Sunday, 4 August 2013

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

Yoshino, a young woman working for an insurance company, is found murdered in the Mitsuse Pass known to be haunted. On a Sunday night, Yoshino dined with her friends and walked to the Higashi Park to meet her online date Yuichi and did not return home. Yoshino had two friends who lived in the same block of apartments and work together in the insurance company, but she was secretive even to them. She lied to them she was meeting her date, a rich college student whom they had met a few weeks before. Yoshino story is revealed in bits by various people who know her, and the story and the image of Yoshino that emerges is very different. The author is probably trying to illustrate that we are many things to many people. To her parents she is a loving child, to her friend Mako she is somebody Mako could never be, to her other friend Sari she is somebody to be envious of, to the college student she is a cheap farm girl and so on. But what Yoshino is to others also reveal what kind of person the other is. Not only Yoshino but we also get to know Yuichi from others. What kind of person he is and his past is revealed in bits and pieces from the eyes of others. While we do get to know these two characters from others point of view I never got a real feel for what kind of person Yoshino is. The narration is mostly third person and only in the last few pages the narration shifts to first person with various people adding finishing pieces to the puzzle.

Every few pages a new character connected with Yoshino and Yuichi is introduced. With every new character a new aspect of Yoshino and Yuichi is revealed. While initially it looks like layer upon layer of their personality is peeled, and the real person is going to be revealed, we do learn that the real person is a composite and what others know about us is just a little bit.

The story starts with description of the Mitsuse Pass where Yoshino was found murdered. The description runs for two pages, I am not sure whether I was fascinated or irritated. While it did give a feel that the author is taking us on a drive on the road showing us things, I couldn't help feeling 'ok, nice road. Now please tell the story!' The kind of feeling when people describe what we feel unnecessary things in detail while narrating a story, and we prompt them, 'yes, yes, then what happened'. I mention this because there are many places in the story I felt annoyed by too much detail. The narrative is very matter of fact, and it feels up to a point that the judgements are all made by the individual characters not by the author.

It also reveals the strange place that Japan is between its tradition and modern values. While Yoshino has met people via online dating, she tells about it only to one of her friends and requests her to keep it a secret from the other friend. While online dating seems to be prevalent, the girls involved are looked down upon. It reveals a slice of life where love hotels, massage parlours, online dating are prevalent but something that shouldn't be talked about or only to be whispered. The killer is evident from the very beginning, there is no surprise. But the question the author asks is who is the villain? Is it the killer, the killed, the circumstances, the mother of the killer, the college student, or the society, the values, hypocrisy or something else?

The story reminded me of the Tamil and Hindi movies with the anti-hero as the main lead. The kind of guy who usually suffers a childhood trauma and forced by circumstances, that push him over the edge, he commits a crime, but is a man good at heart, who could always be redeemed by the right woman. But by the time he meets the right woman the deed is already done, and bad deeds never go unpunished. After all there is a need to maintain balance. It reminded me of the protagonist in Baazigar (Hindi movie) played by Shahrukh Khan, Sevvupurojakkal (Tamil) played by Kamal Hassan and Kadal Kondein (Tamil) played by Dhanush to name a few. This is a largely popular plot that had been played over and over again in Indian movies. Having said this movies are usually simplistic, and you don't get the composite of characters that you would get in a novel, more so in this book. More than the mystery of a crime novel I rate this book as an intriguing mystery of the complexity of human beings. Or am I reading too much into it?

Translated from the Japanese into English by Philip Gabriel.


TracyK said...

This sounds like a complex plot. I like your comparison to Tamil and Hindi movies ... although I know nothing about them. This is another book I hope to read soon, and just recently purchased.

srivalli said...

In my understanding some Tamil movies are pouplar in Japan. This book shows it is maybe because of some of the cultural values are same. It started of something very simple and went on to depict complexity of characters.