Saturday, September 15, 2007

History, mystery, and crime in Japan

History and crime fiction have been topics of discussion here in recent days, and the trend continues thanks to an interview included with a review copy of Tokyo Year Zero.

Author David Peace talks about the novel and two further novels on which he is working, each of which was inspired by real crimes that happened during the American occupation of Japan after World War II. Peace says the second of those two books is based on the Shimoyama incident of 1949, in which the head of the Japanese National Railroad was found dead next to train tracks in Tokyo.

And that's where I felt I'd gained a bit of insight into modern Japanese history. Seicho Matsumoto, the celebrated Japanese crime novelist, wrote non-fiction works about the Shimoyama case, and his novels are marked by train trips and by bodies found under trains.

Peace also talks about the title Tokyo Year Zero and the dual sense it conveys of utter devastation but also of a new beginning. This and the criminal subject matter conjure inevitable memories of Akira Kurosawa's great crime movie Stray Dog.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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6 Comments:

Blogger Jim's Words Music and Science said...

The last Japanese novel I read was The Informer by Akimitsu Takagi. I can't recommend this book. Though apparently based on a true story, it didn't hang together well and seemed very disjointed. It is also a sad, pathetic, depressing tale, and it was not redeemed by any elements that allowed me to enjoy it. It was a painful read, a real tragedy, and really "true crime" more than crime fiction, in spite of the (at least partially) fictionalized detective and prosecutor. Apparently Takagi's other books are excellent, but I haven't read them (as far as I can remember).

With Kurosawa you will never go wrong!

September 16, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

A copy of The Informer is lying around here somewhere. Yikes, but it sounds depressing. I'm not sure if Soho Crime has published English translations of any of Takagi's other work.

I recommend Seicho Matsumoto's novels. They may have a familiar feel, something like the deadpan black and white of a Wim Wenders movie, if that makes any sense. And, as I've come to discover since I read them, Matsumoto's novels, like The Informer, may have been inspired, at least in part, by true crimes.

September 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Akimitsu Takagi's novel, The Informer, wasn't very good. But The Tattoo Murder Case (also from Soho Crime) is excellent. Give it a try.

- Eric

September 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I may actually have a copy of that lying around as well. I'd forgotten that Takagi had written both books.

September 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'M STILL LOOKING FOR A BOOK AS SATISFYING AS MATSUMOTO'S "POINTS AND LINES." IT'S THE KIND OF BOOK WHERE YOU READ THE LAST PAGE AND START OVER TO SEE HOW CLEVER IT IS WORKED OUT. (EASY TO DO BECAUSE IT'S QUITE SHORT). I LOVE THE WAY THE JAPANESE "CHARACTER" IS SO ESSENTIAL TO THE PLOT!

March 14, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I should read it again. I enjoyed it greatly, perhaps for reasons similar to what you say about Japanese character. Matsumoto's somber way of telling a story just felt very different from what other authors do. This was due in great measure to the importance of trains to the story, I think, an importance that echoes modern Japanese history and culture, I have since read.

By the way, I liked The Informer better than did some of you who commented here.

March 14, 2008  

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