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BOOK REVIEWS


ROCKERS REVERIE. Josephine Yun packs pithy prose with passion into less than a page for each of the 40 major Japanese rock bands she covers in jrock, ink.

 

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #41 (October 10, 2006), page 15.

Japan rock book is itself a lyrical hit

Jrock, Ink.: A Concise Report on 40 of the Biggest Rock Acts in Japan

By Josephine Yun

Stone Bridge Press, 2005

Paperback, 125 pages, $18.95

By Oscar Johnson

At first glance, jrock, ink. appears as rebellious as many of the rockers it synopsizes, from the bookís creatively spelled lowercase title to its right-to-left-page layout that starts from the back cover. It may fit squarely into the "best of" category, but it rivals the best the genre has to offer. This is truly a smart little book.

Josephine Yun packs pithy prose with passion into less than a page for each of the 40 major Japanese rock bands she covers. Moreover, she schools us on their histories, hits, and personalities with the kind of detail that can come only from thorough research. Her real talent, however, is the ability to convey the very sound and feel of their music with mere words.

Yun lyrically describes the "quavering" guitars of Love Psychedelico, for example: "Like summer heat rising off skin Ö sleek chord changes slide ó no swing ó together like swiveling hips." One singerís "frustrated vocals," she writes, can at times be "stylish and smooth, hushed like black silk." A tune by X Japan, she notes, "first seduces with a glossy, poignant piano solo before launching into raucous, pounding drums and cascading into a waiting ocean of twin guitars." Even a schoolmarm who shuns rock as the devilís music will find her prose heavenly.

The details offered on each group are equally impressive. They include how the bands got their start; past and present members; notable numbers of releases sold, and more. Itís all sandwiched between an introduction that sums up the history, trends, and distinctiveness of Japan, or "J," rock, and a discography with the bandsí releases and official websites. And for those who think the J-rock scene is a pale reflection of its Western counterpart, the author mounts a persuasive offense against the notion.

Yun argues that from Japanís mid-1960s infatuation with the Beatles sprung its own unique genre, which returned the favor with homegrown idols such as Sheena & the Rokkets, who have toured with Elvis Costello and the Ramones. Much like Chinese Buddhism and Western industrialism, rock íní roll was embraced and transformed into something uniquely Japanese. It may be obvious where bands such as punk quartet BOōWY and the heavy metallic likes of Sex Machineguns got their names ó if not inspiration. But Yun shows such inspiration is far more complex than mere imitation.

These bands rock by rolling a diversity of styles in with a gaudy rebelliousness unique to J-rock. Add to that the propensity that many have for "visual kei," an often gender-bending level of stage makeup and fashion. Itís a phenomenon that may seem reminiscent of hollow í80s pop but its roots are deep in Japanese culture and history. J-rock borrows such stage play from traditions including kabuki theater, turning out acts that can make early Bowie, Boy George, and even Marilyn Manson seem passť.

Itís as if jrock, ink. itself were the work of that rare blend of talents that makes for a great band. Yun is front woman, with all the sass one would expect from a music critic for Baltimoreís alternative weekly City Paper. Designer Yelena Zhavoronkovaís brilliantly creative use of alternating margins and sparse, colored text not only gives the book a unique tone, it also makes nearly page-long paragraphs surprisingly easy to follow. Itís all rounded out by artist Yana Moskalukís full-page illustrations for each of the 40 bands summarized. This book is a must not only for the serious rocker or DJ. Itís also invaluable for students of modern Japanese culture and music criticism alike.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon