This article first appeared in Newtype USA magazine in July 2007.
Kei affects a shabby green overcoat, like something out of Bayside Shakedown. He sips on a blond Belgian beer and waves me over.
“Look at this,” he says. “They put lemon in the top. It makes it taste lemony!”
I see his notebook open on the table in front of him. He has written: “BEER, LEMONY.”
“I’m going to put it into my next book,” he says enthusiastically. “I’ll have a character sitting in a bar in an exotic place like London. And he’ll drink lemony beer that’s white. And, like, I’ll have a spaceship landing outside to keep it science fictiony.”
His Japanese is self-consciously girlish and internationalist. Esu Efu-ppoi = Science Fictiony. It’s how Buffy the Vampire Slayer talks in Japanese.
Kei likes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although I fear that he doesn’t have much of a frame of reference. Joss Whedon talks that way because he’s Joss Whedon. Kei talks that way because that’s all he knows. Kei’s writing style is a muddled collision of whatever he’s reading at the moment, and whatever he saw on TV the night before. On the good days, he’ll have been watching something by Aaron Sorkin. On the bad days, he ends up quoting kiddie cartoons at me.
Kei’s in town on a roke-han – a location hunt. His next book takes place in London, and so he’s come to soak up the ambience. This apparently means sitting in bars and thinking up scenes in which a lead character sits in bars.
“It’s not working out,” he admits, flicking through page after page of notes. “I wanted to be like James Bond, but it’s all compressed in the movies. James Bond doesn’t listen to an MP3 player. We don’t see him sitting for hours on a plane.”
He points at the history of Greenland I have tucked in my bag.
“James Bond doesn’t ride the subway, and even if he did, he wouldn’t read a book.”
Poor Kei is hitting a wall that flummoxes many authors – that gap between the movies and the real world. He wants to tell it like it is. He wants to write what he knows. But all he knows is bargain air flights and second-hand video stores. And while he knows that’s real, too, it doesn’t feel adventurous enough to him.
“I want to be Ernest Hemingway,” says Kei. “I want to use short sentences that tell it like it is.”
Blunt, uncompromising prose from detective fiction to cop shows has gutted modern Japanese. An entire generation of authors grew up reading Japanese text translated from American English. They lost their weird turns of poetic phrase, their classical allusions, whole slews of what we could call tradition.
Sometimes, now, it sounds strange hearing Japanese dialogue coming out of Japanese mouths. One waits expectantly for the TXT-speak, the squeeing, and the imitations of comic catchphrases.
Two tables over, two men start punching each other. Things start breaking and crashing.
“If we were James Bond,” says Kei. “We would break that up.”
“If we were Ernest Hemingway,” I reply, “we would write it up.”
“Let’s just go,” he says. “I want a pizza.”