“One Man’s Justice” and “Shipwrecks” by Akira Yoshimura
The therapy is ongoing…
Just finished reading “Shipwrecks“, which I liked. A lot, even. Yoshimura’s style perfectly reflects austerity of lives of the people who are in the foreground of the novel. Without anchoring us in time or space, apart from giving out a hint that the village may be situated somewhere in the south of Shikoku, we get to know the people as leading simple, religious lives, filling their days with working less-than-generous soil and fishing. Almost every event takes place thanks to, for, through, against, and because of “gods.” Decency and composure brings happy life and prompt reincarnation, while the opposite sentences the soul for eternal banishment.
Everything revolves around the laborious every day life of the villagers and their one desire – so that fate sends them O-fune-sama. These are ships, unfortunate enough to have found themselves in the middle of a storm and desperately seeking shore to save themselves and the cargo. The villagers, being fully aware of sailors’ mind-frame while at uneasy sea, light fire under cauldrons whose role, supposedly, is to extract salt from sea water but in reality act as a lure for the crew to direct the ship right at the off-shore coral reef. Once that happens, the ship is looted and the crew’s lives taken away. Grim as it may be, O-fune-sama’s appearance is time of great joy and festivity for villagers as the cargo takes them far away from the prospect of certain starvation. However, as it turns out, not every stranded ship brings the ever-coveted salvation.
“One Man’s Justice” in turn, takes place in more contemporary times, subsequently to Japan’s capitulation. Takuya, a middle-ranked officer from the imperial air force is on the run due to being involved in the execution of a crew of one among many American bombers taking part in the bombardments of Japan. Having been relieved from duty, he finds out that all soldiers suspected of involvement in executions are sought by the American and Japanese police to stand trial and face possible death penalty. The book is a very geographically detailed record of Takuya’s journey around Japan seeking shelter. He visits his comrades from the army who initially are very hospitable but due to food shortages and poverty soon become quite hesitant towards the prospect of having another mouth to feed. Throughout the entire story he’s being tossed between two conflicting thoughts, of giving in and accepting that beheading two American pilots was fundamentally a crime and remaining a fugitive whose act was a loyal and patriotic thing to do. Traveling across the country Takuya also has to face difficult reality, whereby Japanese girls not only do not contempt American soldiers for their deeds, but openly flirt with them in the public eye. Also, we see how the nation’s perception of those involved in the executions is changed with the aid of the media, from deeming them national heroes to condemning them as murderers who should be given the death sentence.
To me, the first thing which strikes me how both stories are structured. Yoshimura first presents the protagonists in a not very favorable light, to later on, with the provision of some historical background, justify the actions and explain that in reality there was no other choice, along the pattern of “one man’s poison is another man’s cure.” The villagers in “Shipwrecks” did loot the ships and kill people but that was determined by their will to survive, whereas Takuya, being fundamentally a murderer, became one by taking vengeance on those who invaded his land and killed his people.
While “One Man’s Justice” is closer to a ‘conventional’ narrative in third-person, “Shipwrecks” looks more like a tale or a parable. The entire action is very linear, with no side-plots, full of descriptions of the nature surrounding the village, spanning across three years when the protagonist’s father is away for his indentured service. It reminds the reader of a cautionary tale, where the bad karma always comes back to the wrong-doers, however justified their actions are.
I reckon that both these stories will appeal to readers who are after some non-pretentious reading, with no blazing-fast and dramatic twists-and-turns. In turn, these are full of deep emotional explorations of the protagonists’ psyche in search for rationalisations of their actions. Yoshimura is great at discerningly describing state of minds, and instead of making his plotline overly complex, he focuses on giving us realistic and moving reasons why people are sometimes forced to do frightening things.
SONG OF THE DAY: Zu – Obsidian