THE WORLD OF KANAKO: Japanese Crime Novels

Man, I really wish I had thought to bring a book…

Tetsuya Nakashima adapted his screenplay for The World Of Kanako from Hateshinaki Kawaki, a bestselling novel by Akio Fukamachi. And people were surprised he did because the novel is hardcore. In Mark Schiller’s review of The World Of Kanako at The Japan Times, he writes:

Akio Fukamachi’s 2004 mystery novel Hateshinaki Kawaki has sold more than 360,000 copies, but was initially considered too lurid for a mainstream film adaptation, Tetsuya Nakashima read it and began writing his own screen treatment, which became the script for Kawaki [or The World of Kanako].

There are a lot of dark, disturbing Japanese crime novels and if you found The World Of Kanako compelling, you might be interested in some of these books available in English translation. (And I’m using the publication dates of the English translations).

“Me? Kanae Minato? A criminal mastermind?”

Confessions (2014) by Kanae Minato

While Akio Fukamachi’s Hateshinaki Kawaki isn’t available in English translation (that I can find), the novel Nakashima adapted for his previous film, Confessions, is. (You can read more about the film from Vangaurder Darryl). After the death of her toddler, a single school teacher decides she has had enough. On the last day of school, she tells her class that she is resigning and begins her plot for revenge against two students in her class who she believes murdered her daughter. The story is told in multiple first person narratives, beginning with the teacher’s. First person always creates an intimacy and in this case, it’s easy enough to sympathize with a woman seeking revenge for the death of a toddler, but it also creates an uncomfortable sympathy as she choose to destroy two other children. Confessions ultimately reveals the devastating and uncontrollable consequences of revenge. Incidentally, Kanae Minato had been a home economics teacher herself before the success of Confessions, so there’s that.

Natsuo Kirino is 5X winner of World’s Best Author Photo.

Out (2005) by Natsuo Kirino

In the Edgar Award-winning novel Out, four women work the graveyard shift at a factory that produces ready-made box lunches, mostly staffed by married women who need extra income for their families and Brazilian immigrants. One of women is driven over the edge by her husband’s inattentiveness, unfaithfulness and recklessness at a nearby casino run by the yakuza. Her friends at the factory help her dispose of the body for reasons of their own, but they end up disposing of bodies for a gangster who has the occasional body to dispose of. Meanwhile, the casino owner has been blamed for the husband’s murder and he is looking to find the real killers. Worse yet, he’s looking to relive a terrifying sexual fantasy. Out is a detailed portrait of four women and the pressures of contemporary Japan. It’s tightly plotted, well-written, fascinating, sympathetic, and, in the end, harrowing read.

Ryu Murakami is thinking amazing things right now. Man, so amazing.

Audition (2009) by Ryu Murakami

Murakami’s most famous book in the English-speaking world is probably Almost Transparent Blue. But he also wrote Audition, which Takashi Miike adapted into a film. A widower decides to marry  again at the urging of his son and his best friend. He doesn’t want to date and has very specific ideas of who he wants to marry–in particular, a woman who is accomplished in some art, regardless of the level of her success. His best friend sells him on the idea of pretending to make a film and holding auditions. He even has an explanation all ready for why the film would never be made. And this plan seems to work when he meets the perfect woman and all she asks is that he only love her. But his friend thinks there’s something off about her and there was that guy in the wheelchair that seemed to recognize her and, worse, be afraid of her. Another well-written, slow-burn with a sudden burst of violence at the end.

Keigo Hagashino’s brain is filled with very precise and detailed plots, even now.

The Devotion of Suspect X (2011) by Keigo Hagashino

There is another unfortunate body disposal situation when a divorced mother is confronted by her angry ex-husband demanding money (again). Fortunately, her next door neighbor is a sympathetic high school math teacher who is bored by his job and also highly analytical. He develops a plan to cover up the whole incident that is seemingly perfect. But there is, of course, a detective who just has a bad feeling about the whole thing. Less intense than the other books, but just as psychological and more caught up in the game between the math teacher and the detective trying to catch him.

Rampo is busy reshaping fiction.

The Edogawa Rampo Reader (2008) by Edogawa Rampo

Rampo shaped so much of modern and contemporary Japanese fiction, and defined crime fiction in particular that it’s worth taking a look at any of his collections. His novella, Black Lizard was adapted twice. Kinji Fukasaku’s 1968 adaptation stars Akihiro Miwa and Yukio Mishima, but I’m very partial to Umetsugu Inoue’s 1962 version starring Machiko Kyo (Rashomon; Ugetsu). Both are based on a stage adaptation by Yukio Mishima. I chose this book because it includes a collection of his short stories, but also some of his essays on film. Besides Black Lizard, Rampo has 44 other screenwriting credits.

THE WORLD OF KANAKO Final Screening:
Saturday, Sept 13 9:00 PM THE BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA

And because I mentioned Takashi Miike, here are the OVER YOUR DEAD BODY screening times:
Fri., Sept. 12, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema 9:00 PM
Sat., Sept. 13, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 6:30 PM

This post originally appeared on the Toronto International Film Festival Vanguard Program Blog.

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