Friday, 16 October 2015

Old Boy Book 5

"I've got zero hope of winning the game" - Goto

Time for the fifth 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:  Between the age of twenty five and thirty five, everyday guy Goto Shinichi was kidnapped and held in a private, yakuza run prison for a decade.  One day he is released as mysteriously as he was first abducted and with no idea who did this to him and who despised him enough to pay what he later finds out was three hundred million yen to have him incarcerated.  After meeting and sleeping with a young woman called Eri on his first night of freedom, Goto starts investigating who has done this to him.  His captor keeps up surveillance on him and finally contacts Goto by phone telling him this is all part of a game they are going to play with Goto needing to remember a shared incident in their teenage past that caused the man, going by the alias "Dojima", to have such hatred for him.  Dojima finally meets Goto in person when he comes to the bar - the Moon Dog - run by Goto's pal Tsukamoto and the place Goto is crashing currently, and they confront each other in person.  They spend a night fishing together on Dojima's boat and Dojima admits "The reason I locked you away for ten years is because I couldn't forgive you." He elaborates no further, telling Goto that if Goto wins their game, he will kill himself.  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]

After enjoying a sumptious breakfast on board Dojima's boat, they all return to shore.  Dojima says he'd like them to both come fishing again with him and Tsukamoto enthusiastically says yes.  Before they part, Goto and Dojima stand together contemplating the sea.  Dojima says they have both "played all the moves we can now" and that he is on course to win because Goto can't remember who he was back in their school days.
The "referee".
Tsukamoto drives Goto back into the city happy because he got Dojima's secretary Kyoko's phone number and drops him off near to the Moon Dog so he can go return the rental car.  Goto walks back to the bar and unlocks it and immediately senses someone else in the bar.  It turns out to be another of Dojima's henchmen.  The henchman removes a bug from the bar's phone saying there will be no more call for such surveillance now Goto is committed to the "game".

He describes himself as an "observer" and "referee" for the game.  Dojima wants things sped up so he has authorised him to give Goto some hints about their past.  Then Tsukamoto arrives and the referee shuts up.  Later Goto says Tsukamoto can leave and he'll lock up, so Tsukamoto departs leaving Goto and the referee alone.  Goto then throws a glass of booze in the referee's face.  The referee is unphased by this saying he isn't a violent enforcer.

Goto then muses that if they are talking about a time in school when he was messed up, it would be high school.  But the referee says no, he and Dojima met during elementary school, grade six, class B.  He asks for Goto's yearbooks and finds the picture of their class headed by an attractive female teacher.  Goto looks at the male students in the photo but try as he might, can't recall any of them hating him so much.
Who can it be?
The referee then starts talking about their teacher, Mrs Yoko Kurata.  He places a novel on the bar and says that she got a divorce and stopped being a teacher and became instead a writer of hard boiled crime fiction under the name "Yayoi Kusama".  The referee says Dojima told him she might have major clues about who Dojima was back then.  He departs leaving a pensive Goto contemplating the book he left behind.

Goto visits Yayoi Kusama's publisher the next day and requests her contact information.  Her editor comes down to the foyer to speak to him directly, he says to Goto they don't give out author's details because of stalkers and so on.  Goto says can he at least pass on Goto's contact information on to her and let her know he is one of her ex-pupils.  Her editor is interested in that revelation as he knows very little about her and her past.  He goes and phones her, then returns to Goto saying he shouldn't expect too much but he passed Goto's information on to her.
Yayoi Kusama
A week later, in the middle of the night, her editor calls Goto at the Moon Dog and tells him to go and wait at the fountain outside Shinjuku station at 0300.  If after thirty minutes she hasn't appeared, he should give up on meeting her.  Goto rushes out and waits at the fountain.  Thirty minutes pass, and just as he is about to leave, Yayoi Kusama appears.  She tells him that if he had looked like a normal, well adjusted person she would have left him alone.  But he looks like one of the troubled protagonists of her novels so she had to talk to him.

She says his reasons for getting in touch with her seem "far more desperate" than a class reunion.  She asks if he was followed as she has the experience of "someone who's lived among monsters".  They go to a hotel and Goto is hesitant, but she assures him her interest in him is not sexual.  So they get a room and share a few drinks.  Goto then asks her if she can recall someone who had "limitless hate" for him back then.

She doesn't answer but she self-describes herself as "an outlaw by nature" who only sells three thousand of her books on the first printing and doesn't allow them to be reprinted.  Then she asks Goto to "tell me all about your ordeals" and Goto brings her up to speed on the story so far across a few pages of picture only flashbacks.  He asks her again why anyone would hate the "happy laid back type" he was then.  Yayoi says that's the kind of incongruity authors love writing about.  Then she says "this man probably despises me as well".  In her opinion, this person, "I believe fears true outsiders".
Catching up with teacher.
She carries on talking, saying that as a teacher she knew everything about her pupils, even ones on the cusp of sexual desire. She then says she never met a student that had such an "ominous demenour" as the boy she believes to be Dojima.  She asks Goto what will happen when she reveals who he is.  Will Goto win the game and what will his life be like afterwards?  She then says that someone willing to pay as much as Dojima did to have Goto locked up must be messed up and have perverse inclinations, but with someone like Goto out there:

Yayoi: "He would begin to recall a lifetime's worth of shame, a lingering scar of unpleasantness.  But if you didn't exist, he would be able to rest easy without any doubts that his view of life is right.  That this world is built out of nothing but evil desires."

Goto thinks this is a fatalistic view, but she responds that Dojima's aim has been to drag Goto into this fatalistic world.  She decides to go to sleep and says she will tell Goto who she believes Dojima to be tommorrow.  So the next day Goto meets her back at the hotel room and she tells him that year Dojima was a transfer student.  This jogs Goto's memory and he says the name "Takaaki Kakinuma".  Which doesn't help Goto in the slightest as he can recall no significant contact between them!
Takaaki Kakinuma as a boy
Yayoi also can't think of any incident that might have caused Kakinuma to hate Goto so much.  When they both graduated elementary school at the end of that year they went to seperate high schools and as far as Goto can remember, had no contact with each other.  Goto thinks hard and can just about recall that Kakinuma was avoided by the other pupils, he had the air of a "middle aged investor".  He also recalls that he actively avoided thinking about Kakinuma himself, as if his thought circuits switched off when confronted by that "mysteriousness of him".  Yayoi says she has figured something out.

Yayoi: "The other students just had some indistinct aversion to his darkness so they avoided him.  You were the only one held by Takaaki Kakinuma's prescence".

She then goes on to tell Goto that one she believes Kakinuma tried to kill her by throwing a breeze block off the top of the school aimed at her.  She had no proof he did it, but her intuition told her he was the culprit.

She says she has a disposition which makes it "difficult to adpat to this society we live in".  Maybe Kakinuma saw through her and her true nature.  She too was "gripped" by Kakinuma, she was having problems in her marriage that year and it was if Kakinuma knew that.  One day she realised it would be best for Kakinuma to "die in a car accident or something".  She thought that thought the same day she was nearly killed by the concrete block.
Attempted murder.
She then tells Goto he needs to do whatever it takes to "open up that black box of your memories".  Goto still can only recall fragmentary images from that time. She gives him her number and tells him to call her if he makes any progress.  She also thinks they should keep the fact they know Dojima is really Kakinuma a secret for now.  Goto returns to the Moon Dog and is startled to find Kakinuma and his secretary already drinking there, and Kakinuma smiles and knowing smile at him.

Goto has a drink to steady his nerves, then Kakinuma asks him how their teacher is doing?  Goto says they can't talk here, so Kakinuma tells Tsukamoto he wants to borrow Goto to play an arcade game with him and they leave.  They drive to an empty building Kakinuma owns, and upstairs is a telescope.  It is trained on Yayoi's flat.  Kakinuma says the rent on a flat as luxourious as the one she is living in couldn't possibly be paid for by the royalties from her books.
He then phones her up and asks her how her work is coming along as Goto watches her take the call through the telescope.  Kakinuma notes with some glee that now Goto can't be sure if she is an ally or enemy.  Goto storms off and gets blackout drunk in another bar.  He has a dream where he is tied to a chair and a young Kakinuma is saying to him "why were you so afraid of me?"  Walking back to the Moon Dog he despairs for a moment then reaches the bar and goes inside.

Next day he ponders what he has learned about Yayoi.  "Is it all a trap?!  But it didn't look like a performance to me."  He decides to give her a call, she asks him if Kakinuma has made a move, he responds by asking her if she is keeping anything from him.  She says it sounds like they need to meet in person and she'll be waiting outside her home.  So Goto takes a taxi there and wonders how he can broach the subject of her accomodation.
Who to trust?
She invites him inside and comments that even when he was a kid she could sense his raw sex appeal, but "it seems like we have that old teacher-student relationship, huh?" Goto finally decides to be direct and says her income and lifestyle don't add up.  She tells him that an agent got in touch with her six months ago about publishing her work in the English speaking market.  She got paid fifty million yen up front for her next book.

Then she suddenly realises what Goto is driving at, that the agent could have been one of Kakinuma's puppets.  Goto says he is disappointed that her writers instinct didn't tell her that the agent was Kakinuma himself.  He says she took a call from him the previous night.  "But the agent was a woman" responds Yayoi.  She looks upset at the fact she too has been manipulated by Kakinuma dressed as an old woman and that is where this volume ends.
D'oh fooled as well!
Another excellent volume that really moves the story along.  Revealing Dojima's true identity has not resulted in Goto winning the game, and giving Goto an ally in Yayoi was a good idea as he has someone who really understands what he is up against dealing with the dark and malevolent person that is Kakinuma.  Goto's inability to recall much about him except his avoidance of him is an important plot point for a later volume, Kakinuma is dangling answers in his face but those answers only lead to more questions.  Join me in a few days time for volume six where Kakinuma really ups the stakes in his and Goto's game as Goto and Yayoi continue to try and pin down what happened that fateful year in elementary school.


  1. this is definitely different from the film, i'm interested in seeing how it all turns out!

  2. Yes it's pretty much fully divereged by now. Hopefully you won't find the climax a let down.

  3. I had to read stuff in Israel from right to left and I found it very unsettling. I probably need to get out more.

    If you can act all friendly with your enemy and they've forgotten stuff, why hate them any more? Are they even the same person? And in elementary school you're below the age of criminality, mostly, right?

    Yeah, stuff those normal, well-adjusted people!

    Wow, Takaaki Kakinuma has a big nose. Even bigger than mine.

    I say, this is all getting a bit peculiar.

    "Even when you were in primary school I could sense your sex appeal." That's right, Japan, embrace the stereotype!

  4. I actually prefer reading from right to left, I'm one of those people who always read from the back of a magazine or newspaper to the front even before I started reading unflipped manga. I have to make a concious reajustment to go back to left-to-right after reading a lot of manga. I'm just weird I think.

    Heh, at least this time it was a female teacher about a male pupil so that's different... still icky though. Bad Japan, bad!