Sunday, 4 October 2015

Old Boy Book 2

"Why did you lock me away for ten years?" - Goto

Time for the second volume in the Old Boy series.  Old Boy was a Japanese manga that ran from 1996-98, written by Garon Tsuchiya, drawn by Nobuaki Minegishi and translated into English by Kumar Sivasubramanian.  It inspired the much more famous 2003 South Korean film of the same name, although the film and the manga diverge quite considerably as the story moves along.  The eight volumes tell one, intense on-going storyline rather than being split into arcs like western comics tend to be.  Previously on Old Boy:  The main character Goto Shinichi was kidnapped one night ten years ago and imprisoned in a private Yakuza run prison paid for by a man going by the alias "Dojima" who seems completely obssessed with him.  After Goto's release he meets with a young woman called Eri who he sleeps with on his first night of freedom.  Dojima continues to stalk Goto, who discovers a GPS tracking chip embedded in his back, which Eri cuts out for him.  Now he plans to use the chip to fool his stalker and be in two places at once.  The first volume ended with Goto following his first lead to the lock-up and who did this to him - the Chinese restaurant he was fed from all those years.  Having discovered part of a receipt in his food one day, he has narrowed it down to ones called "Seiryu" (Blue Dragon) so they visit the first on the list and he tucks into some gyoza (dumplings) to see if it is the one while Eri looks on anxiously.  And now, the continuation.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left, and the sound effects have been left in the original Japanese and subtitled instead]
Eri and Goto
"Nope" says Goto as he chews the gyoza.  Eri breathes a sigh, saying she was so nervous.  They eat up and move onto the next Seiryu on the list.  Eri asks if he is seriously going to all eight in one evening, he says yes and she doesn't have to eat as well as him.  In the next one Eri asks why he is choosing to try the gyoza.  Goto says that in his opinion it's the one food that tastes unique to each restaurant even made with the same ingrediants.

They travel from restaurant to restaurant and Eri notes the detirmination in Goto's face.  They finally only have one left to try.  "This has to be it!" exclaims Eri.  They order gyoza and Goto eats, then he says "no".  The action then jumps forward to him and Eri in bed together.  Goto goes for a bath and broods, crushing his beer can in silent frustration.

Eri gets out the phonebook to recheck the restuarants and notices something he missed.  There is one restaurant called "Shiseiryu" she excitedly tells him.  Maybe the reciept fragment was missing the "Shi" part.  Goto says nothing, but envelops her in a loving embrace.
Later Eri goes to work, so Goto goes to scout the restaurant, but doesn't go in yet.  He returns to his job on a building site where he has stashed the GPS chip under the pillow on his bed in the flophouse.  Next day he works and ponders the chip, then the site manager comes up while they are on a break and offers some leftover pro-wrestling tickets. "My chance!" thinks Goto.  He and his bunkmate Kassim go to the fight and Goto starts thinking about boxing instead and how it seemed to change over the decade he was locked up.

Goto: "It was one phony, weak-kneed 'world champion' after another.  Shamelessly talking themselves up.  Is boxing dead?"

He snaps out of his reverie and asks Kassim for a favour.  Could he look after the chip while Goto slips out for an "appointment".  Kassim agrees and Goto leaves and travels finally to Shiseiryu.

Goto enters the restaurant with some trepidation.  He orders gyoza, and surreptiously checks the place for anyone who might have noticed him.  He finally takes a bite of the dumpling and pulls a pained, then resolute face.  He has found the right restaurant at last.  He knew from the TV that the time when his evening meal was delivered was between seven and eight o'clock.  He then sees the cook hand over a large order to a delivery boy to be taken to "the usual place." 
This manga always makes me hungry.
Goto tails the delivery boy to a twelve story building nearby.  Goto gets into a lift and visits all twelve floors but none of them are the lock-up.  Convinced that this is the correct building he deduces the floor must be secret, so he returns to the flophouse to think about his next move.  He retrieves the GPS chip from Kassim who asks what it is, "a very important lucky charm" says Goto.

He decides he's going to have to do something "risky and totally reckless" now to locate the secret floor.  That evening he returns and when the delivery boy enters the lift he goes in with him.  He is also carrying the chip so whoever is monitoring him will "panic" when they see where he is.

He tells the delivery boy "same floor as you.  I'm with the gang".  The delivery boy presses the buttons for floor seven and eight at the same time and this takes them to the hidden floor 7.5, the lock-up floor.  Goto leaps over the crouching delivery boy and kicks the gun out of the lone guard's hand, knocking him out.  He then makes the delivery boy hand out all the meals to the inmates before locking him in an empty cell.  The guard comes around and Goto uses his gun to threaten him into talking and demands to know who had him locked up.
A Goto of vengeance.
The guard says he knows very little, he's no more than an "errand boy in this gang".  And has only been stationed at the lock-up for three months.  He was told Goto was their "special guest" and that someone paid three hundred million yen to have him imprisoned.  "You must'a really pissed someone off" comments the guard.  Goto asked who arranged the job, the guard says he thinks it was someone called "Saijo" but he's not sure:

Guard: "Because this lock-up business operates on a strict principle of secrecy, people trust us and we get constant requests.  It all comes down to money."

They never ask for a client's private information so there is no paper trail and things stay secret.  He thinks it was Saijo because ten years ago he got a huge promotion straight to chief.  Unfortunately for Goto, Saijo is currently serving a seven year sentence in a real prison so he won't be able to question him.  Having exhausted this line of enquiry, Goto tosses him in the same cell as the delivery boy and locks them in.  He regards the gun for a moment.

Goto: "This thing could limit the way I think, the way I act.. I'll get my revenge bare handed."
The guard faces a calmly angry Goto.
He drops it and takes the lift down to the basement.  He slips out through the parking garage thinking if he has a tail they must be in there.  He doesn't see anyone, but after he leaves Dojima's thug drops down from the ceiling.  Some of the higher ups in the gang come down and free the locked up guard and delivery boy.  When told it was Goto, one of them wonders why. "Wantin' to settle old scores?" suggest another.

Meanwhile Goto is lurking outside the building and sees Dojima's thug exit the parking garage and get into his car.  The thug checks the GPS tracker and is startled to find Goto is still nearby.  Goto comes up to his car and knocks on the window, then tells the thug "I want to speak to your boss".  The thug hesitates and looks ready to drive off, but Goto says if he leaves he'll toss the GPS chip and he'll never be found again.  So the thug lets him in the car and phones Dojima.
Dojima's thug gets a surprise.
"I found the lock-up" says Goto over the phone to Dojima who is on the bullet train with his female secretary.  Goto asks him why he had him locked up.  Dojima stays silent.  Goto asks if he is staying silent because he'll recognise his voice? "I would avoid such simple conclusions" says Dojima finally, telling Goto how would he be able to tell his voice apart from all the others he's heard in his life.  Goto asks if he'd recognise his face and that "you and I have got some kind of connection in our pasts".  Maybe, responds Dojima.  Then he states:

Dojima: "The reason I locked you away like that is because I wanted to ruin you."

Goto asks why he didn't just have him killed, but Dojima in return asks him how he kept his sanity all those years.  Goto doesn't answer either, but says they should meet up and talk face-to-face.  Suddenly the thug sets off Goto's seat's airbag and sprays something in his face that knocks him out.  Dojima tells him to take him to a hotel somewhere.  he arrives at the same hotel later and contemplates Goto sprawled unconcious on the bed.
Dojima is one creepy guy.
The next morning Goto wakes up naked and in bed next to a nude woman.  She's a prostitute hired by Dojima to have sex with Goto but he just slept all night.  She offers herself to him - "Hey I came all this way, lets screw at least once."  But Goto brushes her off and she leaves in a huff.  Are you mad Goto?  Never look a gift-ho in the mouth!  He dresses and stands looking out of the hotel window and his frown deepens.

Dojima phones his hotel phone and pretends that now he has taken his chip back his surveillance of Goto is at an end.  Goto says that Dojima failed to "ruin" him and that:

Goto: "I don't know why you hate me so much, but you've clung to me so hard this far.. I don't think you're going to let go of me now."

Dojima agrees and tells him he'll be in touch.  Goto leaves the hotel and mooches around Tokyo a bit thinking all he can do now is sit and wait.  He travels to a racetrack and makes a beeline for a bearded man placing bets on races.  The man sees him and is shocked, "You!  You're alive" he says.
Reunion with Tsukamoto.
It's now that Goto's name is revealed to the reader and the bearded man is called Tsukamoto one of Goto's best friends.  After the races they return to the bar Tsukamoto owns called "Moon Dog".  When Tsukamoto asks where Goto has been all this time, Goto evades the question by replying  "It's difficult to explain".

Goto asks about his lover at the time he disappeared, called Mitsuko.  Tsukamoto tells him that she got married six years ago and has a young daughter.  Goto says that as long as she is happy that's all that matters.  Goto then asks Tsukamoto if he knows or remembers anyone who hated him ten years ago.  Tsukamoto can't think of anyone and soon Goto has passed out from the whiskey and is sleeping face down on the bar.
Tsukamoto phones Mitsuko and tells her "Goto's alive".  She is shocked as well, and when Tsukamoto asks if she can come to the bar, she immediately agrees and gets her sister to babysit.  When she arrives at the bar, Tsukamoto explains that Goto won't say where he has been all this time and shakes Goto awake. Goto regards Mitsuko with a sad expression and they both take a walk together.

Goto: "Please believe me.  I didn't run away from you.  Someone.. set me up.  That's all I can say."

She doesn't press him any further and he muses that back then he probably would have married her.  Now though, she should forget about him, he doesn't want to hurt her family.  She asks if he needs any help, but he refuses saying "my strength is my asset".  She says at least she can treat him to a meal and they go for food.  Afterwards they part and Goto tells her to "be thankful for the life you've got."
A life that could have been.
Back with Tsukamoto, he says Goto can sleep in the bar during the day if he wants.  Goto beds down, but then Dojima calls him on the bar phone.  He tells a confused Goto, who wonders how the hell Dojima knew where he was, that he'll get him a mobile phone tommorrow so they'll have a hotline to each other.  After he hangs up, Goto prises the heel of his shoe open and finds another GPS chip inside it.  And on that revelation, book two ends.

Another pacey and exciting volume here.  Although the investigation into the lock-up turns out to be a dead end it still supplies some cool moments and as a way of drawing out Goto's stalker proves he is clever and resourceful.  However he is up against Dojima who is a master player, the only one able to screw with Goto's head and we'll find out more about the psychopathology of a man who'll pay a prostitute to sleep with the object of his obssession as the story goes on.  Getting a glimpse of Goto's life before he was imprisoned proves bittersweet, although Tsukamoto proves himself a good friend to Goto by giving a place to crash and not badgering him about things Goto obviously doesn't want to share with him. From this point onwards Dojima really starts putting the mental screws into Goto as their "game" starts to escalate.  Join me in a few days time for book three why don't you?


  1. gyoza is yummy! I want some now too :( I like the art in this book, looks a bit different from manga you usually see.

  2. Last time I went out for a meal I had veggie gyoza with dipping sauce and a huge bowl of seafood ramen for my main. I've been thinking about that meal all friggin' day thanks to this volume!

  3. I've never had gyoza but now I want some.

    If I'm ever locked up in a mysterious prison for ten years, I'm changing my shoes when I get out.

  4. Any East Asian restaurant should do a variation on gyoza, I definitely recommend it.

    I think I'd have gone completely mad in Goto's situation, especially with only Japanese telly to watch. In the film the character based on Goto tries to commit suicide several times, they just drug him, stitch him up and stick him back in the room. Horrifying.