Ian Buruma is a Professor at Bard and the author of many books about Japan. His latest book is Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War. (May 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.

The ‘Indescribable Fragrance’ of Youths

Kitagawa Utamaro: The Young Man’s Dream, from the series Profitable Visions in Daydreams of Glory, circa 1801–1802. In this woodcut, Ian Buruma writes, a wakashu,or ‘beautiful youth,’ is ‘dreaming of sleeping with a famous high-class courtesan (the dream is revealed in a cartoon-like bubble over his head), while a young woman solicitously wraps a jacket around his shoulders lest he catch a cold.’

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Edo-Period Prints and Paintings (1600–1868)

an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, May 7–November 27, 2016; and the Japan Society, New York City, March 10–June 11, 2017
Lusting after pretty teenage boys was not considered shameful in premodern Japan. Experienced older women did it. Young women did too. Older men indulged in it (as long as the boys were passive sexual partners). Adultery was not permitted, on the other hand, and it was unseemly for grown men …

Japan: Beautiful, Savage, Mute

Andrew Garfield as the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Father Rodrigues in Silence, Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of the novel by Endō Shūsaku

Silence

a film directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s beautiful new movie, Silence, based on Endō Shūsaku’s novel, begins and ends in the same way: a dark screen filled with the noise of summer on the rural coast of southwestern Japan, cicadas rasping, waves crashing, thunderclaps exploding, and rain lashing the rocks. In between is played out, …

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The Earthy Glories of Ancient China

Earthenware dog, Henan Province, eastern Han dynasty, 25–220 AD

The fascinating exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Qin and Han Dynasty artifacts presents objects that lay buried in tombs for many centuries. Having been beautifully preserved underground for thousands of years, these objects delight us still. It is easy to forget that the past remains another country. But perhaps it isn’t a complete illusion.

Auschwitz on Trial: The Bully and the Witness

Mick Jackson’s new film Denial, about the 2000 trial between British Holocaust denier David Irving and American academic Deborah E. Lipstadt, is best in the scenes that focus on a particular conflict, between Lipstadt’s view of herself and her legal team. At the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, for example, we see Lipstadt praying in front of the ruins of the gas chamber, while Rampton is making careful notes and asking awkward questions about the exact procedures of mass murder. On the “sacred” spot of the killing, cool analysis and a search for legal proof look like disrespect to her.

Lost in China’s Exploding Future

Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart tells the story of Tao, a bouncy young woman caught in a love triangle between two suitors who represent different faces of modern China. It is superb at catching the changing moods of his country in poetic, frequently wordless, and often absurd images.

A Downpour of Fish: Murakami on Stage

Nino Furuhata as Kafka and Naohito Fujiki as Oshima in Yukio Ninagawa's production of Kafka on the Shore at Lincoln Center, 2015

Yukio Ninagawa’s production of Kafka on the Shore at Lincoln Center in July—a surreal play that mixes slices of contemporary Japanese life with a ghostly spirit world, based on the 2002 novel by Haruki Murakami—was a brilliant example of Japan’s modern theater tradition. The words “modern” and “tradition” may appear contradictory, but in this case they are not.

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