Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Old Boy Book 8

"...By the end of this night, one of us is going to be dead" - Kakinuma

Time for the eighth and final 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 Star Trek The Next Generation: "Mr. Worf, dispatch a subspace message to Admiral Hanson. We have engaged the Bo..." no wait that's wrong.  Start again. Previously on Old Boy: Imprisoned for ten years in a yakuza run prison, his sentence paid for by a rich man going by the alias "Dojima", ordinary bloke Goto Shinichi is finally released with no idea what he did to inspire such hatred.  That first night of freedom he meets and sleeps with a young woman called Eri who begs him to have sex with her.  After some time under surveillance Goto and Dojima meet and Dojima challenges Goto to remember what he did to him in the past, if he can do so, Dojima will kill himself. If he can't, Dojima will kill Goto.  Crashing at a bar called "Moon Dog" owned by a friend called Tsukamoto, Goto follows the clues Dojima gives him and gets in touch with his old elemntary school teacher now a writer called Yayoi Kusama.  She joins the "game" figuring out Dojima is actually called Kakinuma.  Kakinuma had also planned revenge on her too, but decided instead to have her join with Goto to make things more challenging for him.  Goto searches his memory and finally thinks the incident Kakinuma hates him for is to do with music and with Yayoi's help they discover they both tried out for the choir, singing a test song called "Town Of Flowers".  Goto has also had Eri taken into hiding to protect her from Kakinuma but at the end of the last volume, Kakinuma's henchman contacts Yayoi because he is tired of this "game" and reveals Eri was hypnotised and her supposedly chance meeting with Goto set up by Kakinuma for reasons yet unknown...  And now the conclusion.

[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 hypnotist is called Suzanne Hirose.  Yayoi sends her some flowers after the performance so Suzanne asks to meet her to express her gratitude.  Yayoi comes backstage and Suzanne invites her out for a drink.  They hit a bar and after a couple of rounds, Suzanne says "this is about floor 7.5 isn't it?" (that was the floor of the prison Goto was kept on).  Yayoi asks how she knows and Suzanne says she seems "over-motivated", just like the man back then who asked her to perform hypnosis for a great deal of money.

Suzanne: "Could you take a risk? I'm a 100% twenty-four karat lesbian.  If you sleep with me I guess I might talk."
Yayoi and Suzanne go drinking.
Yayoi is lost for words, then Suzanne says she's only joking, she knows Yayoi is straight. Also I think I might start self-describing as a "100% twenty-four karat lesbian" whenever I meet new people.  Just to make things super awkward.  Anyway,  she then tells Yayoi she'll confess her role up to a point and that her first job was to make sure she could come and go from floor 7.5 freely which she did by hypnotising the guard.  After that she had access to Goto whenever Kakinuma wanted.  And over a series of days she planted a post-hypnotic suggestion in Goto's mind.

Goto meanwhile has gone to the Moon Dog to find Kakinuma there.  Kakinuma refers obliquely to "her" (Eri) being hidden from him and now it's time to "set a limit on our sudden death round."  He drugs Tsukamoto with a knockout spray so he and Goto can talk freely.  He then tells Goto he knows Goto knows about the song but still can't recall the incident occuring linked to it.  Goto asks if it's because he got picked for the choir and not Kakinuma.

Kakinuma: "Hmph.  I'm not so petty a man.  It was much more dreadful.  Something to rival a Greek tragedy."

Goto asks if maybe this incident is all in Kakinuma's head.  Kakinuma retorts, "to think you could forget. You truly are a sinful man."
Last meeting in the Moon Dog.
Yayoi takes Suzanna back to her flat for more drinks.  Suzanne says that doesn't it feel like they have met before.  Yayoi is horrified that she might have been hypnotised too, but then Suzanne says "just kidding.  I'm only pulling your leg".  And that this is the first time they have ever met.  Yayoi frowns and pours the drinks.

Back with Goto and Kakinuma they set a time limit of one week for the game to resolve.  Goto says he has conditions. First they should stop coming to the Moon Dog.  It should just be him and Kakinuma alone together for a week.

Goto: "I probably won't remember the incident connected to 'Town Of Flowers'.  But the moment you try to execute me, I'll resist you like any human being."

Kakinuma says he has to veto that condition.  He wants their "charming array of supporting characters" to be present.  Goto then punches him hard in the face.  He tells Kakinuma he'll take him out in the street and beat him senseless, get arrested and make sure the full story of their game comes out.  "I have no choice" says Kakinuma and acquiesces to Goto's demands.
Goto must have enjoyed that.
Back with Yayoi and Suzanne, Suzanne says she hypnotised Goto to go to a certain bar in Shibuya and gave him a description of Eri.  Then she hypnotised Eri to fall in love with him.  Then Suzanne realises something.  Kakinuma's secretary Kyoko was present and told Suzanne to leave her with the hypnotised Eri for five minutes.  So Eri must have another post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in her that Suzanne doesn't know about.

Yayoi asks Suzanne if she could make Eri remember that post-hypnotic suggestion.  Suzanne sys she could as long as it isn't "double-locked", hypnotised in such a way it would be impossible to discover.  Yayoi also asks if she could help Goto recall an incident from his childhood. "Maybe" responds Suzanne.
Suzanne and Kyoko mess with Eri's head.
Meanwhile Goto and Kakinuma have gone to a luxury hotel with an enormous suite.  Kakinuma shows Goto the gun that one of them will die by in a weeks time.

Kakinuma: "Now try and remember.  A solitary sensibility for a person's whole life, and the very instant two solitary sensibilities collided with each other."

Goto then gets a call on his mobile, it's Yayoi who asks to meet him.  She tells him she's met a "VIP who's close to the core of this game."  But she can't say anymore over the phone.  Goto tries to tell her to forget about him, things will resolve themselves in a weeks time.  She realises he is trying to protect those around him and she is going to put her life on the line and he must hurry to her apartment.
The hotel room the final showdown will take place in.
Kakinuma says he doesn't mind if Goto comes and goes, and is happy he is gathering more information on him, it's "the least you can do after all the obsession I've given you..."  Goto takes a taxi to Yayoi's place.  Also there is Kakinuma's henchman who Yayoi vouches for.  She then introduces him to Suzanne and tells him all about how his meeting with Eri was set up via hypnotism.

Kakinuma phones his henchman and fires him and his subordinates so Goto won't have to worry about being followed now.  Suzanne says that hypnotising Goto into recall the hidden memory may be impossible because he doesn't believe his and Eri's meeting was a set-up.  Goto is too strong minded (when she hypnotised him on floor 7.5 she had many days to influence him), he needs to see her releasing Eri's hypnotism first and then she can help him.

Yayoi contacts the motorcylist who hid Eri in the last book.  He's called Numba and she tells him to come over, they'll all be in a car and he can escort them on his bike to where Eri is.  He does so.  Numba goes to find Eri who is with relatives of his and makes up a story about Eri's debts being cleared and it being safe for her to leave now.  He then takes her to where Goto, Yayoi, Suzanne and the ex-henchman are waiting.
Nearly all the supporting players gather.
They all sit round a fire and Suzanne hypnotises Eri and makes her recall how she was given a description of Goto and told to save her virginity for him and create an opportunity to give it to him when they first meet.  Suzanne then asks her what the second post-hypnotic suggestion is, but Eri asks for the "key word".  Suzanne says it's just as she feared.  Eri has been "locked" and only the right password will unlock her.  The ex-henchman says Kyoko must have done it and he can use truth serum to find out the key word from her.  Before that though it's time to discover Goto's childhood memory.

Goto now believes he was hypnotised so Suzanne starts to put him under again.  Once he is in a trance, Yayoi asks him questions.  He is taken back to the day of the singing test, he is nervous, the kids are coming up to sing in alphabetical order.  Goto frowns, now Kakinuma is singing and he looks nervous and shy.  Then adult Goto slumps forwards and passes out.  Suzanne says they can't do anything for him now, he'll wake in a few hours.

Suzanne: "I think he probably passed out as a means of escape.  The experience was that deep.  That's my conclusion".

Yayoi: "But that conclusion does solve anything does it?!  We still don't know why Kakinuma hates Goto".
Goto.. remembers.
Suzanne asks Numba to give her a life to the railway station.  She has done all she can for them, she just came for the "fun and anticipation of giving you a taste of the other side." She leaves on the back of Numba's bike while the others sleep in the car.  They are woken by Eri saying that Goto is gone.

Yayoi's phone then rings.  It's Goto.  He tells her that for the next seven days he will "hone my heart in the mountains".  Then he will return on tuesday to end things with Kakinuma once and for all.  He tells her he remembers the incident now.

Goto: "I was moved by Kakinuma's singing.  He didn't have a beautiful voice by any means, but it was if his soul itself was singing.  All those people in the class who hated him.  I'm the only one whose heart was penetrated by Kakinuma's song."

So Yayoi wonders if Kakinuma hates him for forgetting "the truth".  Goto says he is not sure, but this is definitely at the core of their game.  He then thanks Yayoi for all her help and asks her to put Eri on.
Eri is understandably upset.
Eri is tearful saying he must hate her, but Goto tells her he tucked a letter to her in her hair and she should read it when the others won't notice.  Driving back to Tokyo, Eri is sitting on her own in the back of the car, so takes out the letter and reads it.  It says that although they were both hypnotised, Goto believes there was an inevitability about them meeting even if they hadn't been.  If he is still alive, one month after his confrontation with Kakinuma, she should wait for him on "that bridge" and he'll come find her.

Back at Yayoi's flat, the ex-henchman phones her saying that Kyoko has left for overseas.  So now they'll never be able to unlock Eri's final hypnotic suggestion.  She tells him not to chase after her, it's time that both of them leave the game as well.
Farewell Yayoi.
A week passes and Goto returns to the hotel suite Kakinuma is waiting in.  Kakinuma asks him directly what it was that "lethally wounded my heart".  Goto says it was because he was moved by his song.

Goto: "For you with your innate suspicion of people, it rattled you to your very core...and the sense of 'shame' that came from that is the reason you came to hate me."

Goto says he wins, but he won't kill Kakinuma.  But Kakinuma says that wasn't quite the correct reason.  He says he wins and points the gun at Goto.  "You lie!!" says Goto.  Kakinuma starts singing "Town Of Flowers" to him and we get a flashback to him and Goto as kids, young Goto watching young Kakinuma sing.  And we see that Goto was so moved he actually shed tears.
The truth.
Kakinuma: "My whole life, perhaps only you understood my loneliness.  It was humiliating.  I couldn't forgive it... If only you didn't exist, I could have just been a success in life without ever having to doubt it."

He then fires the gun at Goto who dodges but gets hit in the shoulder.  Kakinuma then says he wanted to ruin Goto by having him become a murderer.  He looks sad for the first time and says "I wanted to be born a man like you".  Then he puts the gun to his head and pulls the trigger, killing himself.  A month later Goto meets a delighted Eri waiting for him on the bridge.
The game ends.
Sometime later, Goto and Eri are married with at least one kid as Eri calls him a "salaryman dad".  A mysterious parcel arrives, inside is a music box that plays "Town Of Flowers".  As it does so, Eri gets the oddest look in her eyes.  That night Goto has a nightmare where Eri jumps off the balcony of their highrise flat, he wakes with a start but she is safely asleep beside him.  He goes out to the balcony himself and thinks to himself, "this war is still not over."  And that concludes the story.

Unlike others I find this to be an cool ending for the manga, Goto finally gets his happiness but he'll always have the worry about that mysterious post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in Eri.  Normally I dislike "It's the end... or is it?" conclusions to a story but here it's perfectly in character for Kakinuma. Even beyond the grave, Kakinuma is able to mess Goto around. The lesbian hypnotist, Suzanne is a little bit of a deus ex machina, but I don't think she can be fully considered one as hypnotism has been in the mix since book 3 so it didn't just come out of nowhere.  I'll talk a little more about Kakinuma's motivation in a minute, but it's interesting that the major difference between the inciting incident in the film and manga is that the film "Goto" did something malicious, while manga Goto did something empathetic, which seems to have affected which one deserved a happy ending.
The end...?
I was going to discuss how the film compared to the manga here, but I don't want to spoilerise one of the greatest Asian films ever.  Check out the wikipedia summary if you don't ever plan on watching it, but to quickly summarise: "Goto" has an entirely different reaction to his imprisonment, hypnotism does still play a role, there is no prolonged cat and mouse game between him and his captor, the reasons for him being locked up are entirely different, there is an "Eri" but no "Yayoi" equivalent and the whole thing ends in tragedy, horror and finally outright denial for Film!Goto.  About the only thing that remains the same is the general "emptiness of revenge" as a motive theme both have going on.  It's a great film, but not one to watch if you like happy endings.

So, returning to the manga, did Kakinuma love Goto like Eri thought, despite all the protestations to the contrary?  I don't think so, I think he was more powerfully jealous of him (at least of the imagined Goto not the reality), as evidenced by his stated plan to make Goto more like he is. Suzanne shows that the mangaka wasn't shy about including a homosexual character so if Kakinuma had been gay, it would have been made more obvious. He stated he wanted to "ruin" Goto and if he can mould Goto into a person more like Kakinuma is, he doesn't have to feel bad about who he is at his core. I think his "sex" is the exercising of power, over men and women - that's what gets him off, love has obviously never played much part in his life.

Love wins out in the end. Even if it started with malicious intent.
"Fooling" Goto into falling in love seems to be the main reason he hooked him up with Eri, with the possibility in the epilogue of still having the power of life and death over her and by extension Goto even after he has gone.  Goto, a boy who is handsome and as his old teacher says, has a raw sexuality about him even at that age.  Note how Kakinuma kept putting sexual temptation in the way of Goto, hypnotising Eri into sleeping with him, paying a prostitute to spend the night with him in a hotel, making Goto have sex to get a clue as part of their "game" and even putting him in contact with their MILFtastic ex-teacher it's like Kakinuma is trying to prove that even emotions and forces such love and sex can be subjegated and controlled by the exercise of his power. 

When Goto confesses to feeling like an outsider back then, at first Kakinuma literally cannot conceive of Goto being just as isolated and scared for his soul as he was as well as deliberately going on to live a "humble" existance. There's the implication across the series that Kakinuma had some evil inherent in him and blamed Goto and his teacher for being the only ones who seem to have realised this. The inciting incident seems like such a minor thing, but it was Kakinuma opening his heart up in song and he seems to be most angry that Goto though moved by it, soon forgot about it and that it was his idealised "enemy" who felt this way. Goto for a moment connected with Kakinuma and that was what Kakinuma could not forgive. Slights, even imagined ones at that age can become magnified over the years and thus Goto became the focus of all the silent and impotent frustration Kakinuma felt as an outsider back then. And let's not forget the type of person Kakinuma is, someone who gets off on exercising absolute power and what better way to feel that power than to completely possess the object of your hate, first via prison then through their "game"?
In the end, Goto was the better man and Kakinuma knew it.
So what do I like about the story? I like Nobuaki Minegishi's brooding atmospheric art, I like how it uses a slow, decompressed pace to establish a real sense of time and place and that the sparse script by Garon Tsuchiya lets the art tell the story through body language and facial expression. I like the constant emphasis on food and drink as Goto indulges in all the socialisation experiences he missed in prison. I like the symbolism of the moon, always watching - a representation of Kakinuma himself. I like Goto and the heavy implication that imprisonment might actually have allowed him to become at peace with himself - the exact opposite of Kakinuma's intentions and I like how all this spiralled out from one incident in their childhood born of Kakinuma's self loathing and as something he could never get over no matter what success he made of his adult life. Perhaps the wrap up isn't as neat and tidy as the film version, but I like how Goto finally gets a happy ending this time around unlike his less sympathetic film counterpart. In book 3 he describes himself as a "happy slave" before his imprisonment, but once Kakinuma is gone he had the opportunity to walk away and remake his life in any way he pleased but he went back to meet Eri on the bridge and he gratefully returns to a conventional life of marriage, a salaryman job and a family and realises it's not slavery at all if you choose to live that way and enjoy it. The story definitely benefits from being read all in one go, which allows for the atmosphere and tension to build without disapating between chapters. This is a fine manga that resulted in a superb film and both should be of interest to enthusiasts of East Asian culture.  And that's all I have left to say about it.


  1. well that wasn't what i was expecting! i guess it works better with the build up the story has given it, but i think i like the film version better. i agree though that the art has been awesome and i still enjoyed reading about it :)

  2. It's different I agree. The main difference of course is that the film makes you feel horror and sadness for Oh Dae-su, while the manga makes you feel pity and sadness for Kakinuma at the end. It's harder to put the manga ending into words, I tried explaining it to my sisters boyfriend at the weekend and made a total hash of it. I think it helps if you've immersed yourself in Japanese culture and history, but I did my best to say what I think it all meant. Dunno if I managed it!

  3. Ewww, Eri was forced to 'save her virginity' for a complete stranger!

    I don't want the beautiful moon to have to symbolise somebody as messed-up as Kakinuma :-( Anyway, the moon's always changing.

  4. Yeah poor Eri, Kakinuma did a number on her, but at least it resulted in genuine love in the end so in that way both she and Goto "won" the game.

    I think Kakinuma only symbolises the moon to Goto, it's no coincidence that the vast majority of the story takes place at night.

  5. Good point. Still, I'm amazed anyone in urban Japan can even see the moon.

  6. Because of the threat of earthquakes Japanese cities don't build as high as you would find in London for example, so maybe that helps being able to see it.