“Real World” – The Angst of Japanese Teens
Japanese crime-fiction writer Natsuo Kirino first garnered international recognition, when her novel “Out” got translated to English. “Real World” was her third English translated work (her translator, Philip Gabriel has also translated several works of Haruki Murakami). She has won many mystery and crime genre awards and her writing is publicized as ‘Feminist-Noir.’ Her novel contains distinct female types; plot is built by relying on darker human elements; and provides insightful glimpse about the Japanese culture in general. Although “Real World” isn’t best of her works, it is a good work of social realism.
The novel takes us through modern-day Tokyo, where parents are like “people who live in some far-off other country.” The novel is populated by teenage characters and it is narrated in first-person. Adults always remain in the background and most of them are alcoholics, two-timers, and pedophiles. They do nothing good which earns a trust of a disillusioned teenager. The story starts with a murder. The first chapter occurs from the point-of-view of Toshi, a good, responsible girl and also the ring leader of her small group of friends. She hears the sound of breaking glass from next door.
She thinks a crime might be in progress, next door, but she is distracted by a phone call from her friend Terauchi. Worm – he is called by that name because of his small head – lives next door to Toshi. Worm attends one of Tokyo’s elite high schools, but isn’t interested much in studies. A small conflict and humiliation leads Worm to murder his mother. On the way to school, Toshi exchanges few words with Worm (they are not friends) and rider off in her bicycle. Worm, later steals Toshi’s bicycle and her cell phone (which is inside the cycle’s basket).
Worm begins to call Toshi’s her best friends: Terauchi, the intellectual; Kirarin, the flirtatious, reckless, ‘bad girl’; and Yuzan, a closeted homosexual, whose mother has passed away. They chat and flirt. Worm confesses about his homicidal, which they find it as funny. Gradually, they understand that he is telling them the truth. However, stimulated by some curiosity they all assist him in escaping from the police. Worm rides through Tokyo’s outskirts in the bicycle and stops at convenience stores to read Manga comics. Worm turns the girls into accomplices and his little adventures leads to a violent climax.
It must be said that, for a crime novel, the action part is very little. For a greater part, the characters engage in musings, which brings out their societal, familial pressures, and personal histories. The multi-perspective structure (each chapter is narrated by different characters) incites some tension and also helps us to see an event from different angles. The author Kirino (in her 50’s) has created realistic teenage characters – their attitudes about sex, relationships, parents, school and society.
Kirino bashes the over-bearing educational system, which has created indifference among these teenagers. The principal characters of the novel consider ‘Life’ as a cheap thing. Worm claims that he is innocent, because he doesn’t understand the repercussions of his bewildering act (He claims his mother is the guilty party: “Guilty of leading me around by the nose, messing up my life, revealing my secrets to the world. I was a colony and she was the occupying force. “) It also must be said that the novel has more melodramatic elements and the teenagers are also too self-absorbed, which sometimes makes us hate them for their nihilism, rather than feel for them. I don’t know whether it is an intended effect by Kirino.
Although adolescents are the primary characters of this crime-noir, it is far from a cheesy young-adult novel. “Real World” is violent and contains enough philosophical and emotional heft (It is also a short novel (224 pages), which could be finished within few hours).