American writer who divides his time between New York and Tokyo and publishes in both English and Japanese. He is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US. He is also a lecturer at the University of Tokyo, a contributing editor and writer for "Adbusters" magazine and "A Public Space" literary journal, and a columnist for "The Daily Yomiuri" in Japan. His essays and stories can be found in the books "A Wild Haruki Chase," "Gamers," "Kuhaku," "Playboy's College Fiction," "Art Space Tokyo," "Zoetrope" and others.

He is the Editor in Chief of the
"Anime Masterpieces" screening and discussion series.

His forthcoming novel is called "Access," and when he is not writing, reading, lecturing or traveling, he can be found playing the drums in his band.

Mr. Kelts will appear at NYAF to introduce Yoshiyuki Tomino on his Friday panel as well as moderate AKB48's Saturday panel and Sunday's Yui Makino Q&A."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My review of "Tears in the Darkness" in Bookforum

I've just reviewed Tears in the Darkness, a capacious, brilliantly narrated account of the Bataan Death March in World War II, featuring interviews with Japanese, American and Filipino veteran and civilian survivors. Former NYT correspondent Michael Norman and his wife, author and NYU professor Elizabeth M. Norman, spent ten years researching events surrounding and involving the largest ever US military surrender and one of the most brutal and sadistic POW horrors in recorded history. The result is a riveting book that is as artfully structured and well written as it is excruciating. John Dower (Embracing Defeat) and Herbert Bix (Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan), in particular, arguably raised the bar for English-language books on the Pacific War by conducting extensive research and interviews in Japan and with the Japanese. The Normans rise to the challenge admirably.
Tears conveys our capacity for stark inhumanity with novelistic intimacy. My review is out in this month's Bookforum.


Atrocity Exhibition


"The fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, remains the single largest surrender of United States military forces in history, with roughly seventy-six thousand soldiers (most of them Filipino allies) handed over to Japanese captors. Japan’s attack on America’s Clark Air Base in the Philippines destroyed an entire airfield of unprotected planes and unprepared men. While the Pearl Harbor attack of four months earlier is universally acknowledged as a watershed moment of US involvement in the Pacific theater, Bataan, with its less heroic mix of humiliation at the hands of the enemy and betrayal by those in command, has remained shrouded in shame.

The aftermath of Bataan’s fall brought an event arguably greater magnitude and horror than the troops’ surrender: the so-called Bataan Death March, a sixty-six-mile trek to prison camps in Luzon forced on the prisoners of war amid excruciating heat and murderous violence. The captives’ ordeal lasted well beyond the march proper—survivors were dispatched to hellish prison camps in the Philippines, and from there into overstuffed, underventilated holds of creaky transport ships bound for detention facilities on the Japanese mainland, where men were treated as slave laborers. Throughout, many died for simple want of water. The misery would end only with Japan’s surrender three years later, after the firebombing of its major cities and the decimation wrought by two atomic bombs.

Tears in the Darkness is far more humane and capacious than its often-brutal source material would lead readers to expect. Authors Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman frame their story in multiple contexts. A Montana-born cowboy type named Ben Steele is their protagonist, but to the authors’ credit, they never exploit his story for pathos or easy answers. He is a true survivor, with all the ugly guilt and second-guessing that entails: “It’s survival of the fittest,” Steele realized early on in the march while hoarding a single canteen of water. Nor does his individual saga obscure the key questions at the heart of the book: Why and how could this happen? ..."

[more here]