Sunday, November 6, 2016

Kwaidan, Part 3: The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan

Book publisher Shambala Publications has printed a few comic book here and there over the years but they're not a prominent force in the field - heck, I only learned about them earlier this year when one of their books appeared on the Eisner Award ballot for "Best Adaptation froma Another Medium." And then I sat up and took note because the work in question was Lafcadio Hearn's The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan: A Graphic Novel by writer/adaptor Sean Michael Wilson and artist Michiru Morikawa. Although the creators were unknowns, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Hearn's works were now adapted to another medium: comics!

Wilson & Morikawa's book is relatively slim compared to the number of stories Hearn wrote, but they adapt a few of them: "Diplomacy," "The Snow Woman," "Of a Mirror and a Bell," "Hoichi the Earless," "The Faceless Ghost," and "The Gratitude of the Samebito." You'll recognize two of them ("The Snow Woman" & "Hoichi the Earless") were featured in the film version of Kwaidan and now seem to be two of the works Hearn is best-known for telling.

In his afterword, Wilson noted he came from similar ancestry as Hearn and even lived & worked in the same area of Japan which Hearn once did. This seems to make him the ideal person to have adapted Hearn for comics. Happily, he retained the tone of Hearn's stories with the many asides to explain bits of Japanese culture kept in (most notably during "Of a Mirror and a Bell"). He likewise maintained the playful, fireside tone of Hearn's writings with stories ending abruptly (again, "Of a Mirror and a Bell", also "The Faceless Ghost"). He didn't restrict his selections to the horror stories of Hearn either, with "The Gratitude of the Samebito" being largely a fairy tale.

Artist Morikawa rendered the stories in a very modern Japanese (re: manga) style. The shadings, speed lines and facial expressions are what you would expect from a first-rate manga. Although the stories are mostly light in tone, Morikawa did not quite shy away from the violence of the tales, with the decaptation of "Diplomacy" and bloody climax of "Hoichi the Earless" depicted with a bit of gore.

It's possible this work might reach people who have never read Hearn - Shambhala caters to an offbeat market (including academics) and the Eisner nomination has surely granted this work attention from many corners. It's a pity it didn't win the Eisner - as a fan of Kwaidan, I am extremely pleased at how this book turned out, especially to see my favourite tale "The Snow Woman" included. If Wilson & Morikawa have a will to adapt more of Hearn, I am completely in support of it!

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