Saturday, 24 October 2015

Old Boy Book 7

"This is truly a stimulating night after all" - Kakinuma

Time for the seventh 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: Goto Shinichi, an ordinary, everyday guy was kidnapped one night ten years ago and held in a private, yakuza run prison.  His prison term was paid for by a rich man going by the alias Dojima who hates Goto due to a certain event in their past.  After he is released, Goto meets up and sleeps with a young woman called Eri, whose happy positivity he likes to be around.  He later reunites with an old friend called Tsukamoto who owns a bar called "Moon Dog" and who lets Goto crash there.  Dojima gets in touch with Goto and starts playing a game where he drops hints to try and lead Goto to the memory of what he did to scar him so.  Narrowing it down to his time in his final year at elementary school, Goto gets in touch with his old teacher who now writes crime thrillers under the name Yayoi Kusama.  After hearing his story she tells him Dojima must be an isolated child called Kakinuma.  Goto, Yayoi and Kakinuma end up all meeting together and Kakinuma escalates the threat of the game by pretending to have Tsukamoto killed.  Realising Eri will be his most likely target for a real murder, Yayoi arranges for her to hide out in a Tokyo pool hall that's off the criminal radar.  Goto goes to the beach to search his memory in quiet contemplation and realises that somehow the one lesson Yayoi didn't teach - music - is significant.  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]

Goto phones Yayoi with his information regarding the music lesson.  Yayoi remembers that the elementary school put a lot of energy into the choral group, a male teacher taught them and students from each class were chosen to perform.  Goto was one, Kakinuma was not.  Goto says that is no reason to hate someone.  Yayoi agrees but also says it must be important.  She asks him what Kakinuma's voice was like when he sang the test song.  Goto says apart from this one flash he can't recall the music room at all.  Yayoi says she can hunt down the teacher and find out what the test song was.  Goto returns to the Moon Dog and waits.
Drinking in the Moon Dog.
That night he and Tsukamoto are enjoying a drink when Kakinuma and his secretary Kyoko come in to the bar. Kakinuma makes a veiled reference to them getting Eri out of his clutches.  At that moment Yayoi phones Goto on his mobile.  Goto takes the call and proffers the phone to Kakinuma.  Kyoko takes Tsukamoto out to go get some food, Kakinuma tells Yayoi to come join them at the bar, she agrees.  "There is an expectant atmosphere.  The beauty of the brink of extinction in the air" Kakinuma says.  Goto thinks they can now confront Kakinuma with their new lead.

Kyoko and Tsukamoto return with Taiwanese hors d'ourves, yummy.  They all tuck in while waiting for Yayoi.  Kyoko sneaks into the toilet and calls Kakinuma's henchman.  Yayoi enters the bar and sits between Goto and Kakinuma, "a flower in each hand" she comments.  Yayoi mentions the music teacher and Kakinuma scowls,  meanwhile his henchman breaks into Yayoi's flat.

Kakinuma introduces Yayoi to Tsukamoto as an author.  Tsukamoto wonders if he should get an autograph, but she says she is "super unknown."  More people arrives at the bar, so Goto, Kyoko, Yayoi and Kakinuma leave to make room.  Kakinuma says that Goto doesn't want Tsukamoto knowing about their relationship.
Confronting Kakinuma.
Kakinuma sends Kyoko home.  Then Yayoi asks him if something happened in the music room.  "Exactly" he replies.  But that he has "confidence that Goto will never remember 'the incident' as long as he lives."  He accuses them of hypocrisy again then walks off saying they need to have a meeting without him and when they meet in the Moon Dog again they can use his real name now.

Yayoi and Goto go to another bar and over drinks she tells him that the music teacher passed away five years ago from cancer.  But she didn't give up, she got in touch with another student in that year and found out the name of the test song "Hana no Machi - Town Of Flowers."  She says it's such a famous song even she can sing it.  Goto wracks his brains but cannot recall the melody at all.  Yayoi takes him to a late night CD shop and picks out a CD with it on and asks the shop assisstant to play it.  As Goto listens he imagines himself being sucked through space into the moon.
Over the valley of the rainbow colours
Flowing along ribbon of the wind
In a ring, in a ring
We galloped away!
We saw the beautiful sea
Overflowing the town of flowers
In a ring, in a ring
We danced away!
With spring! With spring!
We danced away!

After hearing it Goto says he always liked the tune.  Yayoi asks if he can sing it, but he looks embarrassed.  She takes him to a karaoke club and they go into a private booth.  A man who has been shadowing them sits outside and records what is going on inside.

Kakinuma's henchman returns with a camera full of photos of Yayoi's handwritten notes and copies of her floppy discs.  He says he can't analyse it because fiction holds no interest for him.  Curious, Kakinuma asks if he likes movies, but Mr. Henchman says the only things that move him emotionally are war documentaries and footage of Nazi Germany.  Kakinuma says he'll check over the stuff himself.
Yayoi rockin' out
Back with Yayoi and Goto, she sings a "warm up" song as Kakinuma checks her work to find out where Eri is being kept.  Yayoi finishes her song and offers Goto the mike to sing Town Of Flowers.  But he says he can't recall the tune at all even though he just heard it in the shop.  She sings it instead, but this pains Goto until he stands up and yells "STOP!!". She does so and he says that "I swear I'll make myself able to sing in eventually".  Yayoi responds:

Yayoi: "The moment you sing 'Town Of Flowers'... that moment, this game.. this war... will end". 

It's morning, so Yayoi returns home, while Goto goes back to the Moon Dog and Kakinuma works on analysing Yayoi's notes.  Yayoi sees that she left her floppies out and although she didn't specify where Eri is, it was "incautious of me".  Kakinuma's henchman delivers the recording of the karaoke session and Kakinuma asks him if he narrowed Eri's location down to one locale could he finds her?  The henchman responds that his spy network includes the police so he probably could.  Kakinuma says that she's on "the left bank of the Sumida river."  He gleaned this from slight clues and biases in Yayoi's notes, and we get a look at Eri, still happily living and working in the pool hall at that location.
Eri hunted.
Police and other shady characters start asking around where Eri is.  One of the pool hall regulars calls to Eri and warns her about what his happening.  He says he can get her away from this place, but Eri assures him she isn't a criminal she just ran away from home so she'll be OK.  Once alone she contemplates the phone and thinks "Mister, what should I do?"

Kakinuma reads some analysis of himself in Yayoi's notes, she has noticed he is left handed but has tried hard to cover this fact up,  Kakinuma is annoyed that she has discovered this. Finally Eri phones Goto at the bar, he tells her to call him on his mobile in a few minutes and goes outside to take the call.  She tells him people are looking for her so he says he'll shake his tail and come find her.  He races through the streets, climbing and jumping from buildings until the person following him loses him.  He takes a taxi to the pool hall and he and Eri share a warm embrace.
Goto and Eri reunited for a short while.
She asks him why the police are searching for her and Goto admits "the situation is really complicated."  He phones Yayoi who is surprised Eri has been found, she sends the motorcyclist from the last volume to take Eri away to a new location that neither she nor Goto will know about to prevent inadvertant leaks.  Eri waves Goto goodbye and as she is driven off he is left alone looking very folorn.

He returns to thinking about the song.  He knows the words, but why can't he sing it?  He passes the time playing mahjong while the henchman tells Kakinuma that Eri has disappeared again.

Kakinuma: "Their side is quite the match, such terribly exquisite offensive and defensive maneuveres.  Just as I imagined.  No, moreso.  The game's unfolding thrills me!"

Eri ends up at a farm in a rural area close to Tokyo.  She once again settles in fast and the people there take to her immediately.  Yayoi is out shopping when Kakinuma's henchman appears and offers to carry her basket.  He tells her he is here at his "own discretion".  He asks that she trust him and could they go back to her flat and talk?
The henchman switches side.
They do so, and he admits to breaking into her place and copying her notes, "this isn't an apology.  I was doing my job".  Yayoi is taken aback then she says "understood, now talk".  He rambles a bit about how in his intelligence jobs he lost all faith in the politicians of the country and ended up yielding to self-loathing and working for Kakinuma.  But now he believes "this futile game should be ended quickly."

Yayoi is suspicious saying there is no way he'd betray Kakinuma.  He tells her that Kakinuma discovered Eri's location from her notes, that his "powers of insight are almost pathological."  Yayoi says he needs to show her some proof he intends to double-cross Kakinuma, or get out.  So he admits "the girl Eri, she's dangerous."  She was "scouted" by Kakinuma as well as him.
Oh but it can be.
Yayoi is shocked by this revelation saying Goto and Eri met by chance.  But as she protests she realises the truth in what he says.  The henchman says that Yayoi was pulled into the game to make things more interesting, Eri was as well.  we then cut to Eri calling Goto to tell him not to worry about her and that she is being looked after by kind people and could he "end this war soon and come and get me!"  Just a little longer reassures Goto.

The henchman leaves his card with Yayoi and she broods over what he has told her.  Next day she calls him up and he returns to her flat to talk some more.  He says Kakinuma had set some things up before he employed him, like implanting the tracking chips.  He also believes the meeting with Eri was set up well in advance and it was achieved via hypnosis.  He has a good idea who did it as well.

He took the woman who Goto had to have sex with in book 3 to unlock a clue to a female hypnotist and he believes she also hypnotised Eri and Goto into meeting and falling in love.  In frustration Yayoi says she doesn't understand why Kakinuma doesn't claim his victory as Goto can't recall the incident.  The henchman says Kakinuma prolonging the game is "precisely my reason for no longer want to be involved in this affair."  He then takes her to the hypnotist who is performing a show and here volume seven ends.
Yayoi at the sexy hypnotist's show.
Once again this book moves the plot along significantly.  The revelation of the song and Goto's continual blanking on it, along with the revelation that hypnotism has been involved shows that for all his handicaps and clues, Kakinuma has stacked the deck from the start.  Eri being hypnotised explains her desperation to have sex with Goto as soon as they met which was so strange when it happened in book one.  The woman Goto had to have sex with being hypnotised as well was an early indication of this aspect of the plot having future significance and with the henchman's defection to the "other side", all the pieces are in place ready for the endgame in the final volume to come.  So please join me in a few days time as Old Boy wraps up with the "war" between Goto and Kakinuma concluding with an outright winner, but who will it be..?


  1. ooh major cliffhanger! really curious to see how this all ends now it's so different from the film.

  2. I must admit I was buying the books at a rate of one a fortnight and I too was very intrigued as to where it was all going to end.

  3. "A flower in each hand" is a good compliment. I'll have to squirrel it away for future use.

    Technology in the 90s was very square, wasn't it? Reminds me of the combined vinyl player, cassette player and radio we had as a child. I kind of miss it now, even though it was big enough to be one of those huge old-fashioned computers with spinning wheels.

    Interesting fact: speech is represented phonetically to show that a character is lower class, uneducated or slightly seedy. This is despite the fact that "Hurry up 'n pack yer bags!" is how anybody from any social background would talk if they were in a hurry.

    Eri has a lovely face. If she and Goto have kids I hope the kids inherit her nose.

    Ooh, that sexy hypnotist looks like Zatanna. Strangely, the thing I wished for in my last comment has actually come true. Spooky. In this comment I think I will wish for a million pounds.

  4. She does look like Zatanna doesn't she?

    Interesting commment about rendering speech, I've checked out the new translation of the Dragonball manga and it's been redone to reflect the rougher uneducated speech of the main character when my original copy of the first volume just has everyone speaking normally.

  5. Decisions like that are political rather than stylistic, because only a tiny minority of people sound every consonant and syllable 'correctly' when they talk. For most people, "Hurry up and pack your bags!" will come out as "Hurry up 'n' pack yer bags!", unless you're an announcer reading the news on Radio 4.

  6. I think Japanese is slightly different there doesn't seem to be the variation in accents that you find in the UK. So in translations characters either speak perfect English or drop their letters and rendering anything in between is somewhat impossible.