Shuichi Yoshida was born 14 September 1968 in Nagasaki and during his forty odd years of life has won the Bungakukai Prize for New Writers, the Akutagawa Prize (nominated 5 times), Yamamoto Prize, the Osaragi Jiro Prize and the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award, in fact in Japan he is perceived as a crossover writer, winning both popular and literary prizes. He is the author of nine books and has had some of his short stories adapted for Japanese television, yet Villain is his first book to be translated into English, which was long listed in this years Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Ostensibly, this is a book about the murder of Insurance salesgirl Yoshino Ishibashi, who is found dead at Mitsue pass, a spooky spot known to be the home of ghosts, a place to be avoided if at all possible. Yoshino is the daughter of a men's hairdresser, who’s clientele is predominantly boys and old men, whilst her age group tend to leave the suburbs & travel to the city for their hair treatment. Having left home at the first opportunity, Yoshino’s life is a mix of work & dating, mainly through an online dating site. She boasts to her girlfriends about her boyfriends, but things aren’t that simple, some are boyfriends, some it turns out are clients, although the book doesn’t explicitly say she’s a prostitute, the lines tend to get fuzzy as she makes no distinction between a date and those that pay for her services. It’s through the dating service that she arranges to meet Yuichi Shimizuon, a construction worker, for the second time, having met before in a love hotel. The next day her strangled body is found on the Mitsuse pass.
Yuichi isn’t the only suspect in this crime, Keigo Masui is also suspected, as the victim had claimed they were lovers and it was him she was meeting on that fateful night and he has disappeared. Whilst this is all happening, Yuichi meets another online date & as things hot up they go on the run…….
Although this book is titled Villain, the title is slightly misleading, yes there is a murder and a murderer, but what this book actually does is explore the minutiae of all the lives in and around the crime, we learn of the events that led up to that point in time and follow several paths after the fact. This book explores the generation gap, the dichotomy between traditional and modern Japan, it asks questions about identity, culture & the impact of technology on our lives. This tale is less about villains, than it is about alienation in modern Japan, less about the murder, than it is about than the search for companionship, whether that’s some fumbled tryst in a love hotel or something deeper. Again, yes there’s a murder and it’s a centre, a black hole around which everything turns, yes there’s a villain, but is it only the murderer?
Villain is the type of thriller that gives the genre a great name, it’s intelligent, thought provoking, it asks questions that are pertinent to the society lived in, whilst doing so in a manner that doesn’t give you a list of pat, generic answers, leaving you to ponder any answers for yourself.
The translator, Philip Gabriel is professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona. He has translated works by Kenzaburô Ôe, Senji Kuroi, Akira Yoshimura, Masahiko Shimada, Natsuo Kirino, and Haruki Murakami, including Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (co-translator); Sputnik Sweetheart; and South of the Border, West of the Sun. Gabriel is a recipient of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (2006), and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for Translation of Japanese Literature (2001).
Shuichi Yoshida (publishers)
Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011