Parade by Shuichi Yoshida

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“The me who lives here is most definitely the Apartment Me I created, and by that I mean she’s someone who just doesn’t do serious. The me who gets along well with the other residents (Ryosuke, Koto, Naoki, and Satoru) is Apartment Me… But maybe they’ve also created their own Apartment Selves, too. Which would mean that they, too, don’t actually exist in this apartment. Conclusion? No one is in this apartment.”

Five people. One Tokyo apartment.

Ryosuke Sugimoto is a college student from a small town. Kotomi Okochi doesn’t go out. She spends her time by the phone at the apartment, waiting for her maybe-boyfriend, an upcoming actor, to call. Mirai Soma is an artist who works at an imported-goods boutique and spends her nights drinking (and drinking and drinking). Naoki Ihara is the only one who seems to resemble an adult. He has a job at a film company but also has a strange relationship with his ex-girlfriend. The fifth person only enters the apartment some chapters in. Satoru Kokubo is 18 and at first everyone presumes he’s Ryosuke’s friend but it turns out he isn’t?

Then there is something strange about the visitors, often young girls and old men, emerging from the apartment next door. And there have been attacks on young women on the streets around their neighbourhood.

But really, it’s a story in which nothing very much happens. It’s the daily lives of these four (then five) young people. As I read on, seeing things from each character’s perspective, I realised that they didn’t really know much about each other. They lived together, the girls sharing a room and the guys in another, and they would sometime go out together but there seems to be a lot of disconnect. The use of the different points of view is very effective in this story – the characters reveal their innermost thoughts, as well as their true feelings about their flatmates. Although as much as I followed along with these secrets and hidden thoughts, I was still surprised by how it ended.

“A cowardly college student. A love-addicted girl. A freelance illustrator who likes to hang out with gay guys. And a health-obsessed jogger. If I hadn’t met them there, there’s no way I would ever talk to people like that.”

I found this quite a fascinating read. No way as weird and puzzling as some of the other Japanese novels I’ve recently (I’m looking at you, Earthlings) but it has that sense of alienation and detachment that seems to haunt a lot of Japanese fiction I’ve read.

Villain

So the first couple of pages of Villain don’t exactly make you want to jump into the fray. Because it reads like a rather boring travel guide, written by somebody who is rather into transportation and roads. You can know all you need to know about the tolls for vehicles between Nagasaki and Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Hakata.

I went along with it, and then comes the trigger. The last paragraph (of the first section) tells the reader of an arrest, of a crime, essentially spelling it out for you.


And that’s the thing I realise about Japanese crime fiction, at least the three that I have read so far (Out, The Devotion of Suspect X).¬†That it is not about the mystery, it’s not technically a whodunnit, because you already know whodidit. Because it’s right there in your face, in the first few sections, the first few pages even. These books are more about the ‘why’, and the effect the murders have – on the murderers themselves, the victim’s family and friends, the other suspects.

Villain, by Shuichi Yoshida, brings out a different part of Japan, one of love hotels and online dating, and ageing seaside villages full of elderly residents. It is a quite ugly, rather lonely view of Japan.

“The scenery flowing past changed, but they never seemed to get anywhere. When the interstate ended, it connected up with the prefectural highway, and past that were city and local roads. Mitsuyo had a road atlas spread out on the dashboard. She flipped through the maps and saw that the highways and roads were all color-coded. Interstates were orange, prefectural highways were green, local roads were blue, and smaller roads were white. The countless roads were a net, a web that had caught them and the car they were in.”

Told from multiple viewpoints especially towards the end of the book, Villain¬†shines when the focus is on the victim’s father, who struggles to come to terms with his daughter’s death, and his painful realisation that he didn’t really know his child at all.

Villain was an engrossing, thought provoking read, and leaves you wondering, who – or perhaps what – is the real ‘villain’ here.