Because so much of what I'm doing with Tokyo Inferno requires research and documentation, I've been building a bookshelf of titles to keep close at hand while writing the book. Many of the things listed here I've mentioned before, or reviewed separately, but I thought it would be instructive to have them all listed here in some form. (Check back here for updates.)
Eros Plus Massacre [Wiki], Yoshishige Yoshida's 3-plus hour postmodern epic on the life of anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, was cut to shreds on its initial release when the daughter of the real-life Ōsugi protested the movie as an invasion of privacy. It's since been restored to its original length, but there is no English-subtitled edition out there yet. Stunning filmmaking, and an almost casually brilliant evocation of its period as well.
Seijun Suzuki's Taishō Trilogy of movies—Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-za, and Yumeji—evoke the atmosphere, morals, moods and also the terrors and pleasures of the era, too. The DVD transfers are subpar, sadly—these films absolutely deserve to be seen in theaters for the best possible impact—but grab them as rentals from NetFlix if you're not up to dropping $40-50 for the whole set.
No discussion of the Taishō/Showa era's atmosphere and mood would be complete without at least some Edogawa Rampo, right? Black Lizard is probably your best place to start with that if you haven't already -- in fact, I'd wager it's the single most accessible book I'll put on this list, so it deserves the top spot. Go grab it if you haven't already; those of you who are mystery / thriller fans will have a rollicking old-school good time with it.
I still haven't written a review of Yasunari Kawabata's achingly beautiful novel The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa, unavailable in English until only a few scant years ago, but at this rate I won't be able to until after I finish writing this book -- every time I sit down to talk about the book I fall into random babbling fanboy gushing instead of a proper discussion. But as far as Tokyo Inferno goes, Asakusa was instrumental in cementing a good deal of my fascination with that moment in time after the 1923 earthquake.
Another aesthetic influence (and another one that I haven't discussed yet) is Izumi Kyōka's In Light of Shadows, an author from the Meiji/Taishō period who worked in the Japanese equivalent of the gothic tradition. I ought to pick up the other book of Kyōka's work available in English (simply titled Japanese Gothic Tales), but that will most likely happen after November is done with.
I was actually trying not to list manga here, if only because it's a bad idea to do any kind of historical research with them -- you might as well try to pass the bar exam after watching a few seasons of L.A. Law. Still, I'm including Nightmare Inspectornot because of any historical accuracy, but because it's got the mood and tone of its period down pat, and it looks nifty. [More reviews]
Herbert Bix's biography of Hirohito serves as a good way to establish historical background for the period, although I think I'll need to dig up some more specific information on the Russo-Japanese War (which is partial prelude to the goings-on in the story). Most of the book focuses on the emperor himself rather than the country at the time, but it is still valuable.