Crime watch

Relationships of

all sorts form the theme of these

excellent new reads.

Well, I suppose literature always explores relationships of some sort but there is a great variety of relationships on show in the various novels bought or borrowed over the last few months that I’m about to describe, in my first post of the Reiwa period.

Two of these are by Natsume Soseki followed by a few more novels of a different nature by modern era novelists.  I bought the Soseki novels in that pre-Christmas online shopping spree I’ve previously mentioned as I really wanted them for my own library but I got the rest of them from the public library system.  I can’t say it enough but public libraries are great.

I had to skip the introduction of Sanshiro as it annoyed me.  I’m not overly fond of introductions to novels anyway but after a couple of pages of this one, I stopped short and skipped to the main text.   I find that introductions tend to spoon feed readers, influencing their perception of the novel before they’ve even turned to page one and spoiling the book for them in some cases.  What made this more annoying was the person was also going on about how he was too cool back in college to read such a novel (with his jazz interests, blah blah blah, yeah that’s right, a well known author we all know – skip to the text!).

I enjoyed the book itself, exploring the relationships young, inexperienced country boy Sanshiro has with his more mature, erudite contemporaries on  starting university in Tokyo, as well as his first relationship with a woman.

Kokoro is about a relationship between a young man, and an older man he befriends.   It’s a really interesting look at the Japan of the time, undergoing a transitional period, and the generational difference between the two men.   The older man, who never really encourages the relationship that much, is somewhat of a depressive character with an interesting backstory which we eventually hear.

For a bit of a change from Natsume’s era, and wanting to read a bit more from the crime genre after enjoying Keigo Higashino’s quintet, I turned to a couple of more crime writers who take a deep look at Japanese society in their novels – Seicho Matsumoto and Hideo Yokoyama.

The first one I read was by Seicho Matsumoto and is called A Quiet Place (in Japanese: kikanakatta basho).   It’s just excellent.  I felt it was such a pity it had to end!  One of those books you know? The main character is a fairly ordinary government employee, obsessed with his job and appearances, who finds that his wife had been having an affair before her sudden death.  The man finds out who the lover boy was, finds him and confronts him.   Covering up his impulsive action leads him to dig a very big hole for himself which he thinks he has managed to drag himself out of until, believe it or not, a good old Japanese sense of courtesy brings him down in an almost comedic way.  Seicho Matsumoto, a very successful crime writer in Japan, who died in 1992, published this in 1975.   The translation I have is from 2016 and I think it’s the first into English (correct me if I’m wrong).

The second book, Seventeen (Kuraimazu hai – Climber’s High – in Japanese), is also fiction but is based loosely on the author Yokoyama’s own background as an investigative reporter and then desk editor at a regional newspaper at the time of an actual Japan Airlines crash back in 1985. It looks at how one particular fictional news editor, Yuuki, at a regional newspaper decides on coverage of the crash which occurred in the newspaper’s prefecture, how he handles his politicking colleagues and superiors at the newspaper, and also his own complicated family relationships and the loss of someone important to him.  It’s hard to put down.  It’s interesting to see how the media might deal with a tragic event like an air crash and its aftermath (this being very much in the news over the last year).  Some of the opinions shared among the news staff and company owners might shock you.

Right after finishing Seventeen, I reserved another of Yokoyama’s novels 64 (six-four not sixty-four) and was able to get hold of it pretty quickly.  We get  another good look at the press in Japan again but in this case in terms of its relationship with the police force in Japan, and the police force’s relationship with the public.  This is all seen through the eyes of Mikami, a one-time detective from the crime investigations department who’s transferred to the position of head of the police department’s press office, fourteen years on from an unsolved kidnapping/murder case which rears its ugly head again. The six-four of the title refers to the 64th and last year of the Showa period.  The police code for the kidnapping/murder case, supposedly only known to the unit dealing with it, is 6-4 for this reason. His own daughter also happens to be missing at this point in time, having run away from home, so he and his wife are also trying to deal with that.  What he finds out about the handling of the 6-4 case is pretty shocking but there’s a great twist in the story.  I highly recommend it.  Mikami in this has to deal with a lot of politicking bullshit in his job both from his police superiors and colleagues, as well as from journalists, as Yuuki had to in Seventeen from his newspaper superiors and colleagues but they handle it pretty well I think.  All this politicking did slow 6-4 down a bit for me but it did explain how things were so messed up, saving face, keeping up appearances and so on, so it played its part.  The obsession with appearances (physical as well as keeping up appearances) is also evident in the issue between Mikami and his missing daughter.

Japanese society is explored very deeply in the works by both Yokoyama and Matsumoto and I highly recommend both authors.  64 has been adapted into a two part mini-series apparently so I might see if I can find it.

Moving on to another commendable author, Soji Shimada, I reserved two of his books from the library and picked them up just before coming to the end of Six Four.  I still gave the reading a break before starting the first of Shimada’s.  Ok, I was somewhat distracted by a Chinese drama as well but, that aside, a break never does anyone any harm.  This first book was The Tokyo Zodiac Murders.  The second is Murder in a Crooked House which I only started a couple of nights ago.  Both are locked room murder mystery cases with a main character called Kiyoshi Mitarai, a somewhat eccentric sleuth working to solve each case. In TZM, we have a case from the 1930s (a cold case involving 3 separate crimes, one very gruesome) and Crooked House is a case occurring in his own time (around the 1970s).   Both books challenge you to try to solve the mystery yourself.  In fact, in Tokyo Zodiac Murders, there are even a couple of ‘messages from the author’, Shimada, a quirky addition I’d never seen before.   I haven’t come to one yet in Crooked House but there probably will be one.

I’m so glad it’s Friday so I can dig into this novel.  The weather doesn’t look like it will be that great so I should have an excuse to lock myself away, so to speak,  and read it.  I do read during the week too, after work (and most nights a bit of streamed drama!), but I find I have more time at the weekend to really get into a book.

I’ll follow up in a couple of days with a tv and film post, which will include a look at that Chinese drama which has a ridiculously handsome male lead. There will be a bit of Korea and even Taiwan*.  Oh and let’s not forget Japan : P

[*Speaking of Taiwan, I think congratulations are in order after its announcement today that it would legalise gay marriage, the very first country in Asia to do so.   Taiwan seems like a pretty cool, self-confident place to me in many ways, and yet does not need to broadcast it, and this is just another example of that.  I wonder will Japan follow suit anytime soon?]

I mentioned the Showa period above.  Well the 1st of May this year brought the first day of the Reiwa period, Reiwa meaning harmony.  The emperor Akihito abdicated on the 30th of April to make way for his son Naruhito (unfortunately the ceremony seemed to be a men only affair with Empress Michiko not being permitted, according to custom, to attend – some things will never change).    Anyway, I hope the Reiwa period brings positive changes and harmony to Japan’s relationship with her East Asian neighbours but from the looks of it, that will take a while yet.






Our little sister

Sibling love wins out

over estranged parents and

inheritance rights.


At the risk of developing Kore-eda fatigue, I watched yet another of his films a few days after watching After the Storm, by (again) downloading it for rental.  The film was Our little Sister (Umimachi diary in Japanese, adapted from a manga series, unusual I would think for Kore Eda, no?). It earned the Palme d’Or at Cannes back in 2015.  I had been meaning to watch it for a long while.  It was worth the wait.

It’s a really nice story of three sisters in their twenties who welcome their teenage half-sister into their home in their close-knit seaside community after meeting her for the first time at their estranged father’s funeral (to which they only reluctantly go).    The father, who had left them as children for another woman (the teenager Suzu’s mother), had moved onto wife number three who Suzu does not mind moving away from (and who doesn’t make all that good an impression on the sisters at the funeral).

Even considering their issues with both their late father who left them and their (by this time also estranged) mother to go off with another woman (and going on to have a daughter, Suzu, with her), their own personality clashes (nothing too severe though), and their relationship with their estranged mother, the three women are very good to each other and kind to the new teenager in their lives and it all goes very smoothly, with her settling in with ease.  Being a teenager in a new environment can be very hard, having to make new friends and fit in but she does so very easily.

Another of the film’s characters, the popular café owner has a less happy (family) ending when her long-lost estranged brother comes back into her life to claim inheritance their parents had left. Her failing health precipitates her decision to close up shop, with the help of the bank (where one of the sisters, Yoshiko, works) enabling her to give him what he is due from the proceeds of the sale.

Inheritance issues often cause trouble in families but in this case, there is the added problem of causing extra stress to the woman who has found out she has cancer.  However, the brother may have got his hands on the inheritance but as Yoshiko’s colleague (played by Ryo Kase) points out, if she made a will she would be able to control what would happen the rest of her assets, and of course ensure that her funeral would be paid for as ‘that type of brother would probably not care about that side of things’ to paraphrase him.  Yoshiko makes it sound like a will is not that common in Japan for a single person.  Maybe it isn’t.  This single woman had reached her 50s (I’m guessing she’s in that age range anyway) without doing so and seems to have had no kids to pass her business or other assets onto.

From the sounds of it, the brother would automatically have gotten his hands on this single woman’s assets on her death as her only living sibling, in addition to the share of the inheritance he managed to obtain.  Which is similar to the situation here, where if you’re single with no children and you die before your parents and siblings, without making a will, your assets go first to your parents and if your parents have already died by the time you die, they are divided between any living siblings.   Many people may be estranged from their siblings or parents for good reason and might prefer to bequeath their belongings to friends or charities/good causes or both.  People think making a will too early is also just too morbid for their liking.  It’s natural. No one wants to think of death while they’re still busy living life.  Those who might care might happen to like and love the people their assets will go to automatically so don’t do it for that reason.

Still, if the worst happens and you do care what happens your stuff, it doesn’t hurt to make sure it will go to someone you love or at least like (having a good friend or other relative you actually like to execute the will is obviously necessary as well).   A lot of life is anti-singleton enough as it is so why should it be the same after you die?

The woman in Our Little Sister while appearing to have a fairly good life with her own popular eatery, seemingly a love interest, and a warm, caring community around her, still had no one to bequeath her belongings to (bar the love interest maybe).  It just shows that you simply cannot tell what kind of situation a person is really in.

So, enough about wills (important as they are) and death. I hope you’re still with me.

Our little sister has a real warm view of a lovely family accepting a newbie (and dealing with their issues in a very honest way) while it is also in a small way something of a foodie film which is an extra bonus.   Food is almost another character in this film between the girls’ cooking skills and plum wine-making tradition playing a part in welcoming the young teenager into the family, the local fishing industry’s contribution to their dishes, and the older woman’s popular cafe.

Comparing it to After the Storm, both films have family difficulties in common and the characters show great integrity in both films in facing their problems. I’d prefer the siblings in Our Little Sister though, compared to Ryota’s one sibling in After the Storm.  Getting on her moral high horse when she behaves in no different a way to Ryota really annoyed me.  I also feel more for Ryota whose struggle to succeed in the writing career he really wants (after having initial success) is frowned upon by family, mostly the sister, who thinks he’s doing nothing.

A look at the cast:  The eldest sister of the three in their 20s, is played by Haruka Ayase, the main character in Ichi (in my film list).  The middle sister is played by  Masami Nagasawa who I once saw in a drama I enjoyed called Last Friends (really strange opening credits but lovely drama).  I did not recognise the younger sister from anything I don’t think but the actress goes by the name Kaho.   The actress playing teenager Suzu was a newcomer I believe.  Lily Franky, Ryo Kase (who I have mentioned and was glad to see) and the late Kiki Kirin also appear in the film, in smaller roles.

Anyone else seen this film?   What did you think of it?

Apart from a brief look at a drama I watched lately, I expect to be talking about literature in my next post … so check in again very soon!


After the Storm and IWD

International Women’s
Day came around again with
even more to say

Today was International Women’s Day. I wonder how it was marked in Japan.  I haven’t had time to look it up.  Yesterday was International Book Day.  In the spirit of both, I have not yet taken up The Tale of Genji, considered the world’s first novel, written by a woman (haha, you might have thought there that I’d say I did given the day that it was, but no) but I will soon enough.

I’m quite busy at the moment with not much time to read and when I do have time I pick up the books I’m currently in the middle of – one being a wonderful book about the history of colours.

I finally got around to watching After the Storm (its original Japanese title is Umi yori mo mada fukaku – Even deeper than the sea) renting it from one online source after a real torturous waste of time downloading it for rental and then trying to enjoy it from another source.

As for the film itself, where the main character is coincidentally a struggling writer – cool but accidental choice for International Book Day – it was good but not as good as I thought it would be I’m afraid.

It was quite a while before we got to the protagonist Ryota’s important scenes with his son and his ex-wife Kyoko with whom he is trying to reconnect (but she has moved onto a guy who’s the complete opposite of Ryota, which is probably why she chooses him but he’s not that nice).

Still, the main actor, Hiroshi Abe, is very good as the struggling writer earning a wage as a private detective to keep himself (barely) going. He has the right mannerisms for such a role. He doesn’t seem all that likeable at times and is seen as unreliable, but the final scene in the pawn shop is quite touching and shows his integrity which might not be otherwise obvious.

The first time I saw him was in a drama called The man who cannot get married. A good drama with a few laughs, supported by another Kore-Eda regular, Yui Natsukawa.

Kiki Kirin, who sadly died a few months after the win at Cannes last year for Shoplifters, plays his mother who is hoping he gets back with his wife.

The actress Yoko Maki, who plays Kyoko, has had a lead role in another of Kore-eda’s – Father and Son (maybe she’s in one or two more? I’m not sure)
She’s also in a funny comedy drama I once watched called The Best Divorce (though I never did get back to finishing that).

Lily Franky, who’s in Shoplifters and Father and Son plays his detective agency boss who says a really cruel thing to him at one point about his efforts to reconnect with his son, at which point you really feel for Ryota.
Films aside, I saw him more recently as a somewhat incompetent, eccentric morgue attendant in the drama, Crow’s Blood, that I mentioned a while ago.

Hirokazu Kore-Eda likes to stick with actors he knows will do the job well. And why not? These actors are very good and are clearly suited to Kore-Eda’s films.

Well, I hope to see Shoplifters soon. I’m looking forward to that.