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This review is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

A LACONIC ENERGY Tales of Days Gone By: Woodcuts by Naoko Matsubara, English translation and annotation by Charles de Wolf, book design by Yoshiki Waterhouse, (ALIS) $34.95

ALIS (Arts & Literature International Service) is a small Japanese Publisher that specialises in illustrated books and acts as a kind of bridge between this country and the West, in particular England. Japan has its own tradition of such publications, but at the outset it was the English tradition of books illustrated with wood engravings that was the stimulus. ALIS began by publishing Japanese editions of the English wood engraver Yvonne Skargon's best-selling books about cats, and has since gone on to publish illustrated translations of Japanese classical literature. Tales ofDays Gone By is a translation of seventeen stories from the Late Heian (late eleventh- or early twelfth-century) collection Konjaku ynonogatari shu, which contains over 1,200 tales.

The choice both of literary work and of the individual stories was made by Naoko Matsubara, a wonderful artist whose work is in many important public collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the British Museum. Her work is remarkable for its expressive freedom and energy, and she uses the large format of this book to great effect, pouring into her work a variety of techniques. Being heir to the Japanese tradition, she often adopts the unusual and imaginative viewpoint that you find in the work of Edo artists like Hiroshige - and to grandly vertiginous effect, as in the picture of the demon playing the stolen imperial biwa on top of the Rashomon gate as a courtier peers up from below, or in the picture of ...


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