This is a sequel to Jun Ikeido’s Naoki Prize-winning business novel Shitamachi roketto (Downtown Rocket), centering on a small precision machinery manufacturing company run by Kōhei Tsukuda in the old merchant-class district of Tokyo. In this installment, the company joins in on the development of the first domestically produced artificial heart valve.
Under contract with Japanese rocket developer Teikoku Heavy Industries, Tsukuda Manufacturing continues its work on high-precision valves for use in rocket engines. But even as the time for delivery of those valves and test-firing of Teikoku’s rocket engine grows near, the company signs on with the “Gaudi Project”?an initiative to develop an artificial heart valve that can help patients with valvular heart disease. Some two million Japanese suffer from the condition, and in the absence of a domestically designed and made product, a frequent complaint is that the available valves are too large, especially for children.
The key figures behind Gaudi are Dr. Hayato Ichimura, a heart surgeon affiliated with a regional university who has earned the nickname of “God’s Hands,” and President Akira Sakurada of the Sakurada Co., a subsidiary set up by Sakurada Warp Knitting Co. to repurpose its knitting technologies for other industrial uses. After losing his 17-year-old daughter to valvular heart disease five years earlier, Sakurada ceded control of the parent company to his younger brother so he could focus exclusively on the Gaudi Project.
Although the benefits to society are obvious and there is clearly a market demand, the lengthy and rigorous review process all medical devices must go through at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare makes it impossible to know when production can actually begin. There are also concerns about the liability of the manufacturer in the event of a medical mishap, potentially involving large payouts. But moved by Ichimura and Sakurada’s passion for the project, Tsukuda agrees to a tie-up and puts together a team of four men and women to work on the device. As his company gears up to shoulder simultaneous work on rocket engine valves and artificial heart valves, however, rival precision machinery manufacturer Sayama Manufacturing steps in the way.
President Shiina of Sayama Manufacturing made his name as a Japanese scientist affiliated with NASA. In the three years since he took over operations, he has been rapidly growing the company his father founded. Among his moves: brazenly poaching young talent from Tsukuda Manufacturing in an effort to develop his own valves for Teikoku. In response, Teikoku decides to seek competitive bids from the two companies, and although the performance data come out in Tsukuda’s favor, the competition is hijacked by an internal power struggle at Teikoku, and the contract is awarded to Sayama. Meanwhile, the Gaudi Project has ground to a virtual halt due to a combination of interference from Ichimura’s former superior Dr. Kifune, a medical association heavyweight who is working on building an artificial heart, and business difficulties encountered by Sakurada Warp Knitting. How will Tsukuda Manufacturing personnel respond to the existential threat their company faces? What is the future of the Gaudi Project? . . .
Author Ikeido keeps the pages turning with his usual authenticity of detail and heart-pounding suspense, making for a highly entertaining read.