A very very strange Japanese novel. A dark, thriller/noir-ish tale infused with an immense feeling of paranoia and a very hard novel to follow and must be read very closely and carefully. It would perhaps be cliched to compare it with Haruki Murakami but there are close similarities to Matsuura’s style and approach. However, the writers couldn’t be more different from one another. Both explore the strange “hidden” worlds bumping up against our own and both are steeped in that weird, contemporary Japanese surrealism. However, Matsuura’s novel is darker than anything I’ve read from Murakami - and far more bizarre.
The Japanese title for this novel is Tomoe and it is the meaning behind this word that resonates throughout the entire novel. The story begins with the main protagonist Otsuki - a shady, ex-con - seeing his mistress off in a taxi on Tokyo’s rain swept streets. On his way home he meets another shady criminal cohort by coincidence who entices him to meet a strange “sensei” who might have a job for him. He reluctantly agrees to meet the “sensei” - an old calligrapher who lives in a mysterious mansion. The “sensei” is an older man, with a “wise man” air about him, but he talks in riddles and doesn’t make much sense, often expounding on the philosophical nature of time. He then shows Otsuki a film of insects with graphic sex scenes spliced in between. At first Otsuki is repulsed by what he sees - being that the girl in the film is obviously underage - but at the same time he can’t help but be fascinated by it. He later learns that the young girl is named Tomoe and is introduced to him as the “sensei’s” granddaughter. The man she is having sex with in the film is one of the “sensei’s” many shady partners. The “sensei” offers Otsuki a lot of money to shoot a film with Tomoe and he accepts, making a film focusing on Tomoe’s luxurious black hair.
Meanwhile Otsuki’s relationship with his mistress is falling apart and he is soon confronted by the woman’s husband, who doesn’t care about his wife, only a bogus ledger that he desperately wants back. Who he is and what he’s involved in is never explained but he is somehow connected to the “sensei”; and his wife - Otsuki’s mistress - mysteriously turns up as part of the “sensei’s” circle. It is here where things get very strange and difficult to follow. There is a David Lynch-ian feel to the rest of the novel, where the reader can find great difficulty in teasing out who these characters actually are and questioning if they even are who they appear to be. There are moments of wild surrealist hallucinations, hints of parallel worlds, disembodied voices and characters who talk in riddles. Sex, death, violence and paranoia permeate throughout, along with hints of Otsuki’s criminal past and the underworld of Japanese society.
Tomoe - both the character and the meaning of the word is key to understanding this novel. The problem is, as I see it, that one may need to be well versed with Japanese culture in order to fully grasp what is going on. There is a hint that perhaps even the structure of the novel is based on the meaning of the Tomoe (and even it’s spiral-like shape). It’s a very disorienting read, although highly intriguing. I would recommend it for it’s strangeness and it’s daring narrative. However, be forewarned, you’ll be left scratching your head by the novel’s conclusion. If you’re into the films of David Lynch and have some interest in Japanese culture, I would suggest you check this out. Just don’t expect a typical “Noir”. This is far from it though it has enough Noir-ish elements to please fans of the genre.