Sunday, 11 October 2015

Old Boy Book 4

"I was afraid of myself" - Goto

Time for the fourth 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:  Imprisoned for ten years in a private yakuza run jail which was paid for by a man going by the alias "Dojima", thirty five year old Shinichi Goto is released one night without warning and starts his quest to discover who and why felt the need to punish him so.  After hooking up and sleeping with a young woman called Eri on his first night of freedom he finds himself under constant survelleilance by a hired thuggish henchman and GPS chips implanted in his body and clothes.  He manages to discover the floor of the building he was held on and started on a plan to infiltrate the yakuza to discover more, but Dojima shut down that line of inquiry which turned out to be a dead end anyway.  Now the "game" is just between Dojima and Goto. Goto is currently crashing at a bar called Moon Dog run by an old friend of his, a jovial fellow called Tsukamoto.  At the end of the last volume, Goto was put in the weird position of having to have sex with a woman and make her orgasm so she could reveal a post-hypnotic suggestion that would provide a major clue for him.  He obliges her and is told "Remember...your teen years".  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]

The woman he nailed leaves the bar saying there is no point in following her, she knows nothing else.  Later Goto wander round Shinjuku pondering her clue.  He calls Tsukamoto who arrives at a meeting place with him and Goto asks him if he could get his yearbooks - Elementary, Junior High and High School from his parents place.  When Tsukamoto asks if this has something to do with his missing ten years, Goto says nothing.
Talking with Goto must be frustrating some times.
Tsukamoto obliges and goes to Goto's parent place.  He finds out that it's just Goto's father now, his mother passed from lung cancer six years ago.  Goto's father order in sushi and they share a meal.  Unable to tell him Goto is alive, Tsukamoto requests the books making a somewhat lame story up about Goto's friends meeting up and wanting to remember him.  But Goto's father hands them over without question.

Back at the Moon Dog bar, Tsukamoto gives Goto the yearbooks and tells him is mother is dead.  Goto looks sad for a moment then responds with an "I see."  Later that night he breaks into his old high school, hoping it can help jog his memory.  He goes to his classroom and recalls how he used to enjoy sitting by the window.  He wanders about before leaving in frustration.

Goto: "It's hopeless.  I don't remember anything that would make someone hate me."

He goes to Eri's place and meets her as she returns home from work.  She is very pleased to see him. He warns her he is probably still under surveillance but she doesn't care and tells him not to worry on her account.

Goto: "For some reason I wanted to be near this girl's positivity so badly I could hardly stand it."
With Eri again.
He spreads out his yearbooks back in her flat, he says he can't recall anyone hating him back then.  Eri says the person might not hate him, what if he liked him?  What if he wanted him?  What if his love got twisted?  "I'm not a homo" stammers Goto.  Eri says the attraction was one-sided. "He loved you all by himself."  And a scowling Goto with Eri holding onto him regards his yearbooks afresh.

Finally Goto snaps "It can't be possible" and Eri decides to change the subject.  She asks what he was like in school.  Goto says he wasn't a "bookworm" nor was he a "deliquent" and "I just kept to myself."  Eri encourages him to dig further and Goto says "It feels painful somehow, to remember these things."  We then get a look outside at Dojima, who is in a van listening in via the bug in Eri's flat.
Dojima watches from afar.
Goto and Eri go out and Eri says she wants to go for a boat ride.  They row a boat out into the middle of a lake and enjoy their lunch.  Dojima and his henchman observe them from the shore.  Eri then tells Goto she doesn't think it's safe to talk in her flat, hence the boat ride.  Goto apologises for the imposition in her life, but she tells him that she doesn't mind and she hopes one day he'll win his "war" so they can "be lovers for real." He the carries on talking about his teen years and admits he was afraid.

Goto: "I felt somehow I wasn't cut out right for the world we live in.  That someday I might end up doing something terrible."

Dojima's thug lip reads this to Dojima who thinks to himself "impossible!".  Goto says he dealt with these feelings by deciding to "live the most subdued and ordinary life I could."

He graduated high school and got a job at a small ad agency.  For eight years he lived a normal life.  Then he has a sense of foreboding, that the thing he had a lid on had launched a "counter attack".  He became a drunk and a gambler until one day he woke up in the cell and was locked up there for ten years.  Goto says "it's too bizarre", but Eri assures him she still believes him.
His nightmare begins.
Dojima and his henchman sit in the car.  Dojima asks if he is at all curious about what Dojima is doing.  The henchman says it's not his place to question his employer.  Dojima then tells him after a minor accident a few years ago he has plastic surgery on his face  and "became a completely new man".

Later Goto returns to the Moon Dog alone.  He sits at the end of the bar deep in thoguht and doesn't notice when Dojima comes and sits next to him and sets up a "Bottle keep" (reserving a specific bottle for his use only).  Dojima's secretary arrives much to the delight of Tsukamoto, "I don't see a knockout like that every day".

She sits and drinks with Dojima.  As the bar fills up, Goto goes to play mahjong.  When he returns to the now empty bar, Tsukamoto tells him about the woman and how come Goto didn't notice her nor the man sat next to her?  Later Goto is sleeping on the floor of the bar when he wakes in a cold sweat.  He goes to get a drink and notices the bottle with "Alias Dojima" written on it.
Name on bottle: "Alias Dojima".
Goto is confused and tries to picture the man but thinks that he has never seen him in his life before.  Next day he and Tsukamoto go out for a meal.  Tsukamoto says he hopes Dojima and the woman become regulars, "I might get my chance someday."  Goto doesn't recall her.  Tsukamoto says him being gone for ten years has "deadened all the sexual urges you are supposed to feel when you see a woman!"  Oh if only he knew.  Goto tells him to phone him at the mahong parlor next time she comes in:

Goto: "I'll take a good look at her next time as part of my sexual rehabilitation."

Three days later, she returns.  Tsukamoto phones Goto, then he starts chatting with her.  She says she doesn't want to say too much about what Dojima does, only that he's an executive with a certain "venture business."  She comments that Dojima has taken a liking to the bar.  Goto arrives and Tsukamoto introduces her to him, she gives her name as Kyoko Kataoka.  She then takes a call from Dojima saying he'll be there in ten minutes.  And Goto stiffens his resolve for the coming confrontation with a few drinks.

Dojima enters and the atmosphere gets tense.  Smiling Dojima introduces himself to Goto as "Alias Dojima".  Goto mumbles his name in return.  Tsukamoto thinks using an alias is cool.  Goto thinks "we've spoken on the phone so many times, that's not his voice." They all drink some more then Kyoko asks if Tsukamoto does food. He only has snacks so Kyoko and he go to a nearby sushi place to grab something to eat leaving Goto and Dojima alone.
The first meeting.
Dojima then calls the bar phone on his mobile and demonstrates how his mobile shifts his voice up an octave so he is definitely the man Goto has been talking to.  Now sure of his identity, Goto grabs him and pushes him up against the wall.

Goto: "Why?!  What's your grudge against me?"

Dojima says he can go ahead and kill him but he'll never solve the mystery then.  Kyoko and Tsukamoto return with food and they all, bar Goto, tuck in.  Dojima says he and Goto "really get along" and they'll go fishing on his boat one day soon.  Day dawns and Kyoko and Dojima leave.  Tsukamoto wonders if they are sleeping together.  Tsukamoto then comments that Goto and Dojima must have had a really good talk while he was getting food. "Yeah we really hit it off, like old friends" sighs Goto and pours another drink.

Later, alone in the bar, Goto is totally drunk.  He phones Eri and tells her "my enemy showed himself."  He got wasted because he couldn't stand it.  He apologises for calling her in such a state.  She says she now thinks Goto was imprisoned for one reason:

Eri: "No one these days knows what it means to live any more.  But you're different with your idillyic manliness.  That's why he made you a target.  Don't you see?  This man, your enemy's reason for living is you."
Drunken phonecalls, always fun to get.
Goto asks her what he should do?  She says to not be provoked and hurry up and remember what he is supposed to.  We then jump forward a few days to Dojima, Kyoko, Tsukamoto and Goto all in a car on the way to Dojima's boat to do some fishing.  Tsukamoto coming courtesy of Goto's request.

On the boat, Tsukamoto has fun fishing and flirting with Kyoko.  Goto sits apart, sulking.  At dinner, Kyoko says Dojima has taken a real liking to the Moon Dog "[It's] got this jazzy, bluesy feel about it doesn't it?"  Goto thinks Dojima is getting Tsukamoto in his pocket so he'll have an excuse to stay in contact with Goto.  Tsukamoto asks if he can stay and do some night fishing, Dojima agrees.  That night Dojima and Goto sit together and talk.

Dojima: "The reason I locked you away for ten years is because I couldn't forgive you."

"For what?!" responds Goto.  Dojima says that acknowledging that a man like Goto exists makes me "nothing more than a vile pervert."  Are you gay, asks Goto?  "No that's not it" says Dojima.  Then why lock me up, asks Goto again?

Dojima: "'If only you didn't exist' in my teen years that's all I thought about."

Dojima and Goto fish at night.
Dojima says they were classmates, but Goto says he's never seen him before.  Angrily Goto says "no more bullshit" and threatens Dojima with physical harm.  Dojima just laughs and asks if he "has what it takes to be a killer?"  He then takes out a small pistol and holds it to his own head.  He offers it to Goto who refuses it.  Dojima reiterates that threats of violence are "meaningless" and tosses the gun in the sea.

He then says he wants he and Goto to have an "equal match" and that if Goto recalls what he wants him to, he'll kill himself.  He then offers money to Goto to start a business and get back on his feet.  But Goto refuses his money, and says he will remember what Dojima wants him to and they shake hands on it.

Dojima then tells him about his plastic surgery and that he also won't recall his voice because he was a "sullen and silent child".  They call it a night and the next day Goto comes down for breakfast and Dojima is out swimming in the sea.  And thus ends book four exactly halfway through the storyline.
It's that moon again.
This volume is another atmospheric one, quite a bit of it is just silent establishing of time and place via Nobuaki Minegishi's gritty and realistic art.  The long awaited meeting of Goto and Dojima shows just how in control of the "game" Dojima is now.  You can almost feel Goto's frustration's boiling off the page as Dojima drops little hints here and there. It's also interesting, in retrospect to see Dojima refusing to believe Goto was an isolated child himself.  And Goto's fear of what he might turn into almost turns his time in prison into a way of saving him from that shadow self as Goto learned self control and some measure of inner equilibrium there.  The next volume sees the final major character introduced, a woman from Goto and Dojima's shared past, so join me in a few days to find out who she is.


  1. idillyic manliness, lol! what does that mean?! good story still though. :)

  2. Yes, I must admit that wording is a bit odd. I can only assume it's an attempt to translate something from Japanese that English doesn't really have the right words for. I think it just means Goto is one sexy chunk of rugged manhood.

  3. An idyll is a perfect, blissful situation. I first heard the word 'idyllic' on a cassette of Peter Pan describing the life of Wendy and the Lost Boys in Neverland.

    I like drunken/high phonecalls because then the other person will be all, like, hyper-affectionate. Got one once saying "I adore you."

  4. Goto is one perfect, blissful dude. I get what Eri is saying, but the word choice is somewhat odd. I have listened to a couple of anime audio commentaries with the translators talking and from what I gather the Japanese language relies so much on allusion and allegory and non-direct referencing that it is one pain in the backside to put it into English while still keeping the meaning intact.

    I never get drunk phonecalls. Mainly because I tend to leave my phone off the hook and have no mobile. Ah well.