"Manami didn't die because of an accident, she was killed by students in this class"
Am I the only one who occasionally talks while reading? I guess this makes me sound like a madman, but I mean more like little remarks when reading. You know, when in a horror-movie the girl goes alone down in the cellar, and you say that isn't smart to do? I also do that with novels. Praising characters when they say something good, yelling at them when they do something wrong. When reading a detective, you'll often hear me muttering "ah, that's how it was done!" and stuff.
I usually read several books at the same time spread over a large period of time, and I occasionally write down some memo-notes for the different books, just to make sure I don't mix the stories up. Those notes are usually exactly the utterances I make while reading. While these notes are usually a bit more specific ('This OOO trick was good' or 'he's not doing much between chapters X and Y')) my notes for this post's novel were a bit vague.
- 気持ち悪ぃ！ 気持ち悪ぃ！ (Gross! Gross!)
- 残酷だな、子供って (Kids sure are cruel)
- この先生マジ腹立つわぁ (This teacher... he really irritates me)
- そっか暗いな、これ (Aah, this novel is pretty dark)
- 繰り返しっちゃん (But it's repeating itself!)
- 狂ったかおまえ (What? Are you' mad!)
- おおおおい、めちゃくちゃやじゃん (Heeeeeeeey, what the hell are you doin'?!!)
Yet these notes make perfect sense to me.
2010 movie won quite some (international) awards and nominations. I too only heard of the title because of I had seen the movie trailer in the theaters, which was quite interesting. The story starts with a startling confession by Moriguchi Yuuko, the teacher of class 1B of the S Municipal Middle School on the last day of school year. She tells that her class that she resigns as a teacher. The reason? The death of her four-year old daughter Manami. While it seemed that Manami's death was just a tragic drowning accident, Moriguchi tells her class that two of their classmates, whom she dubs student A and B, are responsible for Manami's death. And as legal minors can not be punished by law, she confesses that to take her own revenge, she had injected the milk cartons student A and B had just drunk with HIV-contaminated blood.
I'm pretty sure I came up with 気持ち悪ぃ！ 気持ち悪ぃ！ (Gross! Gross!) at this point.
This is actually just the summary of the first chapter, Seishokusha ("Sacred Profession"). It's also the story with which Minato Kanae won 2007's Shousetsu Suiri Shinjin Shou ("Fiction Detective Newcomers' Price"), a price for short stories in crime fiction. Afterwards, Minato extended the story into a full-length novel by adding five new chapters. The chapters all have a different narrator (i.e. the murderers, their family and classmates) and these narrators are all somehow connected to Manami's death. As the story switches narrators, we see both the events leading up to Manami's death, as well as the aftermath of Moriguchi's horrible revenge.
And as a revenge novel, it's entertaining, though I do wonder why this novel ended up so high in the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi rankings ("This Mystery is Awesome!") (fourth place). Kokuhaku is barely a mystery. The first chapter I can clearly see as a piece of crime fiction, with teacher Moriguchi slowly explaining how she came to find out that her daughter was killed and by whom. The following chapters are a bit different though, as they tell the events after Moriguchi left the school, but from different viewpoints, with every character offering their own thoughts, their own versions of the same event. With different characters with their own motives giving their own accounts on the same events, it's not strange to see that there are little differences, little discrepancies between the different accounts. It's by looking at these points that the whole truth becomes clear (and unlike Akutagawa's In a Grove, these accounts are not really contradictory, only seen from different viewpoints). The last five chapters are clearly a whydunnit, and it's pretty interesting to see how Minato constructed this plot by having different characters influencing each other in all kinds of ways. In fact, this is very much like how the game-system works in that awesome visual novel, 428 ~Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de. Not precisely what I look for in a mystery, as I'm always a fan of the more the grand tricks, but nice nonetheless.
Though that thing with the HIV-contaminated blood? That's really, really gross. To make my own confession: I am absolutely OK with chopped off arms, decapitations and other horrible murder tricks, but I can't stand blood being used. So I am not talking about blood an sich. I am not particularly afraid of bloody scenes, blood spraying everywhere and stuff. But I get goosebumps when I just think about tricks in detective fiction that use the substance blood. Like water, blood as a substance has several characteristics that might be used for some murderer's evil scheme. For example blood can solidify, it can flow, it can dry. A smart person might use that for something. Those tricks, I really, really dislike. Blood should either be in somebody's body, or spray out or something, but not be used for anything like that~
Halfway through the second chapter, I decided to read Kokuhaku as a normal thriller and yes, it was pretty awesome. Like Otsuichi's GOTH, this is a pretty dark, at times simply gross story set at a school, but Kokuhaku is definately set up more as a... 'reconstruction' of the standard school drama. At times it feels very much the anti-thesis of GTO - Great Teacher Onizuka. Of course, if I wasn't mostly focusing on mystery here, I might go on about how minors are seen in the eyes of the law in Japan, about the role of the teachers in Japan, the importance of status within the eyes of students and parents, the way parents handle their kids in Japan, bullying, the growing number of hikikomori, and the gap between the Kinpachi Sensei-like school dramas and real-life, but.... this is not really the place to discuss these themes. Unless I somehow connect it to the mystery genre. But certainly not something I want to do here and now.
I still haven't seen the movie actually, but as I hear a lot of positive reviews, I might take a look in the future. The novel was interesting at least and a nice break from my usual crime readings, which tend to be a bit less realistic. I am looking at you Akuryoutou ('Island of Evil Spirits"), with your Siamese Twins, legendary birds and disappearing people.
Original Japanese title(s): 湊かなえ 『告白』