Author: Yuka Kobayashi
Specifications: ISBN  978-4575239706
267 pages
13.4 x 19.5 cm / 5.3 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Futabasha Publishers Ltd.
Tokyo, 2016
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


The maximum penalty under Japanese law is death. As in other countries with the death penalty, there are those who argue for its abolishment, but numerous surveys have shown that they are greatly outnumbered by those who support retaining it. The arguments in favor of capital punishment focus on the feelings of the aggrieved families of the victims. This book sets up a provocative hypothetical to prompt deeper consideration of the issue: What if a law were passed to provide for the aggrieved parties to actively obtain revenge?

In 20xx, as the incidence of heinous crimes continues to rise, a new “Revenge Act” is passed in the interest of maintaining social order and fostering greater fairness. The Revenge Act provides for a new kind of criminal penalty in which victims’ families can legally inflict the same nature and manner of harm on the convicted perpetrator as he or she inflicted on the original victim. Following promulgation of the law, courts begin offering a choice between a conventional judgment and one based on the Revenge Act. “Retribution executors” under the new law are limited to close family members and loved ones—a father whose son was murdered, a daughter whose mother was killed, a man whose fiancée was murdered—and they are permitted to obtain revenge by repeating the crime on the original perpetrator. In spite of its legality under these circumstances, murdering the perpetrator gives pause to many people, who subsequently ask the courts to render conventional judgments. The stories in this collection, however, present five cases in which victims’ loved ones opt to personally carry out the convicted perpetrator’s death sentence.

The tales are narrated from the perspective of Ayano Toritani, a Ministry of Justice bureaucrat appointed to the newly created position of retribution supervisor. Her job is to ask potential retribution executors what their wishes are, and, in cases where someone chooses to take advantage of the new law, to protect the executor, supervise the execution site, and produce a detailed written report afterward. The cases recounted cover roughly three years during which she interacts closely with victims’ families, assists them in coming to their fateful choices, and stands by as a witness as they carry out their grim acts of vengeance.

The title story comes last, and presents a particularly shocking circumstance. The retribution executor is 10-year-old Hayato Morishita. Six months ago his neglectful mother Makiko Morishita, 31, and her live-in boyfriend Takao Honda, 32, allowed his younger sister Miku, five, to die of starvation. Makiko had divorced Hayato and Miku’s father on grounds of physical abuse and subsequently moved in with Honda with her two children. Makiko is unemployed and Honda drinks and gambles away most of his earnings from whatever job he happens to be working, with the result that the children often go hungry. The children’s father, now remarried, is working overseas and opts out of becoming the retribution executor, so the task falls to Hayato, who is eager to take on the role. Although wholly in accord with the law, the designation of a minor as retribution executor sets off a heated public debate. Those who find it objectionable demonstrate on the streets, while those who support the law extol Hayato as a hero.

Hayato’s choice is for Makiko and Takao to be deprived of food so he can watch them die of starvation. As the process drags on, even Ayano begins to grow haggard as she carries out her supervisory responsibilities. Then, after eight days, Hayato undergoes a change: he stops eating any food himself, and orders that Makiko and Takao be fed. Overcome with guilt at having failed to protect his sister, he is apparently trying to starve himself to death. Because the law gives the retribution executor complete control of the process, Ayano cannot legally put a halt to his actions. When she finally takes extralegal action to stop the process, it is too late, and the weakening Hayato dies on his 11th birthday. Ayano resigns from the Ministry of Justice.

Belying the fact that this is her debut work, author Yuka Kobayashi takes on a highly controversial subject and probes the complex psychologies of her characters with the insight and assurance of a seasoned pro. Readers are sure to find themselves eagerly awaiting her next work.