Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

There’re too many people in the world like you,” Yoshio said. “Too many people who don’t have anyone they care about. Who think if they don’t love anyone else then they’re free to do whatever they want. They think they have nothing to lose, and that makes them stronger. If you have nothing to lose, there’s nothing you really want, either. You’re full of confidence, and look down on people who lose things, who want things, who are happy, or sad sometimes. But that’s not the way things are. And it’s just not right.

Let’s start with the Mitsuse Pass, shall we, as that’s the place Shuichi Yoshida began? He set us up right away with the perfect setting for his novel Villain. “Mitsuse Pass has always had ghostly, otherworldy stories connected to it. In the beginning of the Edo period it was rumored to be a hideout for robbers. In the mid-1920s rumor had it that someone murdered seven women in Kitagata township in Saga Prefecture and escaped to the pass. More recently the pass has become infamous as the place where, so the story goes, someone staying at a nearby inn went crazy and killed another guest. Aware of this tale, young people liked to dare each other to drive over the pass. There have been supposed sightings of ghosts as well, usually near the exit to the Mitsuse Tunnel on the border between Fukuoka and Saga.”

But, they don’t always drive over the pass in this novel. Sometimes they stop and take out their aggression on whomever has been lured to this misty, barren place.

Yoshino Ishibashi brags to her friends that she is seeing the rich and handsome Keigo Masuo. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but Yoshino likes to imagine that they are involved with each other. It impresses her friends, while making her feel important, even though Keigo has never once asked her for a date.

When she plans to meet Yuichi one night, who has driven hours over the pass to meet her, she stands him up when she catches a glimpse of Keigo coincidentally in the same park. She gets in the car with Keigo, drives off with him while chatting incessantly, and is apparently unaware of the pain she has caused in Yuichi. Because abandonment is the one thing he cannot stand.

His mother left him when he was small, telling him she’d be right back. “She abandoned Yuichi there at the ferry dock that day. He sat there, waiting, all alone, until the next morning. She said she was just going to buy their ticks, and ran away, but what she did was hide behind the pillars of the pier until morning. The next morning, when one of the ferry workers found him, Yuichi refused to budge. ‘My mom told me to wait here!’ he said, and actually bit the guy on the arm.”

Perhaps this is the place where a villain is born. The place where abandonment meets helplessness and fear.

Yuichi follows Keigo’s car with Yoshino inside, but all we know as readers is that Yoshino’s body was found in the morning. Such inexplicable loss for her parents. Such sorrow for Yuichi’s grandparents with whom he was living. Such bragging rights for Keigo. Such hope for Mitsuyo who, out of her desperate need for attachment, attaches herself to Yuichi believing that they are in love.

This atmospheric, and intricately woven, novel carries us over the passes we have traveled in our lives, both real and imaginary. It examines the roles of youth and old age, of parent and child, of lover and spouse. It tells a haunting story in which we wonder is a villain born or made, and is there any redemption for him or those who suffer at his hand?

I was completely enthralled in this novel; couldn’t wait to get my hands on it after reading Parrish’s review. It is my first novel for the Japanese Literature Challenge 5, and a most worthy one at that. Thank you, Parrish, for bringing it to my attention.

Author Shuichi Yoshida was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1968. The author of nine books, he has won numerous literary awards in Japan and has also had several of his short stories adapted for Japanese television. Villain won the Osaragi Jiro Prize and the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award, two prestigious Japanese prizes. Yoshida lives in Tokyo.

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23 comments

  1. Hi Bellezza, glad you enjoyed this, like Mitsuse pass ,its story haunts you long after your journey through it, loved the way you mirrored the book by starting at that cursed pass.PS. Thanks for the mention.

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  2. As in all the truly great Japanese novels, Allie, the atmosphere is incredible! So is the 'examination' of purpose and emotion within each character. I loved seeing their interactions, knowing most of their thoughts, the intricate way it was all woven together.

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  3. Parrish, it was hard to know how to begini this review! I had so many places I thought I'd start, beginning with the theme of abandonment, but in the end I decided to begin where Yoshida did. I wish I could have found a picture of Mitsuse Pass which mirrored the one he created in my mind. This was a great novel, and I'm so glad you let us know about it.

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  4. Marie, there are two covers I've seen for this book; the one above with the skeleton bones and one which more closely resembles Kirino's Real World in my opinion. Anyway, neither are half as good as what's inside!

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  5. Farmlanebooks, the description of the pass in Winter is just so incredibly eerie. No photograph I could find seemed to do the author's writing justice in terms of setting the ominous mood. I'm so glad you're ordering a copy for yourself. Let's talk when you finish it.

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  6. Eva, it's everything we love about reading: story, characterization, mood, and most of all compelling issues to think about in terms of society and relationship. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

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  7. Parrish, I should have documented the quotes better in my post. They're all from the book itself, and now I can't put the page numbers as I've returned it to the library! Note to self to do that in the future, and I'm glad you were able to find them exactly duplicated in Google. (What is there that Google can't find?)

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  8. Hi Bellezza, I'm not sure which, but whilst researching my post on this, I read that Philip Gabriel is translating another of Yoshida's & It's expected out 2012, if I find out more I'll let you know.

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