Friday, July 29, 2011

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

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(Wiki)
Shuichi Yoshida (publishers)
Phillip Gabriel(Wiki)
Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 


Anonymous said...

I haven't read many Japanese books, but the ones that I've read were very good.

Great review.

Mel u said...

I got a copy of this book last week-I hope to read it soon-I am intrigued by your very well done post that I will read again once I read Villan

Bellezza said...

You had me at the title, and the word 'thriller', and then clinched it with these sentences: "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." Wonderful writing, wonderful review! I'm off to buy it right now!

(You said you hadn't been to the JLC5 site in a while; how about me? I have yet to review a book for my own challenge! Hangs her head in shame...)

Harvee said...

I've read this book and was blown away by the ending. Glad you liked it. It's a good candidate for the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by

me. said...

I found this a thought provoking read, I'd really love to read other novels by Shuichi Yoshida, both Parade and Park Life sound like intriguing novels. I'm looking forward to seeing the film adaption of this too,which like the novel won awards in Japan.

Bellezza said...

Just reseved this at the library, and added it to my sidebar list of Looking Forward To...

Thanks for inspiring us with this great post, Parrish!

Rise said...

Very interesting how you describe how it plays around the genre. Reminds me of The Skating Rink, somehow.

Anonymous said...

I ran out of time from library with this one I may get out again when I ve more time to read it ,great review gary ,all the best stu

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Why is it that Japanese books are so intriguing to me? Japanese writers seem to get something about the world that I don't quite get...or maybe it's the other way around?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. This is the next book I have lined up to read, so very fortuitous timing!

gina said...

great review, Gary.
Alright, I've requested this from the library. Sounds like an interesting literary+genre combo.

Unknown said...


I'm not much of a crime/thriller reader, but you make it sound so much more :)

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Man of la, over the last year or so I've read quite a few Japanese writers & whether it's down to translators or what, but I've yet to read a duff one.

Hello Harvee,definitely want to read more of his work.

Hi, Me, definitely want to investigate more of this writers work.

Ciao Bellezza, have read & loved your post on this.

Hola Rise, The murder is closer to the centre of this book, than in Bolano's where it's almost an afterthought.

Hi Stu, grab it, if you get the chance.

Hi Pete, won't say enjoy, I'd be surprised if you didn't, but will be interested to hear your opinion afterwards.

Hi Gina, all I can say is will wait for your opinion.

Hi Tony, be tempted, it is.

Hello Deb, it's a fascination that has me gripped.