Book: Ghostbook: Obakezukan Novelization


Ghostbook: Obakezukan Novelization

Japanese Book Title

小説 ゴーストブック おばけずかん
[Hosetsu Gosuto Bukku Obakezukan]


Takashi Yamazaki







By: Nicholas Driscoll

As part of my preparation to write a review of the Yokaipedia (2022) film last year, I read the novelization in Japanese to make sure I understood the plot points. Both the film and the novel were written by director Takashi Yamazaki, and were of course based (if only just) on the series of children’s books written by Hiroshi Saito and illustrated by Etsuyoshi Miyamoto. I have been meaning to write a review of the book, too, but it must be said—the book follows the film very closely, so it doesn’t offer a lot of new material for fans to chew on. Still, it was a decent read, and it’s a pretty entertaining book for Japanese learners.

As in the USA, many Japanese films have movie novelizations, including quite a few of Toho’s monster and animated films. Interestingly, there also seems to be a tendency for famous directors to write their own novelizations at times, as is the case with this book and famed animation director Makoto Shinkai’s movie novelizations. I don’t have enough experience reading these adaptations yet to make sweeping judgments, but my impression is that they are generally not of the highest literary value (much like movie novelizations often come across in the USA), though they offer added context and explanation to character motivations and world-building.

I won’t go into great detail about the story and the like as I wrote a pretty comprehensive movie review, but I will at least cover the gist of the tale. The main character is Itsuki Sakamoto (not Kazuki, as has been reported in some websites), an elementary-age kid with self-esteem issues. He and his friends Taichi Kudou (the supposedly cool-and-edgy kid) and Sunny Iida (the funny-and-overweight kid) wind up using a magical book to try to make their dreams come true—and in so doing, are sucked into an alternate world (with a video-game aesthetic to match their internet gaming proclivities). They also manage to rope in their homeroom teacher, Yoko Hayama. In the new wacky world they meet a girl from their class, Minato Tachibana, and together they attempt to defeat and capture a series of increasingly dangerous and powerful ghostly creatures called yokai, all within a strict time limit. If they can capture them all, they will have their wishes granted… but if they fail, they will forfeit their lives.

Mostly I have the same complaints and praises as far as the characterization goes in both movie and film. Much of the book is written more or less from Itsuki’s perspective, so we get a lot more of his feelings spelled out in the book. We see, for example, how much Itsuki struggles with feeling worthy and his desire to make a contribution that matters to his friends. His affection towards Minato is more directly depicted early in the book as well. Itsuki’s struggles are forefronted enough that it can become a little bit distracting, but I think it mostly works for the genre. I still think Sunny is charming but I wish he had more than the cliched fat-funny role, and Taichi is very obnoxious in his constant dogging on teacher Yoko Hayama. Just like in the movie, I got REALLY tired of his antics. I felt that Yoko’s search for purpose was stronger in the book, but that may just be because I could slowly read through it and understand her perspective whereas I had to take up my impressions of the film from one viewing on the big screen.

The movie features a lot of special effects as it depicts wild creatures like the Hyakume (a monster with one hundred eyes), the Yamabiko (an echoing monster), and especially the “final boss” Jizuri. With the book, naturally we don’t get the solid special effects from the movie, so some of the excitement is lost, but director Yamazaki writes the action clearly and with some dynamism. I think the biggest loss from film-to-text is probably in the final confrontations, where many yokai come together in an epic clash, and a giant monster appears. I didn’t think Yamazaki captured the action and scope of the climactic action nearly as well on the page as he did on the screen.

Helping out his prose, the book is replete with photos from the film—and illustrations from the Ghost Book. All of the images (except those on the cover) are in black-and-white, but I really appreciated that the book included the artwork of the yokai and the accompanying stylized text giving hints as to how to defeat the individual creatures. The art of the beasties is well-executed and looks cool, quite different from Etsuyoshi Miyamoto’s original cartoony efforts, but with a more-detailed “mature” style that evokes Nihonga paintings from yesteryear combined with a modern fantasy flair.

The Japanese level was not so difficult. I have passed the JLPT N2 (and practice tests for N1), so I have a decent grasp of the language, but reading books still takes me a lot of time and I still find myself occasionally getting caught up wondering what this or that expression might mean. That said, except for some slang from the students, I found this book quite easy to read, and I think it would be appropriate for intermediate or upper intermediate students. Note, though, that not all of the kanji has furigana, so potential readers would do well to bone up on the basics before reading—I would think if you have the kanji from the N3 test down (about 370), you should be good to go.

Unfortunately for Ghost Book, it doesn’t offer much in the way of additional sequences or new twists on the material from the film (like how some of the 1998 Godzilla novelizations included cut ideas, for example), but the book is written in an easygoing and entertaining matter, and the text should be great for higher-level Japanese learners. I liked it, and I hope I have a chance to read other similar novelizations in the future—like the one for The Great Yokai War: Guardians!