Contemporary Japanese Writers

Seishu Hase*

Seishu Hase* 馳星周

Seishu Hase 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. The author has repeatedly reread Elroy's novels until the covers became tattered; he calls Elroy's representative work, White Jazz, his bible. Incidentally, Hase's debut, Fuyajo (Sleepless Town), was published in August 1996, about half a year after the publication of the Japanese translation of White Jazz.

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

Hase created the setting for Fuyajo as well as the style 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 Kabukicho, where a meek Japanese would not dare venture, but were shocked by the author's innovative writing. The book became an instant bestseller and was made into a film.

Hyoryugai (Hazard City), 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, where importance is placed on homogeneity and pure-bloodedness. In Hyoryugai, the main character is Mario, a migrant Japanese-Brazilian laborer. Extremely cunning and not one to overlook any opportunities, Mario steals money and drugs and finds himself pursued by both the Japanese police and the Chinese mafia. The getaway drama suggests the involvement of a woman. With Hyoryugai, as with Fuyajo, Hase beats a dazzling action story into the minds of his readers while all the while exposing a reality the general Japanese public do not know and from which they would rather avert their eyes.

Hase, well known for his love of soccer and often appearing in the media as a commentator for the game, is highly conscious of the allegory between Japan at the mercy of globalization and the globalization of his favorite sport, and he has used it as a source of inspiration for his creative activities.

In his novel Dark Moon, Hase ventured into new territory, having come to possess a sense of crisis. The book is based faraway 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, the author has painstakingly broken 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 have been decorated. Red paper has been put up on all the storefronts. Bundles of firecrackers hang from the eaves.

Seishu Haseis, no doubt, a star of Japanese noir.

* Fuyajo (Kadokawa Shoten, 1996, 299 pages, Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers)

* Hyoryugai (Tokuma Shoten, 1998, 454 pages)

* Dark Moon (Shueisha, 2001, 570 double-column pages)