Unrequited Love

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Unrequited Love
Author: Keigo Higashino
Specifications: ISBN  978-4167110093
614 pages
10.7 x 15.3 cm / 4.2 x 6.1 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2001
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


Originally published in 2001, this work took up gender identity disorder as its theme well before the movement for LGBT rights spread around the world. What at first appears to be a simple case of a male stalker being murdered goes through numerous twists and turns that are sure to shake up readers’ preconceptions about gender identity. Even as the work follows suspense thriller and love story conventions, it emerges between the lines as a philosophical novel about the wondrousness of human existence.

On the third Friday in November, members of a fictitious university football team that lost in the league finals 13 years before, when they were seniors, gather for their annual reunion. An unfortunate blunder by quarterback Tetsurō Nishiwaki had turned their chance for a dramatic upset into an ignominious defeat, causing the league championship to slip through their fingers.

Tetsurō did not go on to play professionally after graduation, and now works as a sportswriter. Eight years ago he married classmate Risako, who served as one of the team managers in the fateful year but is unable to attend the reunion this year because of a conflict with her work as a photographer. The couple have no children. The third main actor is Mitsuki Hiura, the other team manager, who has missed the reunion for the last three years running. As the reunion breaks up and he is about to head for the station, Tetsurō notices that Mitsuki is trying to get his attention. When she is reluctant to talk in public, he invites her to his home, where she finally opens up. She makes two shocking revelations: that she has undergone a sex change, and that she is wanted for murder.

Mitsuki explains that from the time she was little, she always felt like she was a boy in a girl’s body. Knowing how hard it would be on her parents, especially her mother, if she were to come out, she forced herself to remain a girl through childhood, and she had even accepted an arranged marriage at the age of 28 and given birth to a son, who is now six years old, in the hope that she could put her desire to be a man behind her. But ultimately unable to suppress her true nature, she had left her husband at the end of the previous year and gone through the sex change process. She now goes by the male name of Mitsuru Kanzaki and works as a bartender at a club in ritzy Ginza. A hostess at the club named Kaori was being stalked by Akio Tokura, a 42-year-old man who would watch for her to emerge and follow her home—and had somehow even gotten hold of her cell phone number. Approached by Kaori for help, Mitsuru had begun acting as her bodyguard, seeing her to her door every night. After delivering Kaori home on the night before the reunion, Mitsuru spied Tokura parked in front of her condo in his car and decided to see if he could put an end to the stalking. He got into Tokura’s car and, after grappling with him, ended up strangling him to death. He had then driven the car to a different location and abandoned it with the dead body inside. So ends his account.

Mitsuru says he is debating whether to turn himself in, but when Risako returns home and hears his story, she declares that she won’t let him. If he turns himself in, he won’t be able to live his life as a man. She tells Tetsurō that she’s determined to protect Mitsuru—whatever it takes.

A prime concern of the narrative is the fluidity of Mitsuki/Mitsuru’s gender identity. In their final year at the university, Mitsuki had told Tetsurō that he was her “ideal man,” and in a drunken impulse one night had in effect forced him to sleep with her. They had been intimate only that once, but Tetsurō still finds himself attracted to, and becoming aroused by, the woman in Mitsuki/Mitsuru. At the same time Mitsuki/Mitsuru confesses that, “as a man,” s/he has always had a thing for Risako. After it is agreed that Mitsuru will hide out in the Nishiwakis’ apartment, Mitsuru begs Risako to kiss him, and she obliges. Since the police are likely to be interested in the male bartender who disappeared coincident with the murder, Risako urges Mitsuru to dress as a woman, but Mitsuru insists that he wants to be a man in Risako’s presence. Then Mitsuru also tries to seduce Tetsurō again, and when it doesn’t work out, disappears from the apartment and remains missing. The ensuing narrative follows Tetsurō’s efforts to learn Mitsuru’s whereabouts, along with other facts that emerge about what actually happened on the night before the reunion, offering a constantly changing understanding of the relationship between the three principal actors in the story.

After many twists and turns, it is revealed in a climactic scene that the real killer was Tetsurō’s classmate Kōsuke Nakao, the team’s fleet-footed running back. Kōsuke had been Mitsuki’s lover for a time in college, and once Mitsuki revealed her desire to become a man, he had always been supportive. On the night in question, he had come to Mitsuki/Mitsuru’s aid and killed Tokura after Tokura raped her. He has connections with an underground network of volunteers supporting those who go through gender reassignment by secretly arranging family registry swaps between men who become women and women who become men. The hostess Kaori was a transgender woman who had already made such an exchange, and Mitsuki/Mitsuru had expectations of ultimately obtaining a male registry. After stalker Tokura discovered that Kaori was actually a man and Mitsuru actually a woman by going through Kaori’s trash, Kōsuke and Mitsuru feared that the whole registry-swap scheme might be exposed and jeopardize the peaceful lives of people who had gone through an exchange. And now that Tokura is dead, they fear their own close ties to the network could threaten it even more, so they decide to disappear. After entrusting Mitsuru to Tetsurō, Kōsuke commits suicide by crashing his car in a way that looks like an accident. He has terminal-stage pancreatic cancer and knows his days are numbered.

In the role of sleuth, Tetsurō attempts to control the story the way he controlled the game as a talented quarterback, but he is buffeted by repeated psychological blows that keep him off balance. Ever since Risako was faced with the choice of having a baby or continuing her career and decided to get an abortion, his marriage has been on the rocks—and author Keigo Higashino mines this backstory to particularly rich effect. Still cherishing his wife in spite of all, and unstinting in his efforts to help his former classmates, Tetsurō emerges as a well-rounded and highly sympathetic protagonist.

At one point, a transgender woman who plays a leading role in the underground support network tells Tetsurō that people can’t really be divided clearly into two distinct genders, but rather, gender is something more like a Moebius strip in which the front is continuous with the back. She asserts that no one is completely male or female, and suggests that this nullifies the whole distinction of having a man’s heart in a woman’s body or a woman’s heart in a man’s body. A key recurrent motif throughout the narrative is that of unrequited love.

The double satisfaction of superbly choreographed plot twists and deeply sympathetic characters makes this a masterwork that ranks on a par with author Keigo Higashino’s subsequent bestseller Yōgisha X no kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X).