The 2016 Tokyo International Literary Festival is here! This lineup of talks, readings, and cultural events sponsored by the Nippon Foundation features a core program running Wednesday, March 2nd through Sunday, March 6th. Many of the offerings are in Japanese, but English and other languages are well-represented at this truly multinational gathering of authors and bibliophiles. Here are TAB’s recommendations for not-yet fully booked events fans of international art and film and English-language literature can enjoy.
Art and Film
Revel in the visual artistry of the Japanese language at Gojyuon, an exhibition by the literary art trio NAS that celebrates the “cute and complex” Hiragana alphabet as a building block of words, language, and literature. Free, at Hotel Graphy Nezu March 11:00–20:00 March 5th (Sat.)–March 6th (Sun.).
José e Pilar (2010) is a documentary about the last years in the life and the tender spousal relationship of the Portuguese writer José Saramago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. (In Portuguese with Japanese subtitles). The Athénée Français Cultural Center will show the film from 14:00 on Mar. 5 (Sat.), followed by a talk by Portuguese cultural experts at 16:00. (¥1300 general admission; reservations not required). The National Art Center, Tokyo presents Las Elegidas (2015), the Cannes-screened and award-nominated story of a Mexican teenager pulled into the prostitution ring of her boyfriend’s family. (In Spanish with Japanese subtitles). From 18:00 on March 5th (Sat.), followed by talk by director David Pablos and screenwriter Jorge Volpi. (Free, reservations required.)
The Scandinavian literary sensation Karl Ove Knausgård, described as a post-post modern Proust, will speak in English with simultaneous interpretation into Japanese about his autobiographical novels My Struggle, Norwegian literature, and other worldly matters along with translator Mizuhito Kanehara. Free, at the Royal Norwegian Embassy Aurora Hall from 19:00 on March 4th (Fri.). (Email for reservations). Knausgård will also take part in the festival’s closing event at the National Art Center, Tokyo from 14:00 on March 6th (Sun.), discussing families in literature with Akutagawa Prize-winner Masatsugu Ono. Free, reservations required.
Steve Erickson, author of critically acclaimed works including the novel Zeroville, will make multiple appearances. From 19:00 on March 4th (Fri.) at Rainy Day Bookstore & Café, he will talk about the relationship between music and literature with translator Motoyuki Shibata to the soundtrack of his own selection of American pop on high-quality stereo. (¥1,500; email for reservations).
Another English-speaking author gracing the 2016 festival is Kate Grenville, who penned the best-selling novel The Secret River, the tale of a relocated English convict’s interactions with Aboriginal people in Australia. Grenville will speak with leading Japanese writers and Aboriginal history scholars on the role of literature in cultural conflict and reconciliation at Daikanyama Hillside Banquet from 19:00 to 21:00 on March 4th (Fri.). (¥3,500; ¥800 for audience members with copies of The Secret River. Email or call for reservations). In English and Japanese with interpretation.
Several sessions bring together literary figures and publishing world insiders to talk about their work, the art of writing, and literature’s global reach. The popular series Four Stories is the brainchild of The Good Shufu author Tracy Slater, who will join Jake Adelstein (Tokyo Vice), Roland Kelts (Japanamerica), and short fiction author and professor Marc Kaufman for readings and lively discussions of their writing. March 4th (Fri.) 18:00–20:00 at Sophia University’s Yotsuya Campus, Building 12, Room 502. (Free.) In English only, reservations not required.
The panel Literature Crosses Borders welcomes literary magazine editor and former National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman, noir fiction writer Fuminori Nakamura, and Akutagawa Prize-recipient Keiichiro Hirano, who will speak about writing in an age of international readership. In Japanese and English with interpretation on March 4th (Fri.) from 19:00 at the Marunouchi Building. (Free, reservations required.)
Also well-versed in producing literature for and in a globalized world, an elite group of translators and fiction writers including Alfred Birnbaum, translator of Haruki Murakami, and Kyoko Yoshida, responsible for Japanese translations of writers including Dave Eggers and Kurt Vonnegut, will discuss Literary Translation as Creative Writing from 15:00 on Friday, March 4th at Building 22 of Waseda University’s main campus. Free, email by Wednesday, March 2nd for reservations.