Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Old Boy Book 6

"It's been such a long time" - Kakinuma

Time for the sixth 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:  Locked up for ten years in a yakuza run prison, a "sentence" paid for by a rich man going by the alias "Dojima", Goto Shinichi is released once his sentence is over, none the wiser for the reasons why he should have been imprisoned.  After meeting and sleeping with a young woman called Eri on his first night of freedom he reunites with an old friend called Tsukamoto who owns a bar called "Moon Dog" where he lets Goto stay for now.  Dojima contacts Goto and tells him that it was an incident in their shared past that made Dojima hate him so much.  Thanks to the hints he drops, Goto gets in touch with their old elementary school teacher now writing crime thrillers under the name Yayoi Kusama.  She and Goto meet and once she hears his story she tells him Dojima must be an "ominous" kid called Takaaki Kakinuma which doesn't help Goto as he can't recall anything that might have made Kakinuma hate him, only that he tried to avoid him as much as possible.  Kakinuma then tries to put doubts in Goto's head about her alleigance to him as he is in fact her literary agent, although when Goto tells Yayoi this she tells him her agent is a woman, but must have been Kakinuma in disguise.  She also thinks Kakinuma hates her too and has manipulated her just as much as Goto. The stakes in the game are high, Kakinuma has agreed to kill himself if Goto can remember the one incident that he could not forgive... 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]

Still shocked by the revelation that she was duped by Kakinuma, Goto tells her that Kakinuma has her home under surveillance as well.  She chides Goto for thinking that she'd sold him out.  She ruminates that this is all so strange she's lost confidence in writing fiction.  Goto asks what name the disguised Kakinuma went by, "Grace Mizukoshi" replies Yayoi.
"Grace Mizukoshi"
Goto tells her he doesn't blame her for being set-up by Kakinuma.  She says she feels like Kakinuma "really knew how to hit me where it counted".  Just like when he was a kid.  Then a delivery man knocks on the door and hands over a box.  Inside is the wig and rubber mask of "Grace Mizukoshi".  Yayoi takes the mask away and goes and puts it on.  She returns to Goto who says "you could have fooled even me".

With her still in the old lady drag they go out for a meal together.  She says Goto must look like a "rich gigolo who's speciality is rich old ladies."  They have their meal and suddenly Kakinuma's "referee" shows up soon after Goto tells her they are probably under surveillance.  The referee takes them to a private bar where Kakinuma is waiting, Yayoi goes to the powder room to remove the disguise, leaving Goto and Kakinuma alone together.

Kakinuma: "It's like a dream.  An extremely private class reunion.  A beautiful teacher and two of her male students transcending space and time to meet again."

Goto fiercely demands to know again why Kakinuma hates him, but Kakinuma says that'll be the theme of this evening.  Out of the disguise, Yayoi joins them and Kakinuma finally confirms that is his real identity.
It surely is Yayoi.
Kakinuma asks the referee to make a ruling in his and Goto's game.  The referee says Kakinuma has won and Kakinuma sends him away.  Goto admits that it was Yayoi who remembered who Kakinuma was so he agrees that he has lost.

Goto: "It's bizarre but any memory of you is completely gone".

Kakinuma snaps that he wants Goto to call him by his name and not just "you" all the time.  He then tells him that during their school days "I'll be damned if I was ever a threat to you."
Kakinuma's sore spot.
Goto asks if what he did to Kakinuma was violent.  Yayoi says she thought Kakinuma was a "problem child" back then.  Kakinuma says he broke no school rules "you just didn't like me.  It was an instinctive aversion, right?"  She agrees and goes on to say she hated him.  Kakinuma says he's pleased when a woman "tells me straight what she likes and dislikes".  Goto thinks some more and asks if he did something "to scar you so decisively without realising it?"  Kakinuma says "yes" and scowls.

Kakinuma says that as the winner of their game he has won the right to kill Goto.  He then hurls his glass of booze into the back of the bar saying "there is no ecstasy in winning like this.. we're going into sudden death."  Yayoi asks him why he made Goto his target and not just her.  Kakinuma gives them a potted history of his life as an adult.  He made his money during the speculative property bubble and withdrew all his money so didn't lose anything when the bubble burst.

After that he lost motivation for a while then he remembered Goto "that fervent soul respected by everyone."  He decided to erase the humiliation he suffered during his time in Yayoi's class.  Yayoi says his greed for money was replaced by greed for revenge.  Kakinuma says it was "deeper and more important, perhaps tied to my very identity."
Goto in his old life.
When he had a detective report back on the life Goto was leading now Kakinuma couldn't believe he was living such a humble existance after being so "exceptional" at school.  Goto says that was only Kakinuma's impression of him.  Kakinuma asks Yayoi what she thought of Goto back then.

Yayoi: "Out of the whole class, you two were the ones who stood out.  Like each of you was embracing an extreme.  The sun and the moon, that's the best metaphor for it."

And Goto was the positive sun to Kakinuma's negative moon, correct?  She affirms this to be the case.  Kakinuma says it's that perspective on people "that I want to topple to the core."  Goto asks if that him deciding to live a quiet, simple life made him a hypocrite.  Kakinuma says yes and now all Goto needs to do to win the game is remember what he did to Kakinuma, so the game continues.

Goto then asks what Kakinuma's motivation was in paying Yayoi to write a new book.  Kakinuma says his original plan was to sneer at the finished manuscript and rip it up in front of Yayoi's face.  But he then decided he could use Yayoi in his game with Goto and changed up his plans accordingly.
Kakinuma's original revenge plan.
Yayoi says she'll pay back the advance he gave her, but Kakinum says fifty million yen is "pocket change" to him.  He says she is going to write a new book:

Kakinuma: "About a proxy war between God and the Devil.  Between Goto and me.  A transcript of the game if you will.  Although which one is fighting for God and which for the Devil I don't know!!"

He then changes the subject and asks "would you like to see a dead body?"  He says if he allows Goto to continue into the sudden death round he has to kill someone, so shall he show them the body?

They all drive to a canal and to Goto's horror it's Tsukamoto floating in it apparently dead.  Goto grabs Kakinuma in a rage and threatens to throw him off the bridge, unflustered Kakinuma says this should enocurage Goto to search his memory harder.  He then says if Goto officially accepts his offer of a sudden death round he'll bring the body back to life.  A bewildered Goto agrees and Kakinuma reveals that Tsukamoto has just been drugged and fitted with a life jacket so he'll float.
Tsukamoto gets dragged into the "war".
Goto says he should just kill him if he is going to kill anyone.  "To think you could treat your life so flippantly" responds Kakinuma.  He then walks off and Goto and Yayoi go to the Moon Dog bar.  Yayoi says it probably isn't safe to talk there so they go to another bar to discuss what has happened.  Yayoi asks Goto "who's the person it would hurt you the most to lose?"  Goto immediately thinks of Eri.

Yayoi thinks Eri will be Kakinuma's trump card so they must get her out of his clutches.  They return to the Moon Dog and find Tsukamoto there none the wiser for his dip in the canal.  He thinks he just passed out drunk, not realising he was drugged.  Next day Yayoi and Goto put into operation a plan to get Eri to safety.

Goto phones Eri and tells her that a man will come to the door in a moment and to do as he says.  A handsome young man in motorcycle leathers knocks on her door and tells her that Goto asked him to get her to safety.  They drive off and are tailed by Kakinuma's henchman, but the motorcyclist manages to lose him in the traffic, when they arrive at their destination he changes the plates on his bike back and tells her it wasn't Goto who sent him but an "ally".
Time for Eri to go into hiding.
Later Yayoi calls Goto on a "back alley" mobile phone which she thinks can't be intercepted.  She tells Goto she's had Eri taken to a pool hall on the outskirts of Tokyo.  Eri seems happy enough to be there, helping out the elderly owner and has a room to sleep in there too.  The motorcyclist told her "there's no safer place to hide a person inside of Tokyo as long as you don't leave the area."

Yayoi tells Goto that place is where she hid out for a while after writing about the criminal underworld put her life in danger.  The motorcyclist was a man who is a big fan of hers and she believes Eri will be safe from Kakinuma for now.

They continue their phone conversation.  She asks Goto why he didn't go to the police after his ordeaal and why he has let himself become Kakinuma's plaything.  He says before he was locked up his "boring, ordinary life had killed any hopes in me."  So he was able to endure his imprisonment and because he wasn't killed he knew his enemy would reveal himself to him at some point.  She apologises "Of course.  Outsiders don't call the police."  Goto says he doesn't like calling what's going on a game, "this is a war".
Goto ruminates on what's happening.
We get some flashbacks to his childhood and what little he can recall of Kakinuma. He says that if Kakinuma was going to hate someone there are plenty who made fun of his looks or coordination.  "Not once did I exchange a word with Kakinuma" he says.

Yayoi asks if he realised he was a popular kid in elementary school?  Goto says he didn't realise his strengths until junior high.  She says she initially thought Kakinuma picked him just because he was the popular one but it is definitely Goto specifically he hates with a passion.
Eri fitting in easily.
We the get a look at how Eri is getting along where she is hiding out.  She is popular with the clientele and is her usual happy self.  Goto wanders round Tokyo that afternoon trying to jog his memory.  Meanwhile Kakinuma's henchmen reports in that he lost Eri.  Kakinuma calls Yayoi "quite resourceful" and when his henchman apologises, Kakinuma just seems pleased the other side have made the first move in their sudden death round.

Later that night Goto goes to the beach and decides to sit and contemplate the sea in silence until he recovers his lost memories.  And he does have a breakthrough.  He remembers there was one class Yayoi didn't teach, it was music, and for some reason that feels significant.  And there volume six ends.
A man, a beach and memories.
The battle between Kakinuma on one side and Goto and Yayoi on the other takes some interesting turns in this volume.  Yayoi proves to be a valuable ally, no wonder Kakinuma says his intent with her was to provide him with a "handicap". Interesting that the three main characters now are all "outsiders" in society, though only Goto had that outsiderdom forced upon him unwillingly. Upping the stakes by threatening Goto's friends and his lover snaps Goto out of his somewhat passive attitude towards Kakinuma and forces him on the initiative.  In their lengthy coversations we have it hammered into us that as far as Kakinuma believes, he and Goto represent opposites and he won't rest until Goto is as corrupted as he is.  The final revelation in the book that music is somehow significant to the incident Kakinuma has been alluding to will form a major part of the final two volumes as things start to come to a head in their "war" with each other.  Join me in a few days time as we find out how a simple tune might hold the key to everything that has happened so far.


  1. this is all very intriguing, though I can see why the film left so much out, they never would have fit it all in!

  2. Yeah the film is definitely what TV Tropes calls a "Pragmatic Adaptation" which is cool. Same scenario, very different storylines both have their good points.

  3. I'm awfully sorry, but I lost interest in Old Boy 'cos it's just going on for eleventy million years, and it's all about some random stuff that happened in primary school, and the villain's motivation doesn't convince me. So it's 100% not the fault of your reviews, which are a true and faithful record of the books, but it is the fault of the books themselves. If Superman turns up and zaps stuff with heat vision, or if Judge Dredd arrives and arrests everybody, or if the hero turns out to have been Mystique all along... then I might change my mind.

    TL;DR: I'm a Philistine incapable of appreciating the subtleties and nuances of manga.

  4. No worries, it's decompressed even for a manga, it really works read in one go, but I can imagine people following it at the time were tearing their hair out at how slow it is.