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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hanawa Kanji

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To purchase Backlight

Title: Backlight
Author: Hanawa Kanji
Genre: Novella
Written: (Eng. 2018)
Length: 50 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Backlight - US
Backlight - UK
Backlight - Canada
  • Translated by Richard Nathan

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting small case-study, examination of culture and society

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 22/6/2019 Iain Maloney

  From the Reviews:
  • "While many storytellers would be drawn to imagining the boy’s adventures through the bear-rich wilderness, Kanji Hanawa takes a more philosophical tack, using the dynamics of the family to explore ideas of alienation. (...) Despite its brevity, this is a story that requires rereading to tease out the unsaid meaning behind Ishida’s reactions. It is an important work of social commentary doing what all the greatest short stories do: opening a rabbit hole of thought down which the reader will fall." - Iain Maloney, The Japan Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Backlight is a story featuring a missing seven-year-old boy (based on an actual incident), the novella divided into six chapters, each for a day of his ordeal. The boy, only called A, had been driving in Hokkaido with his family -- father, mother, and sister -- on the last day of the May national holidays. Acting up, the father had stopped the car and left A by the side of the road to teach him a lesson, returning a few minutes later to pick him up again -- but he had vanished in that short meantime. They quickly contacted the authorities, but even the large-scale search in the area could not immediately find him. As time goes by, the dangerous conditions -- the rough terrain, mountain rivers and streams, the cold temperatures and rain -- make it more and more difficult to hold out hope that the boy survived.
       The novella centers around the disappearance and the search, but the perspective is somewhat removed. The main figure is Mamoru Ishida, an associate professor of psychology, called in to help with the situation by an older colleague, Toshiko Momose -- though he does so essentially on the sidelines; the novel ends with the parenthetical note that the preceding was:

(From Mamoru Ishida's case memo, substantive points only.)
       Ishida follows and chronicles the search and information about it, but he is not in the middle of it; he is an observer, and he is as much concerned with the original action -- the punishment meted out by the family, and the reaction to it -- as anything else. He also considers its societal connections and implications -- discussing with Momose, for example, the differences in Japanese and Western attitudes and beliefs (as the case also makes international headlines). Ishida's engagement with the case is also introspective, as he reflects on his own experiences and interpretations of the situation; among the questions he poses to himself is that of which is the proper perspective to take.
       At short novella-length, Backlight is a quick story -- but quite effective at raising interesting questions, including about cultural and social differences and attitudes, and parental responsibilities. The almost secondary concern, of what actually happened to the boy in the wild, makes for a slightly odd feel to it -- anticlimactic both with regards to Ishida's speculations as well as the boy's fate itself -- and it seems curious that there isn't more involvement of, or interaction with the boy's parents (Ishida is told: "That's perfectly reasonable, but the two of them are in shock. I'd say it is going to be very hard to arrange."), but overall it still works reasonably well.
       Hanawa balances Ishida's both documentary and more personal styles well, and while Backlight can feel almost too succinct ("substantive points only" ...), the universal issues and questions it addresses give it the air of larger work, in substance if not detail.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 November 2018

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Backlight: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Hanawa Kanji (花輪莞爾) was born in 1936.

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