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  1. Kitchen Banana Yoshimoto

  2. Overview: Context and Style

  3. Context – Key Words • Postmodernism • Shoujo manga • Consumerism • Tradition

  4. Kitchen and postmodernism • Some aspects of postmodernism: - Postmodernist fiction disregards chronological time and it rebels against traditional literature by making experiments with language and mixing in popular culture (comics, TV). • Postmodernism rebels against the beliefs of the past. Traditional values are false and are deceiving us – “the sense that the past is restricting, smothering, blackmailing us." (Umberto Eco) • You can make yourself into whoever and whatever you want to be. • To what extent does Kitchen display these principles of postmodernism?

  5. Kitchen and postmodernism • To what extent are these quotes about Kitchen true? - ‘the product of an abandon completely indifferent to literary traditions’ - ‘affords readers the power to imagine themselves and their place as other than the constraints of everyday life’ • In what ways is Kitchen a postmodern text, a text for our times? • We now move on to some influences on the novel …

  6. Kitchen and shoujo manga ‘What name are we to give this life of ours today? … The name is shōjo .’ – Otsuka Eiji • Yoshimoto’s writing has often been compared to manga comic books. • shoujo manga describes the comics popular with schoolgirls that promote the values of cuteness, naivety, innocence, nostalgia and consumerism. • Themes include romance (including unconventional forms such as student-teacher, girl-stepbrother), odd families and cross-dressing. • An important aspect of shoujo manga is that it is fantasy and the world of Kitchen also feels like a fantasy world – delicate and poetic images, shared dreams, taxi drivers who just say ‘okay, let’s get going’ when they learn an hundred mile drive is ‘a matter of love’. Yoshimoto and Manga at

  7. Kitchen and shoujo manga • Yoshimoto’s ‘world echoes the atmosphere and/or values of the shōjo world.’ Which of the shoujo values of cuteness, naivety, innocence, nostalgia and consumerism are found in Kitchen? To what extent does the novella prove to be an example of the ‘pure literature of the manga generation’ (Namba Hiroyuki, quoted in Treat, John Whittier – ‘Yoshimoto Banana Writes Home’: Shōjo Culture and the Nostalgia Subject, p. 278) • Ueno Chizuko says her families are ‘non-biological pseudo-families created by a young girl otherwise parentless.’ (quoted in Treat, John Whittier – quoted in Treat, John Whittier – ‘Yoshimoto Banana Writes Home’: Shōjo Culture and the Nostalgia Subject, p. 288) How accurately does this describe the families constructed in Kitchen?

  8. Kitchen and shoujo manga • Cuteness is one of the defining characteristics of the shoujo world. • Note how Yoshimoto’s style reflects this with many cute (sometimes cliché) similes and other images, for example: ‘wrapped in a blanket, like Linus’, ‘tears fell like rain’, ‘reflected prettily against the floor’, ‘deep sparkle of her long, narrow eyes’, ‘happy memories always live on, shining’, ‘their smiling faces like flowers’. • What quality of modern, shoujo existence is reflected by the nature of all these ‘cute’ images?

  9. Kitchen and shoujo manga • The following comments apply to the shoujo manga style of Kitchen: - Like Manga graphic novels it is formulaic, has two-dimensional characters, is lightweight but deals with big themes. - the details in the novella are carefully selected, precise and scarce, making it feel more dreamlike. - the writing is delicate, like shoujo manga writing, reflecting the fragility of human relationships. • To what extent do you agree with these assessments?

  10. Kitchen and consumerism • Consumerism describes the effects of equating personal happiness with purchasing material possessions. • Examples in the novel include ‘watching a video’ (26), “I bought a word processor” (26), ‘And I mean big purchases. Mainly electronic stuff.’ (26-27), ‘a magnificent juicer’ (31), ‘another package … a pretty glass decorated with a banana motif’ (31), ‘golf lessons’ (69), ‘plastic surgery’ (79), ‘playing computer games’ (100). • In fact all but the ‘golf lessons’ example apply to the Tanabe family, who appear through these examples to define their lives through ‘big purchases’. • In fact, in modern Japan ‘kitchens are the showcases of Japanese consumer affluence’ (Elizabeth Hanson, ‘Hold the Tofu’, in The New York Times, January 17, 1993) • In what ways is consumerism connected with relationships, homemaking and personal happiness in the novella?

  11. Kitchen and consumerism • Consumerism is connected with relationships and personal happiness in Kitchen. • When Yuichi brings home a word-processor simply for Mikage to write change-of-address cards, Mikage at first thinks ‘these people had a taste for buying new things that verged on the unhealthy.’ (26-7) However, this leads to ‘the scratching of our pens mingled with the sound of raindrops’ and further sharing and connectedness with Yuichi. • Later Eriko buys a juicer and as a welcoming gift for Mikage a ‘pretty glass decorated with a banana motif.’ (31) This gives Mikage happiness and is connected with family and home as it is a welcoming gift. • The kitchen itself as a symbol of ‘Japanese consumer influence’ symbolizes happiness, renewal and comfort.

  12. Kitchen and Tradition • Tradition is also evident in Kitchen. • For example, Japanese attention to the details of food and tea-drinking is seen on many occasions. • Mikage seems trapped between the traditional role of women in the kitchen and her desire for independence. • Kitchen is also notable for the challenges it makes to tradition – for example Eriko’s transformation into a woman, and the unconventional ‘family’ made up of Eriko, Yuichi and Mikage. • Can you think of any other aspects of tradition, or challenges made to tradition, in Kitchen?

  13. Style – Key Words • Minimalism • Naturalism • Magic Realism • Colloquialism • Symbolism • Imagery • Motifs • Repetition • Setting • Popular culture references • First person narrative Jordan Chan and Yasuko Tomita in Ho Yim’s film of Kitchen

  14. Minimalism • The work is stripped down to its most fundamental features and core self expression. ( • Yoshimoto’s images, for example, have been compared to the minimalist expression of haiku. • What other features of Kitchen make Yoshimoto’s style minimalist? • What effects does Yoshimoto’s sparse style have when reading the novella? • How does this sparse style reflect the novella’s main themes?

  15. Minimalism • The sparse style increases the dreamlike, fantasy feeling of the novel – it reflects the unreality of life. • The sparse style makes the prose seem delicate to the point of fragility, reflecting the fragility of human relationships in Kitchen. • The precise and delicate images that reflect the poetic style of haiku make the novel more romantic, heightening our feelings towards Mikage’s experiences.

  16. Naturalism • The practice of describing precisely the actual circumstances of human life in literature. ( • For example, some critics have commented on how Yoshimoto’s work ‘does faithfully reflect the habits and attitudes of the young in Japan.’ (Kodansha, quoted in Yoshimoto and Manga at • Consumerism, love of cuteness, use of technology, loneliness of modern city life, colloquial style of speech are all examples of naturalism in Kitchen.

  17. Magic Realism • A chiefly literary style or genre originating in Latin America that combines fantastic or dreamlike elements with realism.( • Yoshimoto uses dreams, premonitions that ‘didn’t prove wrong’ as well as the occult concept of auras where people seem to ‘glow with white light’. • Why might Yoshimoto, in an otherwise naturalistic novella, put in elements of the fantastic and supernatural? What might she be highlighting about our experience of life? • Aspects of magic realism are examined in more depth in a later lesson.

  18. Colloquialism • Fans report they are attracted to Yoshimoto’s novels because they are ‘easy to understand’ and written in a style both colloquial and ‘real’. • Phrases such as ‘you know’, ‘you got it’, ‘no kidding’, ‘huh?’, ‘cool’ are the translator’s Americanisms of this language of everyday speech. • The colloquial style is part of the naturalism of the novella. • Why do you think Yoshimoto chooses to use colloquialism in her writing? What does it add?

  19. Symbolism • Attributing meanings to objects is called symbolism. • There is a lot of symbolism in Kitchen, the main examples being kitchens, the full moon, plants and flowers (especially Eriko’s pineapple plant), tea drinking, and eating (especially the katsudonMikage and Yuichi consume at the end of the novella). • What added depth is achieved when using symbolism in a novella? .

  20. Imagery • Some common images in Kitchen include images of light and darkness, and images of nature. • What shades of feeling and meaning can images give a text? • Imagery is examined in more depth in a later lesson.

  21. Motifs • A motif is a recurring idea in a text. • In Kitchen the dominant motifs are love, death, dreams, loneliness and the blackness of the cosmos. • What does the use of these motifs highlight for the reader?

  22. Repetition • The use of stock phrases and repetition emphasizes key words and ideas in a work. • In Kitchen words such as ‘nostalgia’, ‘enveloped’, ‘dream’, ‘darkness’, ‘sparkle’ and ‘alone’ are used frequently – what might the repeated use of each of these words be highlighting? What other significant words are repeated many times in Kitchen? • Repetition of images can also be an effective way of reinforcing themes – in Kitchen there are many mentions of darkness, the glitter of city lights, the glow of people’s faces, the sky, the moon. These are examined in later lessons.

  23. Setting • Setting usually refers to the place and time in which the novel or parts of the novel are set. • Kitchen takes place mainly at night and ends in winter. • Why do you think Yoshimoto chooses this setting for the novel? What does it highlight?

  24. Setting – indoors and outdoors • Yoshimoto sets up a contrast between indoors and outdoors in the novel, for example juxtaposing life inside the Tanabe household with Mikage’s descriptions and experience of the city outside. • What is different about our experience of life outside and inside? How are our feelings and perceptions changed? • What might the author’s purpose be in setting up this contrast?

  25. References to popular culture • There are many references in the novella to popular culture, modern frames of reference that Yoshimoto’s readers can relate to and understand. • For example Mikage defines the effects of her loneliness and grief after her grandmother’s death in terms of ‘total science fiction.’ (4) She finds comfort in her grandmother’s kitchen, where she is ‘wrapped in a blanket, like Linus.’ (5) • Yoshimoto’s characters, perhaps like her readers, define their existence in terms of popular culture – why might this be?

  26. First person narrative • Why do you think Yoshimoto uses first person narrative in Kitchen? • What makes Mikage such a good choice as narrator for the novella?