The Honor and the Ecstasy

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The Honor and the Ecstasy
Author: Hisaki Matsuura
Specifications: ISBN  978-4104717033
760 pages
13.8 x 19.8 cm / 5.5 x 7.9 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2017
Awards: Tanizaki Jun'ichiro Prize, 2017
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A suspense thriller set in Shanghai during the period of Japanese expansion on the Asian continent in the late 1930s, prior to the commencement of all-out war. Author Hisaki Matsuura vividly captures the dynamism of the highly international city that had grown out of the British, American, and French enclaves established nearly a century earlier, following the Opium War.

A month after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937, which triggered a full-on Japanese invasion of China, the Battle of Shanghai breaks out. The story traces the next two years in the life of protagonist Ichirō Serizawa, 29, an officer in the Security Division of the Police Department under the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC), the body through which England, the United States, and Japan jointly administer the International Settlement. After graduating from the Tokyo School of Foreign Studies, Serizawa did a stint at Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters before being transferred to Shanghai, where he has been engaged mainly in intelligence-gathering activities for the last four years.

According to the official Serizawa family registry in Japan, Ichirō has a brother Tamotsu and sister Shizuko, from whom he is separated by 18 years. But he is actually Shizuko’s son, born when she was just 17 and living with her family in Seoul, where her father’s export-import business had taken them. When the child’s father, a Korean shipbuilding engineer, died in an accident before he and Shizuko could get married, the family reported the birth as their third child. Shizuko succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 39, and Tamotsu died two years ago in a traffic accident, leaving Ichirō without any family—the last of the Serizawa line. Several plot points in the story turn on the fact that he is half Korean by blood.

The story begins when he receives a summons by phone from a Major Kiyoshi Kayama, 34, of the Imperial Army. With the Japanese military already occupying the areas surrounding the International Settlement, the authority of the SMC has come into question, and even as a police officer, Serizawa is in no position to refuse an Imperial Army officer, especially one affiliated with the General Staff Office (the major later emerges as the leader of a secret unit engaged in covert operations). Kayama has a favor to ask, which under the circumstances has the force of a command: he wants Serizawa to arrange a meeting for him with Xiao Yanbin, one of the most powerful members of the Green Gang, an organized crime group in Shanghai. Xiao is the czar of Shanghai’s three vices: opium, prostitution, and gambling. And with ambitions that go beyond the city’s underworld, he has managed to expand his influence to become a ranking member of the Municipal Administrative Council that governs the French Concession. He has also gained the favor of Chiang Kai-shek and sympathizes with the Kuomintang, making him an enemy of Japan. Serizawa can’t imagine why Kayama would think a Japanese police officer has an in with a top Chinese crime boss, but then Kayama informs him that his friend Feng Dusheng is Xiao’s uncle by marriage: his third wife (Xiao is now on wife number four) had been Meiyu, the daughter of Feng’s sister.

Feng is an elderly street vendor of watches and antiques and such, whom Serizawa has known for about two years. He studied in Japan in his youth, and he also knew the Japanese intellectual Ikki Kita when he lived in Shanghai. A friendship had developed between Serizawa and Feng as a result of Serizawa’s interest in the beautiful dolls Feng makes. Serizawa also has a homosexual relationship with Anatoly, a White Russian orphan Feng has taken in and looks after like a son.

Serizawa initially tries to ignore Kayama’s request, but the major summons him again, reveals that he knows about Serizawa’s birth and the falsification of the family registry, and threatens to inform the police hierarchy back in Japan if he does not arrange the meeting without delay. While wondering how and why the major dug so deeply into his personal life and background, as well as what sort of business he might wish to discuss with an enemy and crime boss, Serizawa has no choice but to comply, and he quickly becomes entangled in Kayama’s intrigues. The narrative proceeds like a Hitchcockian thriller such as Rear Window or Vertigo, with the same well-honed touch Matsuura showed in such novels as Tomoe (Triangle) and Hantō (Peninsula): what follows is a suspense-filled noir with the usual femme fatale, violence, betrayal, and more.

With Feng as the intermediary, Xiao and Kayama meet in October. Kayama does not want Serizawa to be present, so Xiao tells him to take the bored and hungry Meiyu to a nightclub. At this point, everything begins tumbling rapidly downhill for Serizawa. In January his boss orders him to resign. If he refuses, he will receive a disciplinary discharge on suspicion of violating the Military Secrets Law and the Peace Preservation Law as well as accepting bribes. His boss also knows about his friendship with Feng, his relationship with Anatoly, and the details of his birth. Kayama has betrayed Serizawa by testifying that Serizawa is the one who initiated the contact with Xiao. Kayama had paid Tomokichi Inui, one of Serizawa’s few friends on the force, to spy on him, set up the affair with Anatoly, and gather dirt that could be used against him. A confrontation between the enraged Serizawa and Inui comes to blows, and Inui dies. Now a murderer, Serizawa leaves his identity as a former cop behind and disappears into the Shanghai underworld as a Chinese—ultimately escaping to Hong Kong with Feng and Meiyu.

Under the extraordinary conditions of the Shanghai settlement in wartime, everyone finds themselves in uncertain limbo. Serizawa’s position is particularly difficult. He chose a career on the police force out of his regard for law and order, but because of the circumstances of his birth, he becomes an object of scorn from his superiors on the force as well as from men in the military for being a “halfbreed.” He experiences a crisis of identity, but ultimately upholds his pride and honor by ignoring the dangers and confronting Kayama again. Matsuura once more proves his mastery at portraying men who have lost their position in society and must somehow find a way to redeem themselves.