The Confession of the Sirens

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The Confession of the Sirens
Author: Shichiri Nakayama
Specifications: ISBN  978-4093864527
253 pages
13.4 x 19.4 cm / 5.3 x 7.7 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shogakukan Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
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The “Afternoon Japan” news show on Teito TV in Tokyo has received a warning from the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO) for fabrications and other unjournalistic practices in their reportage, and the program is under threat of cancellation. With the city department as a whole under a cloud, veteran reporter Taichi Satoya tells newcomer Takami Asakura, in her second year at the station, “What we need is a big scoop to bring us back from the brink of death.”

One day a high-school girl is abducted in Katsushika Ward. The girl goes out in the evening but fails to return. Then, very late that night the phone at the girl’s home rings: a male caller reveals the kidnapping and demands a ransom of ¥100 million (about $1 million). It is a baffling crime if money is the object, for the girl’s family is not wealthy—her father is a low-paid contract employee when he works at all, and her mother is only on part-time status at her job. To protect the girl, the police negotiate with the press club for the media to report only authorized information, then release the name of the girl as Ayaka Higashira.

Hoping to land a scoop even under the agreed-upon restraints, Satoya and Asakura keep a close watch on the movements of Kenji Kudō, a crack detective from Criminal Investigation Division I of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. They tail his police car to the heavily industrialized Yotsugi area of Katsushika Ward. Going into an abandoned factory, Asakura comes upon the battered corpse of Ayaka, her face disfigured by acid.

With the victim now dead and the media restrictions removed, Satoya and Asakura go to Ayaka’s school to see if they can learn something from her classmates as they leave school for the day. One of the girls they talk to reveals that Ayaka was being bullied, and that the prime instigator of the bullying was a girl named Miku Nakata. This makes the case personal for Asakura, whose beloved younger sister had killed herself when she couldn’t stand being bullied anymore. The two reporters tail Miku, and she leads them to a group headed up by a man named Akagi, who looks like a teen but is in his twenties. They believe they have their scoop: footage claiming Akagi’s group was responsible for what happened to Ayaka airs on “Afternoon Japan,” and it creates a sensation.

Hounded by the media after this broadcast, Miku attempts to kill herself. She was one of the victims in a serial rapist incident six years before. Her father storms into Teito TV headquarters in a rage. The fallout continues when it comes to light that it was actually a different gang of teens, not Akagi’s group, who had assaulted Ayaka. As punishment for the reporting blunder, Satoya is transferred to a production company that subcontracts variety shows for Teito TV. Having lost her mentor and feeling without a compass, Asakura goes to see Ayaka’s parents. She comes away disturbed by something Ayaka’s father Nobuhiro had said, which strikes her as something only the perpetrator of the crime could have known.

Asakura tails Nobuhiro, and he leads her back to the abandoned factory where she had found the murdered Ayaka. When Nobuhiro realizes he has been followed, he attacks Asakura. As he is about to strangle her, he reveals that he is the one who killed Ayaka. On the day of the crime, Ayaka had called home for help after being assaulted, and he had rushed to the scene—but then she had cursed him bitterly in foul language, and he had killed her in a fit of rage. He’d come back now to search for some pachinko balls that he feared could incriminate him: he had used them as improvised ear plugs to dampen the din at his favorite pachinko parlor earlier on the night of the crime, and discovered them missing afterwards. Just as Asakura is about to lose consciousness, Kudō comes to the rescue.

Nobuhiro’s arrest appears to resolve the case. But Kudō tells Asakura that there are things in this world that the police cannot reveal, and matters in which the courts cannot deliver justice. Would she like him to show her? Together, they visit Ayaka’s mother Ritsuko. Under questioning from Kudō, Ritsuko confirms that Nobuhiro is her second husband, and that her daughter had loathed her stepfather, especially for the way he idled about and lived off of Ritsuko’s earnings. Kudō then reveals that Ayako’s smartphone had dialed Ritsuko’s mobile phone 24 times in the span of 20 minutes right after her assault. With Ritsuko ignoring her SOS calls, Ayako had been forced to call her home phone number, and to her certain dismay, her detested stepfather had picked up. Ritsuko’s response to this revelation is to ask, with eyes devoid of any emotion, “Is it a crime for me not to answer my phone?” She is completely tapped out from the burdens of dealing with a troubled adolescent daughter, a husband who doesn’t work, and the demands of her own job.

On “Afternoon Japan” the following day, Asakura reports live from the abandoned factory where Nobuhiro had killed Ayaka. As she speaks before the camera, she vows to herself that, though she may make a mistake now and then, she will make it her mission as a reporter to give voice to the voiceless.

The narrative delves into the nature of the media and how they handle news with a critical eye. Kudō in particular is shown to despise the media for the way they circle like hyenas in pursuit of their next scoop. He likens them to “sirens who turn victims’ suffering into entertainment, and amplify their misfortunes.”