Filler content turning Japanese

This review was originally posted on the old TTA website on 26 October 2007 (if you don’t believe me, you can check for yourself using the Wayback machine):-

THE CAGE by KENZO KITAKATA
Vertical paperback, 230pp, $14.95

The author is billed as ‘the undisputed don of hardboiled and mystery writing in Japan’, which is fair enough, but there’s nothing distinctively Japanese about this book. Change some of the names, substitute mafia for yakuza, or use the more generic gang, and it could just as easily be set in New York or LA. Plotwise it in part reprises Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, or any Bellow/Updike novel about a man undergoing a mid-life crisis, with the proviso that in this case the man is a gangster.

Taniko used to be ‘in the life’ but gave it up to marry Yurie and run a small family supermarket, only there is something in his nature that won’t be satisfied with the middle class desiderata, and so he has affairs with women, and when his supermarket is threatened by racketeers takes matters into his own hands instead of relying on the police. It’s the first step back to his old ways, and soon Taniko is up to his neck in a scheme to smuggle a criminal out of the country, one eagerly sought by both the police and his old gang. He succeeds, but the gang kill the friend who set him up with the job and so Taniko must seek revenge, even at the cost of his own life.

There’s a tangled plot here, with spats of ultra-violence to help move the action along, and on that level the book works superbly well, but regardless of all that it is a character driven story, with Taniko realising that he simply cannot adapt to being a civilian, to continue the pretence will only hurt those he loves. He is, as his nemesis the detective Takagi puts it, trapped in a cage, that of a comfortable life he fashioned but never really desired. Takagi also is trapped, obliged to catch the criminal no matter the cost, not really happy with his lot and venting that on the people he is closest to. Takagi and Taniko are both men born out of their time, and the game of cat and mouse played out between these two is at the heart of the book, the interdependence of the hunter and the hunted brought to compelling life on the page and offering a fascinating insight into the mindset of people most of us will only ever know through the pages of newspapers and documentaries on the television.

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