Night Train
Author: Tomihiko Morimi
Specifications: ISBN  978-4093864565
253 pages
13.6 x 19.4 cm / 5.4 x 7.7 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shogakukan Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
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Four men and one woman who met as students at the same English conversation school in their college days reunite for Kyoto’s Kurama Fire Festival, which takes place every October. At the time of the same festival exactly ten years before, a sixth student at the school, a woman named Hasegawa, then 20 years old, disappeared without a trace, and she remains missing to this day. With this memory casting a shadow over an otherwise happy occasion, the five share curious tales about friends and acquaintances that involve deaths and disappearances at night. The Japanese title Yakō is intended to suggest both the modern “night trains” that play a role in the stories, as well as the hyakki yakō—“night parade of a hundred demons”—of classical Japanese literature and folklore.

The group has gathered at an inn in the hills on the outskirts of Kyoto, and as they share a meal before going out to the festival, Ōhashi describes the paintings he saw at a gallery in the city earlier that day. They were a series of 48 works by Michio Kishida entitled Night Train, each one set in a well-known location in Japan, such as Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture, the Okuhida hot springs of Gifu, the Tsugaru Peninsula in Aomori, the Tenryūkyō canyon in Nagano, and Mount Kurama in Kyoto. The paintings are rendered entirely in shades of white against a black background, evoking night scenes, and each includes the figure of a woman. Ōhashi’s description of the works strikes a chord with everyone present, and this leads them to begin sharing their strange tales.

First to speak is Nakai. Five years before, his wife had disappeared, and hearing that she was helping out at a small general store owned by a woman she knew in Onomichi, he’d gone to look for her. When he arrived, he met a woman who was the spitting image of his wife but didn’t know him, and she told him that the store he had come looking for had closed six months earlier. He then went to check in at his hotel and discovered a man he’d crossed paths with on his way to the store standing at the front desk. He described what had transpired to the man, only to have him declare that he knew nothing of either Nakai’s wife or the woman he claimed to have seen, and that he was the sole resident of the building where the store had been. Under further questioning from Nakai, the man revealed that his own wife had jumped in front of a night train right before his eyes, but she had left no trace and remained missing. Hearing a cry for “Help!” that could have been either his own wife or the hotelman’s, Nakai headed back to the store. The hotelman’s efforts to stop him had then led to a fight, but Nakai flattened him, and when he got to the store he found his wife waiting for him. Together they started for home.

As it happens, Onomichi is where the missing Hasegawa was originally from, and Nakai had once met her there when she was home for a visit. Also, the change that had come over Nakai’s wife had begun when their night train passed through Onomichi Station on a trip they had taken together. They’d seen a woman who looked like Hasegawa standing at a railroad crossing. It was after they returned home from that trip that Nakai’s wife had begun spending long hours staring into space as if possessed, and then had disappeared.

The scene depicted in the Onomichi painting of the Night Train series bears a striking resemblance to what Nakai had seen there. And each of the other strange stories told by the members of the group also contains scenes that resemble one of the other paintings in the series. The figure of a longhaired woman resembling Hasegawa appears in every one of those paintings—which is ultimately explained by the revelation that Hasegawa became Kishida’s wife. And in each of the stories, there is much that is deliberately left unexplained as to why something happened—or did not happen. A kind of rift in space-time occurs, bringing the speaker a moment of extreme terror—and then for some inexplicable reason he or she survives.

But a mind-bending twist awaits in the final chapter. The group has left the inn to take in some of the afterglow of the festival, when Ōhashi suddenly realizes he is alone. He calls the others on his mobile phone and is told that he was the one who disappeared ten years before, not Hasegawa. What emerges in the pages that follow is a Moebius strip-like twist in space-time that had begun at the Kurama Fire Festival ten years before and created two ongoing realities. One is Ōhashi’s reality, in which Hasegawa went missing and Kishida’s series is called Night Train. The other is the reality in which Ōhashi went missing, Kishida’s series is called Dawn’s Light, and the paintings are of “the morning after.” The two realities are linked by way of Kishida’s paintings, and not until the very end does it become clear which one is the “true” reality.