The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi (288 pages, 2006) is my fourth Japanese Novel and my first Japanese Horror novel.
As the book begins we are thrown into a terrifying situation. The lead character Fujiki awakes from what he at first thinks is an alcohol induced blackout (he has had them before). He awakes in some sort of canyon with crimson colored walls that are way beyond his ability to scale. Compared to the only place Fujiki has experienced, super urban Tokyo, it is almost as if he has been taken up in a space ship and transported to another world. We begin to learn a little about Fujuki. Right out of college he landed a good job in a huge company. His future seemed secure and he married.
"It was as if he had received a written guarantee from the Emperor of Japan, and he never entertained the notion that his company might collapse before he reached retirement".
Fujuki's world crashes in on him. His wife leaves him. He lacks the will to seek a replacement job and drifts into near homelessness when he is evicted from his company housing. At this point I had to stop to reflect on this a bit. In Europe, the USA, and most of Asia people no longer expect life time employment and millions of people have to reinvent themselves at least partially ever year due to corporate turmoil. This is a fact of the modern world and most people cope with it. Fujuki does not seem to even try. Maybe this is reflective of Japanese cultural expectations but it caused me to lose my respect for the central character. Later on as you read the novel we perhaps begin to wonder if someone picked him just because he was a thrown away person.
As Fujuki begins to explore the Labyrinth he ends up meeting eleven more people all of dubious backgrounds. We learn that Fujiki somehow now defines himself as "Unemployed". We learn that every one in the Labyrinth seems to be caught up in a vicious survival game in which eleven will die and one will be well rewarded. Fujiki partners with a female character who draws pornographic cartoons for a living and wears a hearing aid. He begins to see it may all be a very decadent play for the amusement of some hyper wealthy person.
All of the players in the novel have game boy like devices that give them instructions. Exciting things happen. There is romance and people turn cannibal on us. We even meet an insane talking platypus. The players divide into four teams to explore the Labyrinth.
I do not want to give away a lot of the plot of the novel as that is the fun of the book. Along the way we do learn a lot of National Geographic type matters which I enjoyed a lot.
In The Crimson Labyrinth we see how dangerous it is to define yourself through your job, especially a corporate job that could be lost at any moment through the whim of some unknown to you party. Maybe the strange rigged game that the players are in is a model of Japanese Corporate life gone very bad.
I think what I liked best in this book were the incidental things I learned along the way. I liked the ending a lot. Fujuki thinks he has it all figured out but really there is no reason to believe he does. I did not develop a great sense of vicarious fear during this book. Maybe that is because I did not care about the characters. Maybe part of the point is that no one does. Fujuki seems without inner resources. I enjoyed this book pretty much. It is not on the level with the prior three Japanese Novels I reviewed. I think part of my enjoyment of the novel did stem from the fact that it was my first Japanese Horror novel so I was very curious about the book.
I obtained this novel in a book swap with a fellow book blogger Peter of KyusiReader
Peter has posted a very interesting and insightful review of the book on his blog.
This will be my first book for the R I P Challenge
It is my fourth book for The Japanese Challenge 3
I thank Carl and Dolce Bellezza for hosting these great challenges.
I feel bad in saying this but to me this book is not worth the list price of $14.95 (USA). If you can get a library copy or a used one or swap for it somehow. It is not a bad book and should be an ok first Japanese Horror novel for most people. If any one has any good ideas for a first Japanese science fiction novel or epistolary novel please let me know.