Book Review: Spark by Naoki Matayoshi

by Naoki Matayoshi, Alison Watts (Translator)

Publication date: March 5th 2020
Publisher: Pushkin Press (first published March 15th 2015)
Pages: 160


Tokunaga is a young comedian struggling to make a name for himself in Osaka, when he is taken under the wing of the more experienced, but no more famous, Kamiya. But as much as Kamiya’s indestructible confidence inspires him, it also makes him doubt the limits of his own talent, and his own dedication to comedy.

Winner of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, Spark is about art and friendship, about what it means to be committed to our own ambitions and to each other. A novel about comedy that’s as moving and thoughtful as it is funny, it’s already been a sensation in Japan.

Source: Goodreads


I was immediately drawn to “Spark” when I saw the fun, brightly coloured cover! Said to have been a cult phenomenon in Japan, this book is award winning and already has a Netflix series, so I knew I wanted to give it a try.

“Spark” is the story of a struggling Japanese comedian called Tokunaga. When we first meet him, Tokunaga is trying to make it big with his partner Yamashita. The comedic double act perform manzai. I’d never heard of manzai before, but since reading this book I keep hearing about it all over the place! Manzai is a common and popular type of comedy in Osaka and it’s basically two performers talking and telling jokes loudly and really really quickly, bouncing off one another. Wikipedia tells me that the jokes are usually misunderstandings, double-talk, puns and other verbal gags.

At first I struggled with the concept of this act and I think this was because it was so new to me and I couldn’t imagine what it was like. I took a break from reading and watched the first episode of the Netflix adaptation and this helped immensely. Once I saw it on screen, I immediately understood and felt an instant connection to the characters and what they were trying to do. I started the book again after that one episode and enjoyed the rest of the book greatly with a better understanding.

Tokunaga and Yamashita aren’t the best and their performances aren’t that well recieved. So when Tokunaga meets Kamiya, a more experience comedian, he jumps at the opportunity to learn from him.

The men face failure, a little success, jealousy and disappointment and what follows is a story of friendship, perseverance and pursuing your dreams. There’s also a lot of drunken conversations and walks around the city in the early hours!

I really liked this book and was fond of the relationship between the two men. The story was fun and a little bizarre but also artistically touched on some important, more serious themes. And the ending… well, I’ll let you discover that yourself!

This book isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you’re a fan of Japanese literature, I’d recommend you give it a go!

I also liked the Netflix series, although I’m not sure this tiny 160 page book really needed to be spread out over quite so many episodes!

Overall rating:  “Spark” is a fun, slightly strange Japanese story of a comedian on a quest for success. While I didn’t always understand the comedy, I still really enjoyed this one. It’s 4 stars from me!

I read and have reviewed an uncorrected bound proof which the team at Pushkin Press kindly sent me in exchange for my honest review.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: Spark by Naoki Matayoshi

    1. Perhaps not! I think this is definitely going to be a book that divides people. I’m about half way through the series and I have to say I prefer the book. The series seems quite long and drawn out, shorter (and fewer) epsiodes or maybe a film would have been better.

      Liked by 1 person

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