... ushers in a new moment for how contemporary Japanese literature represents its ghosts stories. Barton’s translation is like butter, making it all the more magical a read ... Matsuda seizes and subverts Japanese storytelling by employing female ghosts who simply refuse to behave and remain subservient to men and male desire. While this sounds overstated, it seems we cannot bark enough ... The story structures enable what seems like self-commentary, but because they are embedded in an implicit conversation with classical ghost stories, they do not feel self-conscious or 'I’m being clever.' At times the prose resembles an absurdist riff on self-help 'femininity,' taking a turn into a horror film undermining the same femininity, rendering the subject of the story a ghost altogether. The tales employ such sweet-talking sabotage of gender role expectations, let alone a ghosting' of the ghost tales on which they are premised. Matsuda, teetering between these disparities, graciously brings contemporary pop culture and classical storytelling together ... These stories are shockingly blunt, comedic, urban, contemporary, beautifully written, and relatable ... Moving into the syntax of rakugo or kabuki, the stories exist as intimate dialogues and monologues, taken not just as literary text, but as performative scripts/monologues. In this capacity, the published text has a larger context. It exceeds the page. It offers internal dialogue and direct address. It implies stylized performance. A tall order, the writing and the translation live up to it ... Matsuda, crisply current, is aware of literary and historical precedent.
From a woman empowered by her thriving hair to another who finds her mojo with the skinhead look, Matsuda entertainingly engages the breadth of feminine identity and beauty ... Peppering her short stories with references to Repetto ballerinas, Starbucks coffees, and trendy Scandinavian interiors, Matsuda attunes her traditional characters to contemporary Japan. Her heterogeneous writing style contributes to the collection’s vibrant rhythm. Ranging from a short story formatted as a magazine column to a first-person narrative from the point of view of a tree, the author decisively updates her source materials to offer a fresh critique of Japan’s stance towards women ... Physical appearance and socially prescribed beauty standards are not Matsuda’s only concerns. Her stories demonstrate how Japan’s restrictive gender roles still heavily influence the country’s women ... With this collection, Matsuda subverts the typical male-dominated workplace to look the chauvinism of contemporary Japanese society right in the eye. And her gaze is burning.
Each story in Where the Wild Ladies Are updates a traditional Japanese folk tale for our contemporary world. The result is delightfully uncanny ... Matsuda’s retellings are feminist with a vengeance ... Yet just as this brave new world allows these women to grow wild, it also castrates out-of-work men. These stories, deftly translated by Barton, touch on a recession specific to Japan, though the language of neoliberal precarity and gig work will be familiar to many.