This ensemble novel with elements of a suspense thriller trains its lens on the growing gap between rich and poor, and the increasing number of people who are falling into the poorest segment of society.
The story takes place in a contemporary Japan where small acts of terrorism have become commonplace?not major events like 9/11, but the sort of incident where a single individiual runs amok with a knife on a crowded street, or a truck plows into a retail shop. The perpetrators, who call themselves members of the Resistance, are impoverished young people, many of them lonely, who have difficulty eking out even the most meager of livings. They express their frustration and disillusionment with society in a single final act that takes the lives of unknown strangers along with their own. The incidents appear to be unrelated to one another, and the police are unable to identify any central controlling figure. In ten chapters, the book follows the activities of as many men and women connected either directly or indirectly with these acts.
By interrogating the very few perpetrators who survive, the security police identify a figure who goes by the name of Tobe?gender unknown. Through Internet social networks, Tobe persuades struggling young people that society is to blame for their poverty, and encourages them to join the cause. The name Tobe appears to be a codename based on the imperative form of the Japanese word for “jump/leap/vault,” and seems to represent not just one person but many, being passed down from one person to another and even increasing in number as time goes by. All of those using the Tobe moniker are well educated, work for major corporations, and possess a high level of Internet savvy. They are enraged at the moral bankruptcy of a society that turns a blind eye to the suffering of the weak as increasing numbers fall victim to the prolonged recession; their small acts of terrorism are incited as a kind of grassroots movement directed at creating a more just world.
In the final chapter, Maiko Ninomiya reveals that she was the first one to identify as Tobe three years before. A man named Natori at work had been nicknamed “Mister Hate” and was ostracized by his colleagues because he was considered too incorruptible in his sense of right and wrong. Ninomiya and Natori first met at the scene of an accident involving a runaway truck: she had seen him working frantically to save the injured and had hurried to help. Natori subsequently died from an asthma attack while at a coffee shop. He could have been saved if anyone nearby had called an ambulance. Furious at the people who had merely stood by and watched, Ninomiya decided to become Tobe in order to take revenge on the indifference of the people around her.
A man who perpetrates an act of terror, and a man who stops short; a woman who suspects her husband of being Tobe; a man who takes up the name of Tobe only to realize that he is himself one of the offending bystanders . . . With a structure that suggests a microcosm of society as a whole, author Tokurō Nukui offers a highly conceptual, highly challenging read. The work was shortlisted for the Naoki Prize in 2014.