Isaka World Part 7- 死神の浮力 (Buoyancy of Death)

Diving right back into Isaka world, part 7: The Reaper returns.
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Shinigami no Furyoku is a sequel (spinoff?) to Shinigami no Seido, The Accuracy of Death. They both feature a shinigami (agent of death, reaper, whatever you’d like to call him) named Chiba who does work as a death investigator. His job is to make contact with and follow a person in the human world who is scheduled to die for seven days and send in a “Yes” or “No” report to his higher ups in the underground. If he sends a yes, the person dies on the 8th day, but if he sends a no, they continue to live. That said, most people get a “yes.”

The first book was a collection of short stories featuring Chiba and his work, but Shinigami no Furyoku is a full-length novel, and focuses more on moving along the plot and digging deeper into the psyche of the human characters of the story. And boy, what a story this one was.

The Yamanobes are a couple who have lost their young daughter to a manipulative psychopathic killer, and the novel starts with Chiba meeting them on the day the killer’s trial sentence- he is acquitted and found not guilty. This is the start of his sick game of dominance, and their quest for true vengeance.

Shinigami no Furyoku really reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones. The ironic, satisfying end was also quite similar but still enjoyable.

What also makes this series enjoyable is how Chiba acts around humans. Generally, he does his job to the fullest, but he has no interest in humans and their doings aside from his job. He uses strange, out of date phrases and acts like he’s seen things that happened hundreds of years ago first hand (because he has, but the humans don’t know that.) His only motivation is music, with which he is obsessed to the point where it often is used in some way within the plot to make him inadvertently help or hinder his human subjects.  Also, it’s still always raining when he works.

It’s not my most favorite Isaka book, but it was still fun to read. It was kind of fascinating reading the parts about fearing death (or not) and the group mentality of dealing with a psychopath.

Quote of the day: (Chiba, on wanting to listen to music when a serious car chase is happening)
“So, if we take care of this, can I listen to it then?”

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Current Isaka Count: 21/33

Isaka World Part 6 – Modern Times

Goodness, I’ve really fallen behind. I finished this book in April, and we’re already well into June. A lot has happened, but for now let me catch up with the books I’ve read.

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So this is one of the longer, more intimidating Isaka books I’ve read so far. It comes sold in two parts, as two separate books. The tittle is Modern Times. The story takes place in the future where people are vaguely still aware of the Beatles but nobody is sure what kind of music they played.

The protagonist is a 29 year old computer programmer who is pursued by dangerous people after he types a few keywords (related to a certain incident) into a search engine together. In the process, he learns about the oppressive power of the “systems” of our society and also of the monopoly of information and surveillance.

The novel borders a few genres, including a little science fiction, mystery, thriller, and horror. The horror being more of a “wow, that’s kind of creepy” kind of horror, due to the fact that in the end, the world continues its spiral into further systemizing society.

Some parts of the book parallel themes happening lately in the political sphere, regarding propaganda, false news, cover-ups and the like; it wasn’t a far stretch to compare it to real life. It was really creepy reading this post-2016 US presidential election, considering this was written back in 2008.

My dog-eared quotes from the book:

要するに、国家が望めば、国家が生き長らえるためなら、殺人も合法となるんだよ。国民のためにそうなっているわけじゃない。全部、国家のためだ。
“In other words, even murder becomes legal if a government wishes to make it so, in order to make its power last longer. It’s not for the citizens. It’s all for the state.”

結婚とは、一に我慢、二に辛抱、三、四がなくて五にサバイバル、である。極端に猜疑心の強い妻と暮らす私からすれば、妻以外の女性親密になることはサバイバルの失敗、死を意味した。比喩ではなく、文字通りの死だ。
“Marriage is patience first, compromise second, no three or four, and survival fifth. Being married to my extremely suspicious wife, my getting closer to another woman means I have failed in this survival, and this means death. Not metaphorically. Literally.”

「戦争の話じゃない。もっと大きな話だ。独裁者や指導者は、見方によれば、英雄とも呼べるかもしれない。国家や社会には、周期的にある種の英雄が出現する。戦争に発展することもあった。戦争により、科学や工業が発達することもある。」
「戦争のせいで、科学や工業が破壊されることもありますよ。」
「それでいいんだ。破壊されれば、また、動き出す。動物や国家にとって一番、回避すべきことは停滞だ。変化がなく、動かない状態は、死に近い。」
“I’m not talking about war. It’s bigger than that. Dictators and leaders could be called heroes from certain points of view. Countries and societies have cycled around the concept of certain types of heroes. Sometimes it led to war. And those wars led to advancements in science and technology. ”
“But because of war, science and technology were also used for destructive purposes.”
“Exactly. Destruction brings things back into action. The one thing that any animal or country needs to avoid is stagnation. Not changing or moving is close to death.”

「何、しょんぼりしてるのよ。佳代子が口を開いた。あなたが言ったじゃない。人間は大きな目的のために生きてるんじゃないの。小さな目的のために、行動したら?」
“What, why the long face?” said Kayoko. “You said it yourself. People aren’t born for some grand purpose. So why not start doing something for a smaller goal?”

「あんた、勇気はあるか?」
「勇気は彼女が」 と妻の佳代子を指差した。「彼女が持っている。俺がなくしたりしないように。」
“Do you have the courage?”
“She’s got it,” I said, pointing to my wife, Kayoko. “She’s holding it for me so I don’t lose it.”

Current Isaka Count: 20/32

Isaka World, Part 5 終末のフール(The End’s Fool)

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Well, I sure did not expect to read another apocalyptic story since I stumbled across Alas, Babylon years ago in my local public library, (Which I especially liked, and which fully fulfilled me enough not to need any more similar stories in the future) but props to Isaka Kotaro for this interesting collection of short stories.

They take place in pre-apocalyptic Sendai, Japan, following the lives of a bunch of different residents of an apartment building two and a half years before a meteor is expected to crash into Earth, thus ending the world completely.

Interestingly enough, the story takes place before the destruction and also after the initial “end of the world panic” occurs. It’s a sort of weird peaceful time where people are still wary, but weary enough not to cause any trouble.

The book had a light but melancholic feel to it, and was the right mixture of hopeful, dreadful, suspenseful, and depressing.

It’s about the survivors still alive at that point in time, and the lives they’ve lived since the meteor was announced. Rather than big adventures or rescue missions, it’s just people living and surviving, in a terrible situation, making everyday choices. There are a few tense moments, like the brothers trying to get revenge on a TV announcer and his family by holding them at gunpoint, but there’s also the old couple awaiting their estranged daughter coming home, and a couple who need to decide whether they should have their baby or not with the future so bleak.

Whether people would really calm down after a few years of knowing that the world is going to end is extremely debatable, considering how people tend to freak out over the world ending in real life, but I found the stories all enjoyable, and they all have their little twists near the end, as usual.

The chapter titles are all stylized to use the same phonetic katakana pattern, which of course sounds awful in English but clever in Japanese:
The End’s Fool
The Sun Sticker
The Sieged Building (Beer?)
the Hibernating Girl
The Steel Wool
The Celestial Night
The Play’s All
The Deep-Sea Pole

…See what I mean? It was actually the title that made me take so long to read this particular Isaka book, because every time I saw it, it confused me. フール? It looks like pool and full, both of which make it incomprehensible, and even if you know it means fool, it still doesn’t make any sense until you finish the story.

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From 週末のフール(The End’s Fool)
「お父さんって、頭の良さってなんだと思ってるの?成績とか学歴とか、ステータスだとか、どうせそういうのでしょ。どうせ。そういうのは、わたしがひきうけるから、いいじゃん。ばかじゃないの。あのね、お父さんが馬鹿なばかりに、兄貴は不幸なんだって。」まるで、犯罪者を告発するかのように、康子はこちらを指差し、声を荒げた。「兄貴はもっと大きいことをやれるんだよ。」
“Dad, what do you even think it means to be smart? Good grades, or going to a good school? Status? That’s what you think, right? That’s fine, I’ll get all of those. You’re an idiot. That’s why my brother is so unhappy, because you’re so stupid.” As if she were pointing out a criminal, she raised her finger at me and said in a wild voice, “My brother can do even bigger things.”

From 深海のポール(The Deep Sea Pole)
生き残るっていうのはさ、あんあ風に理路整然とさ、「選ぶ」とか「選ばれる条件」とか、そういうんじゃなくて、もっと必死なもののような気がするんだ。「必死なもの?」「じたばたして、足掻いて、もがいて。生き残るのってそういうのだよ、きっとさ。」
“Surviving, I don’t think it’s that logical, like people are chosen, or that there’s categories that decide whether you’re chosen or not. I think it’s something more desperate.”
“Desperate?”
“Panicking, struggling, agonizing…I think that’s probably what surviving is more like, really.”

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Current Isaka Count: 19/32

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Isaka World, Part 4- The Monkey King

Before I go off on Star Wars again, let’s take a short trip back to Isaka World, shall we?

I read his novel, SOSの猿 (The SOS Monkey).
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Like the cover implies, yes, it is a bit chaotic.

To be honest, it wasn’t my most favorite of his works. It’s still low key mystery/suspense but has a half-comical, half-serious kind of atmosphere that is really hard to describe. With a catholic exorcist, the monkey king, guerrilla acapella singers, a software engineer, and a huge problem with stocks, it’s hard to imagine what kind of story it is just from the synopsis.

Written during his “Don’t give a rat’s ass” period, it is one of those books where he just wrote whatever he wanted to write, so it’s not written to please the audience, in a good way.

It’s a bit similar (and written right after) Aru King, where he connected the story to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, except this time, he’s completely referencing Journey to the West. Yes, Journey to the West. Chinese literature that I haven’t read yet.

If you’re not familiar with Journey to the west, remember that the Manga/Anime Dragonball (the original, where Goku is still small) is also loosely based off of it.

Unfortunately, any references I further make in this post will be using the Japanese names of the Chinese characters.

From information I’ve gathered online, Journey to the west is the story of the Buddhist priest Sanzo Houshi, who has three disciples:
Son Goku (The Monkey King),
Cho Hakkai (the pig/boar), and
Sa Gojo (the water sprite).

They all have some kind of issue (too violent, too gluttonous, etc) that needs to be fixed, and have shenanigans together on their journey to the west. That’s all I know.

Also, Goku has a long stick, a cloud to fly on that only those pure of heart are able to ride, and is able to create copies of himself by taking a piece of his fur and blowing on it.

I was about half confused throughout the first 60% of the story, which takes place in modern day Japan and follows about three different narrators talking about two different people who haven’t met yet. It jumps around from character to character, narrator to narrator until you’re not sure who’s actually telling what story anymore.

Then, little by little, things begin to piece together (as most of Isaka’s books do) and by the end, you get to enjoy looking at everything fit nicely like a jigsaw puzzle in retrospect.

It really is too bad that I’m not familiar with Journey to the West, because I’m sure there were things I missed because of it. I was able to read it through, especially near the end, when things got really exciting and the huge twist was revealed.

My favorite quotes this time were:

物語は、語り手が喋ればそれが真実となる。鬼がいるといえば、鬼がいるのだし、証券会社の総務部長が牛魔王だというのならば、部長は牛魔王に他ならない。
“In a story, when the narrator says something, it becomes the truth. If he says there is a demon, there is a demon, and if he says that the chief of general affairs of a stock trading company is the Ox-King, that chief must be the Ox-King.” pg 88

ばらばらに存在している星が、遠くから眺めると獅子や白鳥に見えますよね。それと同じように偶然と思われる事柄も、離れて大きな視点から眺めると、何か大きな意味がある。
“Stars exist on their own, but can look like a lion or a crane from far away, right? Just like that, some things that seem to be coincidences, when looked at from a wider viewpoint, have a much bigger meaning.” pg304

それこそが作り話の効力よ。物語は、時々、人を救うんだから。
“That’s the power of a story. Sometimes, they save people.” pg 212

That last quote is, in a sense, the moral of the story.

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Current Isaka Novel Count:
18/32

 

 

一点の差 (One Point Difference)

Current Events: 

1. ‘Tis the time of Christmas/End of Year Parties and slightly snowy mornings, also known as the time of year you really have to be careful when driving in the morning. It’s also become that time of year when taking a shower at my house becomes an internal battle between wanting to be clean and surviving bare feet on half-frozen tiles. Onsen are such a blessing; I’m so glad we have a lot of good ones in this town.

2. My Kanji Kentei results came back in November and left me close to tears, as out of the 140 points I needed for a passing score, my score was…139. The pain of missing it by only one point was both heartbreaking and extremely frustrating. And yet, in true masochistic fashion, I continue my long, arduous journey in becoming a Kanji Master. (The next test will be in January.)

3. Learning how to play Christmas songs on the guitar. (As of now, my entire repertoire is Jingle Bells and Edelweiss.) I wish the ukulele was as deep and loud as a guitar, so I wouldn’t have to worry about messing up G and D and getting sore fingertips on my left hand, but on the other hand, it sounds so nice and is easy to sing along with.

4. Been working on more and bigger translation jobs, little by little. Also been able to translate articles and websites! There’s still a lot to learn, but I feel like I’m getting closer  with every job I finish. My sleeping time has suffered a bit from this, though. Weekend recovery time is crucial.

5. Joined the health boxing tournament for the third time this year. I was able to snatch a win (and a nice-fight trophy, too!) and keep my champion title!

6: Been catching a lot of colds, about once a month for the past three months. December’s hasn’t come yet, and I hope it doesn’t end up like last year when the whole family got influenza on new year’s day. That was an incident that should never be repeated, ever.

7: Read The Lovely Bones while recovering from one of above mentioned colds. Points to Alice Sebold for creating a super creepy villain that dies a very ironic and slightly humorous death, amongst the great amount of angst and drama within the story. I thought for a while that the story would end without him being caught, but chalk that up to my usual bad literary predictions. Props to the author for the very detailed yet unexpected foreshadowing.

8: Also reread Isaka Kotaro’s Grasshopper in commemoration of its move to the big screen. It was an okay movie, but some of the action was a little corny and the bad guys were watered down to semi-bad instead of dirty, rotten, shouldn’t be allowed to breathe the same air as decent human beings-bad. But the wasp assassin subplot was done very nicely. I really want them to continue the series and make Maria Beetle into a movie too, because who wouldn’t want to watch a movie about assassins fighting on a bullet train?

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Graduation

Thought of the day:

There’s just something special about elementary school graduations in Japan.
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Beautiful chalkboard art drawn by a teacher at my school.

It says, “Congratulations!  May all your futures be full of happiness!”

Spring is finally here.