Forget "Lost in Translation" and it's apathetic prettiness, forget the endless NYTimes "Japan-is-so-hip-right-now" lifestyle spreads, forget the tired "mystery of the east" tripe that is still getting trotted out in personal travelogues. "The Method Actors" is the first writing I have read that deals with modern Japan in a way that is compelling, brave and aesthetically challenging.
Family, sex, hallucinogenic drugs, war crimes, a missing sibling, "The Method Actors" sets itself an ambitious goal - to tell the humanly detailed stories of individual foreigners in modern Japan, but to also dig below this into the history of this country, and the history of how foreigners have entered the culture. This is Shuker's first novel. It is long and it requires a similar commitment to that of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest". But, like this novel, this commitment pays off dramatically, in terms of narrative voice, style, and prose dazzlement. I would recommend it not just to anyone who has traveled to or lived in Japan (though for these people the book will be particularly impressive), but to anyone who is interested in getting a deeper understanding of the complexity and moral relativism of Japan's post-WW2 history, and contemporary culture.
This novel is important, but it is also hugely entertaining. Ezra Pound said "a great poet is everywhere present, and nowhere visible as a distinct excitement". Toward the end of this novel, the energy - and I think of this in terms of kinetics, as the friction, conflict, sex, heat, movement of the prose - is ratcheted up. You can literally feel the writer change gears. This energy is creative excitement - the writer's and the reader's - and it is everywhere present.
And this is where my understanding of Pound's quote comes in. Even though the accuracy of Shuker's Tokyo speaks of his clearly personal involvement in the story, as the artist he is nowhere present. To a necessary degree, he has effaced himself. The feat that marks Shuker as someone to watch, is that of projecting his own understanding into this variety of voices, into characters across time, gender, race and culture. Shuker's perspective seems to be that the individual's importance is swallowed up in wider and stronger forces of nation, war, power and history. The quality of empathy, the retaining and championing of the details of the individual - love, memory, belief, habit, inflections of speech - is what makes "The Method Actors" so important.