Banana Yoshimoto Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Banana Yoshimoto 1964–

(Pseudonym of Mahoko Yoshimoto) Japanese novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

The following entry provides criticism on Yoshimoto's works that have been translated into English as of 1994.

Yoshimoto is best known to English-language readers for fiction that features young, offbeat Japanese characters and concerns such sensationalistic topics as incest, suicide, transsexuality, and mysticism. Despite earning a reputation for a hip sensibility, her works are pervaded by traditional themes of loss, love, friendship, and isolation.

Biographical Information

Born in 1964, Yoshimoto is the daughter of renowned philosopher and literary critic Ryumei Yoshimoto. A resident of Tokyo, she attended Nihon University and has won numerous literary prizes. In addition to her works of fiction, Yoshimoto has also published essay collections in her homeland.

Major Works

NP (1991; NP) and the novella and short story that comprise Kitchin (1988; Kitchen) focus on young Japanese women. In the novella Kitchen a young woman named Mikage moves in with her friend Yuichi and his transsexual father after her grandmother dies. Mikage, for whom kitchens, food, and cooking have cathartic properties, studies the culinary arts, eventually using them to help Yuichi cope with his father's unexpected death. In the short story "Moonlight Shadow" the protagonist's boyfriend dies in a car accident on a bridge. Obsessed with his death, she returns daily to the site until a mysterious woman conjures a vision of her lost lover. NP revolves around a woman, Kazami, who befriends a brother, sister, and step-sister whose father, a well-known author, mysteriously committed suicide after publishing a collection of short stories entitled NP. Employing a metafictional approach, Yoshimoto creates an intricate web of interpersonal relationships and coincidences as Kazami's life begins to parallel that of the author and several of his characters. The plot is further complicated by many twists, including affairs involving the step-sister and her half-brother, her father, and Kazami.

Critical Reception

Although Yoshimoto's fiction has been received enthusiastically in Japan, the response among English-speaking critics has been mixed. Detractors have found Kitchen little more than charming, arguing that the dialogue is unrevealing and the protagonists' introspective ruminations about life are insipid and sentimental. Several commentators, however, have expressed appreciation of Yoshimoto's youthful perspective on modern Japanese life, praising her focus on social fragmentation, her blending of Japanese and Western cultures, and her openness to eccentricity. Citing Kitchen's use of fantasy, its lack of conventional parental figures, and its emphasis on androgyny and idealized love uncomplicated by sexual encounters, Deborah Garrison has observed: "Yoshimoto's attraction to weirdness and her unpretentious approach to it—she's not trying to be hip, just faithful to her sense of people as they are—are what might make Western readers want more of her." NP is generally regarded as less successful than Kitchen, with critics mentioning unsympathetic characters and unconvincing treatment of weighty issues as the novel's flaws. Donna Seaman, however, has observed that the events of NP "deepen our wonder at the dangers and idiosyncrasies of love."