Contemporary Japanese Writers

Seishu Hase*

Seishu Hase* 馳星周

Seishū Hase ( (1965–)  ) is one of Japan's leading crime novelists. He insists he puts his life on the line for noir, and is never without praise for James Elroy, the American pioneer of noir. Hase repeatedly reread Elroy's novels until the covers became tattered; he calls Elroy's representative work, White Jazz, his bible. Incidentally, Hase's debut, Fuyajō (Sleepless Town), was published in August 1996, about half a year after the publication of the Japanese translation of White Jazz.

Sleepless Town is set in the leading Asian red-light district of Kabuki-chō in Shinjuku, Tokyo, chosen for its parallels to Elroy's Los Angeles and Hong Kong. (The pen name Seishū Hase is the Japanese reading of Hong Kong movie star Stephen Chow Sing Chi's name written backwards.) Hase drops Ryū, a young man born to Japanese and Taiwanese parents, in Kabuki-chō, a place unlike any other in Japan where people of different national backgrounds engage in shady activities. Bilingual in Japanese and Chinese, Ryū has thus far survived the Chinese-controlled underworld, but now becomes trapped between rival Chinese groups.

Hase created the setting and style for the work by carefully selecting and cultivating what he had learned from his experiences as an editor and critic. Readers not only got a peek into the bizarre state of affairs in Kabuki-chō, where a meek Japanese would not dare venture, but were astonished by the author's innovative writing. The book became an instant bestseller and was made into a film.

Hyōryūgai (The City of Lost Souls), published two years later, proved that Hase's earlier success had not been a fluke. Takashi Miike, one of Japan's top filmmakers and a regular at international film festivals such as Cannes and Venice, directed the film version, in which the writer himself volunteered to appear.

Hase has a predilection and talent for featuring characters on the fringe of Japanese society and its all-important values of homogeneity and pure-bloodedness. Here the main character is Mario, a migrant Japanese-Brazilian laborer. Extremely cunning and always on the lookout for opportunities, Mario steals money and drugs and finds himself pursued by both the Japanese police and the Chinese mafia. The getaway is made even more dramatic by the involvement of a woman. With this work, as with Sleepless Town, Hase spins a dazzling action story for readers while also exposing a reality the general Japanese public do not know and from which they would rather avert their eyes.
Well known for his love of soccer and often appearing in the media as a commentator for the game, Hase is highly conscious of the parallels between the sweeping globalization of both his country and his favorite sport, and he has used it as a source of inspiration for his creative activities.
In the novel Dāku mūn (Dark Moon), Hase was driven by a sense of crisis to venture into new territory. The book is based far away from Japan in Vancouver, a city that boasts the biggest Chinatown in North America. In the story, there are no decent characters. With the spotlight instead on a dishonest cop, an elite cop, and an ex-cop mobster, the novel spins out of control as it unleashes a toxic allure.

In what might be an effort to outdo Elroy, Hase painstakingly pares down every one of his sentences to create a wholly new style. This newly invented touch is evident from a passage at the beginning of the book:

“Dalong Ng put a cigarette in his mouth. He leaned against the steering wheel. He then looked out the window. Chinatown. Most of the buildings had been decorated. Red paper was put up on all the storefronts. Bundles of firecrackers hung from the eaves.”
Seishū Hase is, no doubt, a star of Japanese noir.


* Fuyajō (Kadokawa, 1996, 299 pages, Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers)
* Hyōryūgai (Tokuma Shoten, 1998, 454 pages)
* Dāku mūn (Shueisha, 2001, 570 double-column pages)