Garnering rave reviews from the Yomiuri, the Mainichi, and some 40 other newspapers and magazines, this collection of six short stories was the talk of the Japanese literary world during the first half of 2012.
The title story is a meditation on the sorrows of life, interweaving the past and present of a man on the verge of old age. For the past 30 years, former judge Kanji Washida has maintained a private law practice in Kushiro, Hokkaido. When he takes on the defense of a woman charged with the use of illegal stimulants, he is reminded of his one-time lover, Saeko, who was later charged with the same crime. They had become friends when they were both active in the student movement during college, and eventually moved in together. When Washida's parents cut off their financial support, Saeko drops out of school and works as a bargirl to fill the gap while he studies for the national bar exam; but once he has passed the exam, she disappears. The next time they meet is in an Asahikawa, Hokkaido courtroom, where he is the judge and she appears before him on allegations of stimulant possession. They subsequently renew their acquaintance, but when he is transferred to Tokyo and she comes to the station to see him off, she leaps into the path of an oncoming train and kills herself as he watches. This prompts him to resign as a judge as well as to divorce his wife, and in the 30 years since then, he has limited himself solely to cases where he is a court-appointed public defender.
In Katachi nai mono (Something Shapeless), ten years after her lover quit his job and moved away without explanation, a woman attends his funeral and recalls their life together. Four more literary gems fill out the volume, each portraying the loneliness and daunting complexities of life faced by the modern individual, and delving into the question of what motivates people to go on living: Umidori no yukue (Where the Seabirds Go), Sukurappu rodo (Scrap Road), Tatakai ni yaburete sake yo (Go Down to Defeat and Bloom), and Kaze no ie (The House in the Sea Breeze).