Yūichi Shinpo*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Yūichi Shinpo*

Yūichi Shinpo* 真保裕一

Yūichi Shinpo (1961–)  worked as an animation director before winning the Edogawa Rampo Prize in 1991 for his novel Rensa (Links). His talents as a novelist blossomed after he received the award. Undoubtedly, his experience as a director has nurtured his storytelling gifts; the ability to pull readers instantly into his world and not let go until they have finished the last chapter is something that he must surely have acquired during his anime days.

Howaitoauto (Whiteout) is an excellent mystery novel that fully demonstrates the author’s capabilities. Okutowa Dam is the country’s largest. Teruo Togashi, a security guard at the dam, sets out to rescue two men who have gotten lost in a blizzard. His colleague Kazushi Yoshioka accompanies him, but dies after the two lose sight of each other. Togashi manages to save the two who had gone missing, but he is racked with guilt about the death of his colleague. Chiaki, Yoshioka’s fiancé, comes to the dam to see the place where her husband-to-be died, when armed gunmen seize the facility, taking 11 hostages. If the entire content of the dam is discharged at once, six dams farther downstream will break and most likely cause massive damage to surrounding villages. With all the villagers as hostages, the gunmen demand five billion yen in cash within the next 24 hours. Togashi, who happens to be at the scene, bravely decides to face up to the crisis. Learning that Chiaki has been taken hostage, he deftly maneuvers his way around the dam he knows like the back of his hand. He kills the gunmen one by one, obtains a weapon, and continues on his lonely battle. Recognizing signs of discord among the terrorists, Togashi strikes where they are most vulnerable. A fierce chase on snowmobiles causes an avalanche that engulfs the gunmen, and Togashi is shocked to discover that the two men he had rescued earlier had been members of the group. They had come to inspect the site prior to their attack.

Shinpo’s debut, Links, is an unconventional hard-boiled novel on the subject of food contamination. Journalist Fumitaka Takewaki exposes a scandal involving the illegal importation of food contaminated from the Chernobyl disaster. Not long afterwards, his car falls into the ocean, rendering him unconscious. The police contend that it is a case of attempted suicide, but “I”?Takewaki’s childhood friend and an official of the Ministry of Health and Welfare who was formerly a food sanitation inspector?questions the claim. Tracing Takewaki’s tracks, he tries to shed light on the big picture and acquire evidence for his suspicion that someone had tried to murder his friend. Meanwhile, the beef stored in a branch of a family-restaurant chain is found to have been sprayed with pesticides. Furthermore, an employee in charge of meat imports at a beef-bowl chain that has been buying cheap beef the company knows is contaminated commits suicide. As “I” follows the scandal that Takewaki seems to have known about, he finds that there is more to it than illegal beef imports. The culprits had been importing contaminated meat and drugs via a third country to conceal the products’ origin, all the while making money by smuggling LSIs to Poland, to which exports are restricted under COCOM. To prevent their crimes from being exposed, the yakuza spring into action. “I,” like Takewaki, is almost killed in an attack made to look like a suicide.

The social issues that make their way into the novel, and the numerous twists that reveal the true nature of the character who appears most trustworthy, prefigure the major characteristics of the author’s later works.

The novel Saiai (Beloved) begins with pediatrician Gorō Oshimura’s older sister, Chikako, lying unconscious in a hospital bed after being gunned down as she tried to light fire to the office of a loan shark. Goro and Chikako had been adopted by different families after their parents died in a car accident, and 18 years had passed since they had last had any contact. Before Chikako was injured, she had married a man named Ibuki, who has since gone missing. Is Ibuki’s sudden disappearance somehow connected to his former wife, for whose murder he had gone to prison? Gorō sets out to find what kind of life his sister had been leading. We soon learn that Gorō and his sister had once made love. Now, to end his sister’s life?she lies in a coma with no hope of recovery?Gorō sneaks into her hospital room with the intent of pulling the plug on her life support. The result is truly a sorrowful love story.

* Rensa (Kodansha, 1991, 361 pages)
* Howaitoauto (Shinchosha, 1995, 360 pages)
* Saiai (Shinchosha, 2007, 307 pages)