Strangers by Taichi Yamada is my fifth Japanese novel and my first Japanese ghost story.
This is very well told story captured and kept my attention all the way to the last page. Of the five Japanese novels I have read this is the first one in which I could directly relate to the central character. After Dark, Goodbye Tsugumi, and Real World had female teenagers as their central characters.
My fourth Japanese novel The Crimson Labyrinth centers on a man who let one setback ruin his life.
In Strangers the central character, Harada, is forty eight year old TV script writer. He is not a great success but he is also not a total failure. His parents were killed when he was 12 but he coped. His wife left him but he got on with his life without a lot of fuss. He tries to enjoy the simple pleasures of life but he is not a slave to his senses. He is alone a lot but he is ok with that and sort of likes it. He lives in a big building that is mostly offices. Basically he is a sensible normal person. The story line does not depend or turn on him having glaring problems or issues with the world.
One day he decides to go down to the theater district of Tokyo where he lived with his parents thirty five years ago. He meets a man that looks exactly as he recalls his father the last time he saw him. He accepts the man's invitation to go home with him for a beer. The man's wife has an uncanny exact resemblance to Harada's mother, as he recalls her. She even talks to him just like a mother would. On his second visit the man is not there yet. The lady notices he has a spot on his shirt and tells him to take his shirt off so she can wash it. He is shocked-he thinks-what will the man think if he comes home and finds me with no shirt on? He asks the lady her name. She says, sort of annoyed, "Why would you ask your mother a silly question like that". She thinks she is and seems to be his mother, dead since he was 12. He at first begins to doubt his sanity. Is he having a mental break down or has he come into contact with beings from another realm in the shape of his parents?
He begins to see them as the ghosts of his parents. He knows he is risking his sanity but he continues to go back to see them, not knowing if they are real or not. In the mean time he begins a romance with a strange acting woman who lives in his building. People who see him start to tell him he is looking terribly sick as if he is on the door of death himself. He looks at himself in the mirror and can see no changes. He wonders if this is connected to the ghosts of his parents.
The story keeps us interested and wondering right down to the ending. All of the characters are well developed. The dialogue is intelligent. We get a feel for the theater district in Tokyo. We learn a bit about how the TV industry works in Japan. We visit some apartments of Tokyo residents, we go out for some meals.
For me it did create a vicarious sense of fear without any special effects. The fear that you are losing your mind or the fear that you have not. The fear that what you love the most will destroy you.
Anyone who has lost beloved parents will relate to this story. I enjoyed the book a lot and think most people will.