Tokyo Year Zero

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Tokyo Year Zero
Author: Jirō Akagawa
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087716139
500 pages
13.9 x 19.5 cm / 5.5 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2015
Awards: Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature, 2016
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This dystopian, near-future novel, reminiscent in some ways of George Orwell’s?1984, poses numerous questions about the direction in which Japan’s current political regime is taking the country.

At the center of the action is Shigeharu Namatame, retired from a career as special prosecutor in the Public Prosecutors Office, where he gained a name for his relentlessness in pursuing crime. Portrayed as an able and resourceful official who will use his power in whatever way necessary to further the interests of the government and ruling party and ensure the stability and order of society at large, he is the original architect of Japan’s no-holds-barred police state policies, regarded with alarm even by allies such as the United States, in which anyone who gets in the way is eliminated, and tight controls on the media keep word of disappearances from reaching the public. Namatame brings trumped-up charges against anti-government elements as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy, and when his plot fails after many twists and turns, he takes responsibility by shooting himself in the head on live television.

Providing a romantic interest are Namatame’s son Kenji, a 19-year-old college student, and Aki Nagasawa, a 24-year-old woman who works in an insurance office by day and at a bento outlet by night. Aki’s father, Kōsuke Nagasawa, is a well-known journalist in the anti-authoritarian cause. As the action develops, Aki tells Kenji about an incident in which her father was involved several years before. In this flashback to the past, when Kōsuke is planning a major antiwar demonstration, the prosecutors’ office moves to have several leaders of the movement, including Kōsuke, placed under preventive detention to quash the demonstration. It also releases photos of Kōsuke entering a hotel with his illicit lover Shizuka Tanahara to whip up a scandal and discredit him. Kōsuke ultimately makes peace with the prosecutors and agrees to go on playing his activist role strictly within bounds prescribed by them.

Shizuka Tanahara is married to Michio Yuasa, a former newspaperman who has joined up with Kōsuke’s movement. Shizuka and Michio are actually undercover agents sent into the anti-government ranks by Namatame in a plot to bring Kōsuke down?except that Shizuka ends up falling genuinely in love with Kōsuke. In a fit of jealousy, Michio attempts to gun down Kōsuke but fails, and is stabbed by an unknown assailant himself. Then he is thrown from the window of Shizuka’s seventh-floor hospital room and falls into the river below. The police arrest Kōsuke on charges of murder, but Michio’s body is never found and Shizuka, the only witness, disappears, so they are forced to let him go. Kōsuke subsequently suffers a cerebral hemorrhage and must enter a nursing facility. Meanwhile, his daughter Aki, still in school at the time, is gang-raped by four or five men right in the middle of a college lecture, with none of the other students stepping in to stop the assault. Even after this, Kōsuke, Aki, and Aki’s mother all remain under constant police surveillance.

The fateful meeting of the son of the prosecutor and the daughter of his victim occurs several years after these events, when Kenji falls from a subway platform and passerby Aki bravely leaps to his rescue.

The plot thickens when, back in the present, the missing Michio is identified in footage for a television documentary on a regional festival. He is still alive. Fearing exposure of his past machinations, Namatame calls on a protégé named Nishiyama, who now heads his former unit in the Public Prosecutors Office, to keep the story out of the media as well as to track down Michio’s current whereabouts by checking surveillance cameras and mobile phone records, but the search drags on without success. Meanwhile, an unknown assailant guns down Namatame’s young lover, who is pregnant with his child, and Namatame is forced into hiding.

Following a number of miscues, Nishiyama reassesses the situation in light of the government’s position and changes course: he sets a plan in motion to eliminate all persons connected with the fabrication of charges against the activists, including Namatame himself. Namatame declares that he will retire from all public service roles he has been playing and, insisting that he wants to speak directly to the people, all but forces his way onto a live news broadcast?at which point he kills himself with the sidearm he wrested away from the cop who had come to kill him.

Throughout the narrative, both the prosecutors’ office and the police are shown fabricating evidence at will and arresting people under false charges, declaring the innocent guilty and summarily executing them, setting fire to the homes of those involved, and exercising all manner of other criminal mischief, while the government-controlled media report only what the police include in their releases, effectively neutering all anti-government efforts. It is a work of suspense that sounds the alarm bell loud and clear on the direction today’s Japan appears to be headed.