Saturday, January 31, 2015



“Fuji” is at once a fun-going romp and a serious meditation on what it means to be a gaijin in Japan in the global era. 

The story follows the ups and downs of three co-workers at a Tokyo TV station --an American news rewriter, a Chinese office worker and a Japanese TV star-- who experience the same world in a very different way. Even when they sleep in the same bed, which happens fairly often, as this is a work of fiction, they dream very different dreams.

Set against the magnificent backdrop of Mount Fuji, the characters battle the elements, the expectations of society, and one another during an off-season Sino-Japanese “friendship” climb recorded by a TV documentary crew. The risk of earthquakes and avalanches is never far, but pales before human folly that threatens the peace and amity between nations. In its cruelest incarnations, nature is a terrible beauty, but also, ultimately, an inspiration and guide.

The three main characters fall in and out of trouble and in and out of love, but face no greater challenge than facing their true selves.

Miki Matsu is a dazzling, fashionable TV celebrity who hungers for release from the prison of easy fame, but stumbles when she tries to assert herself on the path to political power. Although she is the ultimate insider; wealthy, well-connected, well-known and widely admired, she increasingly is drawn to the idea of anonymity, and even begins to envy her foreign friends, precisely because they are excluded from the tight confines of her members-only set.
Jianhong Huang is a proud, ambitious woman from Fujian in China who wants to make it in a race-conscious society without being called out on her ethnicity, especially as Sino-Japanese tensions simmer. Unlike the American, she looks almost Japanese and almost fits in until she opens her mouth or fails to observe etiquette. She strives for quiet acceptance, but continues to suffer the tyranny of small differences and political prejudice as Sino-Japanese relations go south.

Collin Long is a flamboyant and freewheeling American rewriter who worked in the same TV news department as Miki and Jianhong until he was fired and faced with deportation. He flees to Mount Fuji to escape the long arm of the law where he depends on Miki’s help to get by day to day. In return, he puts words in her mouth, literally, as her private scriptwriter. He is at once insanely idealistic and cunning, frequently taken to task for his unilateral arrogance and inability to toe the line. In keeping with his rugged individualism, he tries as hard not to fit in as his Chinese colleague tries to adapt. He's the bull in the China shop, always getting in the way, but rarely getting his way. He narrates the story from his hideout in the hills, telling it like it was, but also as he would have liked it to have been, as best he can within the style limits of the rewriter's craft.

Packed with wit, conflict, insouciance, insolence and devilish fun, Collin's tale is an off-the-rails adventure that offers serious food-for-thought and insightful observations along the way to the top of the peak and beyond.

Mount Fuji in her many moods is also a character in the drama, aloof witness to the folly of men and women as a foolhardy TV crew crawls up its forbidding surface in an epic search for truth, beauty and love in all the wrong places.


Note from the author:   The imagined story of Fuji involves an off-season climb under arduous conditions and isolation. Like many people drawn to the unique beauty of the mountain, I climbed Mount Fuji during the regular climbing season when I lived in Tokyo and worked freelance in the television and newspaper business. Researching my novel, I found myself in awe of climbers who brave the weather to scale the deceptively peaceful looking mountain under the harsh conditions of ice, wind and snow.

The photo above is taken from an Amnesty Japan climb held last March in solidarity with the victims of Fukushima.  The photo captures the beauty of Fuji and the effort to climb it. Below is a movie poster for "Human Condition" (1959) or "Ningen no joken" by director Kobayashi Masaki. It too captures the sense of facing destiny while climbing a stairway to heaven.