The Coming Death

Traces of Mortality across East Asia

By Richard F. Calichman

Subjects: Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, Film Studies, Death And Dying
Hardcover : 9781438487298, 186 pages, February 2022
Paperback : 9781438487281, 186 pages, August 2022

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Table of contents



1. Lines of Mortality in Kurosawa Akira's Ikiru

2. Tsai Ming-liang and the Time of Survival

3. From Culture to Finitude: The Question of Death in Takeuchi Yoshimi's Reading of Lu Xun

4, Interlacings of Nothing: The Question of Death in Takeuchi Yoshimi's Reading of Lu Xun II


Explores questions of death and mortality in several key texts of East Asian literature and cinema.


The Coming Death explores the question of death and mortality in several key texts of East Asian literature and cinema. By exposing the specific fields of Japanology and Sinology to the more general discourse of thanatology, Richard Calichman aims to define death more expansively on the basis of loss and disappearance. Typically, death is understood to be purely separate from life: where death is, life is not; and where life is, death is not. Yet this view fails to account not only for the frequency with which living individuals encounter the death of others, but also—and far more radically—for the disturbing fact that life in its unfolding remains at each moment open to the possibility of its own destruction. In this regard, Calichman argues, death must be conceived not simply as an actual event, but even more fundamentally as a general possibility without which life itself could not develop. At issue is how death reveals the emptiness of all identity, which demands that life and death no longer be conceived as purely oppositional. If mortal death can appear at the very origin of life, then the fullness or presence of life is at each instant threatened by the possibility of its negation. Through a reading of the works of such major artistic and intellectual figures as Kurosawa Akira, Tsai Ming-liang, Lu Xun, and Takeuchi Yoshimi, The Coming Death argues for a fundamental rethinking of mortality.

Richard F. Calichman is Professor of Japan Studies at the City College of New York, City University of New York. He is the author, translator, and editor of several books, including Before Identity: The Question of Method in Japan Studies, also published by SUNY Press.


"…enlightening and thought-provoking … Even for readers unfamiliar with the personalities discussed here, this well-researched book may serve as food for thought with its cross-cultural perspectives on mortality." — H-Net Reviews (H-Death)

"This book contributes not only to East Asian studies but also to the study of death as a general philosophical investigation. Although Calichman focuses his analysis on cultural texts from East Asia—Kurosawa Akira’s Ikiru, Tsai Ming-Liang’s various films, and Takeuchi Yoshimi’s reading of, or rather dialogue with, Lu Xun—the implications go beyond a culturalist understanding of death in Japan, Taiwan, and China. Instead, he brilliantly reads these cinematic and literary texts as a generalized deconstruction of normative understandings of death through various concepts such as time, traces, nothingness, and negativity." — Leo T. S. Ching, author of Anti-Japan: The Politics of Sentiment in Postcolonial East Asia