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(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Fittingly for an exploration of the need for connection between people as a means to facilitate emotional honesty and allow the public display of affection, Yoshimoto's characters can be broadly divided into three groups: those who grieve, those who facilitate connection, and those who simply represent the voice of judgmental public opinion. This is not to say that the author's characters are stock characters, but these general categories allow the reader to see how Yoshimoto connects the two novellas in order to form an extended meditation on the relationship between mourning, emotional openness, and the capacity to feel joy more keenly through the acceptance of pain.

The narrator in "Kitchen," Mikage Sakurai, and the narrator in "Moonlight Shadow," Satsuki, are both initially characters in denial, refusing to face the grief and suffering caused by the death of a loved one. Each attempts to achieve the same state of unfeeling through opposite means: for Mikage, through inaction and sleep, for Satsuki, through frenzied activity. The plot development in both novellas reflects a growth of Mikage and Satsuki, a growth towards acceptance of pain, which leads to an ability to grieve and, especially in the case of Satsuki's boyfriend's sudden death, the ability to say a proper goodbye. The novellas end with the protagonists overcoming the emotional obstacle of bereavement. The two characters learn from this an emotional openness and receive a heightened experience of happiness, as well as the sense that, for every ending there is a beginning, that "over and over we begin again."

If the plot development of the novellas focuses on the emotional growth of the protagonists, it is the magical characters in "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," Eriko Tanabe and Urara, respectively, who are the facilitators who make this growth possible. Both are associated with magic, which is symbolized by the light that seems to emanate from them. In Eriko, the light seems to be a greatness of charm, a light that pervades the Tanabe's flat and allows Yuichi and Mikage to begin to connect. It is her voice from beyond the grave, in the form of the letter that Yoshimoto inserts into the narrative, that forces Mikage to admit her connection to Yuichi and act upon the responsibilities that this brings. Eriko also represents the possibility of refashioning of the self in the narrative, of discovering one's own identity. She has the courage to become a woman in the face of extreme societal hostility, exemplified by her own parents' disownment of her and her death at the hands of an obsessed fan.

Urara's magic is associated with light, but also with a kind of electrical charge: when Satsuki first meets Urara, the air around Urara seems to be charged, which is a result of Urara having "tasted deeply of the sorrows and joys of this world." Unlike Eriko, Urara herself is still coming to terms with loss, as she has arrived at the bridge in order to participate in the Weaver Festival Phenomenon, where she might see her lost partner one last time and release her grief by being able to say goodbye. She is altogether a mysterious figure, summoning Satsuki's phone number to mind by some kind of magic concentration and sensing that Satsuki needs to say goodbye to a loved one, without ever being told. These magical events are not a result of poor plotlines on Yoshimoto's part, but rather a distinctive feature of the mode of magic realism in which Yoshimoto writes.

Like the protagonists, both Yuichi Tanabe and Hiiragi are also people who need to learn how to grieve, but the similarities stop here. Yuichi will be taught to grieve by the example of Mikage's acceptance of her loss. In contrast Hiiragi is able to learn to grieve without the aid of a facilitator like Urara. Symbolically, Yuichi represents the empowering potential of Mikage's newfound emotional receptivity: having discovered this ability, Mikage can now serve as a facilitator to bring out this ability in Yuichi. Thus,...

(The entire section is 2,388 words.)