Otsuki, former junky, university drop-out and something of a jack-of-all-trades, runs unexpectedly into Sugimoto, a shifty character with whom he once worked. Sugimoto has a new boss, a master calligrapher called Koyama, and he wants Otsuki to help them out. Koyama is shooting a porn film starring his teenage granddaughter, Tomoe; he makes Otsuki watch it and later hires him to shoot some extra scenes. Otsuki refuses, then relents, and later gets pretty worried indeed when odd, violent things start happening: what’s the connection between his married lover, Hiroko, and Koyama? What’s going on between Koyama and Tomoe? In the midst of a mid-life crisis, Otsuki is on the brink of something: will he escape from, or plunge right into, this peculiar underworld that he’s discovered?
We’re not easily confused here at Bookmunch Towers, but this one had me scratching my scalp. It’s actually been several weeks since I read it, so there’s been an extended period of mulling and pondering, but to little avail. To wit: it’s set up in a pretty standard fashion, with a down-on-his luck protagonist endowed with a fairly predictable set of issues (drug use, petty crime, a run of seedy relationships behind him) who meets a (sort of) stranger so that his life shifts and he has to decide which path to take – salaryman safety or crooked danger? Obviously enough, he chooses the latter, and the first half of the book tracks this decision as he runs back and forth, ridden with angst, between his bachelor pad and Koyama’s domain. So far, so good. There’s a strong whiff of Crime Novel to it at this point – there’s a bad guy, a bunch of henchmen, an apparently exploited young girl and an unhealthy love affair. In the second half, though, it all gets esoteric and manic: nobody seems to be whom they claim to be; unexpected connections are drawn between disparate characters; occult shenanigans are going down in the back streets of Tokyo. The interpersonal complexities (who’s allied to whom? who’s sleeping with whom?) pale into insignificance when we get to the metaphysical stuff: Komaya is trying to ‘place a crack in the order of this world and reverse time’; he’s trying to create a type of spiral, a reverse tomoe, that he says is the ‘embodiment of impossibility’. It’s no wonder Otsuki is flustered.
On the one hand, then, this is a criminal underworld story; Otsuki is implicated in a series of distasteful occurrences – pornography, beatings, potential rape – even as he’s trying to investigate and escape from them. On the other hand, it’s a philosophical investigation into the nature of time, embodied experiences and good and evil. It’s gritty gangsterland meets the creepy occult. It’s not far from Pynchon, and it’s not far from Murakami, and it’s all fitted into just over two hundred pages. I was intrigued, throughout, but, like Alan Garner, maybe, Matsuura raises his metaphysical concerns, introduces the uncanny, but doesn’t offer the reader any answers. Like Otsuki, we’re left at the brink of a chasm of understanding, into which Koyama has hurtled, but we can’t follow. The book feels unbalanced – so much build-up, so little conclusion. This is deliberate, sure – after all, how could we leap into the embodiment of impossibility? – but I can’t quite figure out to what end we’re being told the story. If reversing time is the order of the day, what are the implications for Otsuki, and, more importantly, what are the implications for the reader? There’s no particular narrative turn that would make me want to return to the beginning of the book, or track through it backwards: what, then, has Koyama’s obsession got to do with either me or Otsuki? It’s definitely a text that’s engaged with experimentation – Komaya is experimenting with time, Otsuki is testing out lifestyles – but rather than feeling like an experimental text, it feels like Matsuura is road-testing a set of ideas that haven’t quite found their best instantiation in this particular narrative.
Of course, perhaps I’m just not getting it.
Any Cop?: An interesting read, sure, but one that’s ultimately unsatisfying – excepting, of course, for those readers that yearn for a dash of creepy unsolved esoteric magic in their fiction.