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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hoshino Tomoyuki

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To purchase ME

Title: ME
Author: Hoshino Tomoyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 239 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: ME - US
ME - Canada
  • Japanese title: 俺俺
  • Translated by Charles De Wolf
  • With an Afterword by Ōe Kenzaburō
  • Made into a film in 2013, It's Me, It's Me, directed by Miki Satoshi

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Our Assessment:

B : creatively twisted fiction about identity

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 7/10/2017 J.J.O'Donoghue
SCMP . 27/7/2017 James Kidd
Wall St. Journal . 16/6/2017 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Instead of taking on the themes of fraud and corruption, the novel takes a radical and surreal departure that hinges on doppelgangers, identity and, essentially, human nature. (...) Me is a compelling read, despite what might feel to some readers like a rushed ending." - J.J.O'Donoghue The Japan Times

  • "It’s not hard to read ME as a critique of contempo­rary Japan. In what feels like a pointed motif of cultural schizophrenia, Hitoshi’s identity crisis includes regular, guilt-ridden visits to McDonald’s. Hoshino’s central theme, however, is treading a path through crises of individualism, masculinity and nationalism. (...) The triumph of ME is to satirise the frustrations of Hitoshi’s narcissism (his isolation, selfishness, sadness, apathy) without losing sight of the human condition that underpins it." - James Kidd, South China Morning Post

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:

       The so-called I-novel, the popular Japanese form of personally-focused fiction, is taken to absolute extremes in ME -- as the bold (in the original) (a casual 'me') and capitalized (in the English translation) 'ME' already suggest.
       The springboard for this examination of personal identity comes from Hitoshi Nagano, the narrator of the story, a sales clerk at Megaton -- a: "volume sales electrical appliance store" -- walking off with someone else's phone after lunch at the local McDonald's, an almost accidental theft he goes through largely because he can -- and the man annoys him. He looks over the guy's e-mails and considers sending one in his name, and then, when the owner's mother calls, decides to answer the phone, passing himself off as the phone's owner, Daiki Hiyama. She seems convinced she's speaking with her actual son and he decides to see how far he can push things, pretending he's in financial straits and getting 'Mother' -- Daiki's -- to wire him a significant amount of cash -- ¥900,000. He realizes that he could be pretty easily caught -- after all, he gives his real bank information, so the money trail leads right to him -- but takes the money, ditches the phone, and hopes for the best.
       His spontaneous plan doesn't so much unravel as take a completely different and entirely surreal turn, with Mother -- yes, Daiki's mother -- showing up at his place -- not to accuse him of theft or deception, but fully convinced that Hitoshi is, in fact, her son Daiki, and immediately treating him as such. In her eyes, Hitoshi is in fact and without question Daiki -- baffling Hitoshi, who, after all, doesn't resemble the Daiki he stole the phone from.
       Hitoshi's confusion about the state of affairs -- indeed, the state of the world -- only gets worse when he visits his own home, where his mother no longer recognizes him and where another man identifying as Hitoshi is playing his role. The other Hitoshi pretends not to understand what is going on and the real one is chased away -- but the impersonating one agrees to meet up with the real one, and explains the situation: just as Hitoshi is seen by Mother to be Daiki so the fake Hitoshi is taken to be the real one by Hitoshi's family. What's more, there's another one of them, a student, also claiming to be the 'real' Hitoshi -- and the fake Hitoshi worries that his place too will be usurped by this student:

Ever since the damned kid showed up, I've been constantly thinking that one of these days I'll come home from work and Mother will tell me that she doesn't know me, point to that same kid coming out of my room, and say that he's her son. And there'd be nothing weird about it. Age and appearances aside, there's no real difference between him and me.
       This is the world of ME, one where individuals are barely perceived as individuals, where differing ages and appearances are not sufficient to differentiate them even to those closest to them, a universal sameness instead prevailing. Yes, this is a novel of existential crisis, taken to the extreme.
       So also, when a colleague leaves the job, the original Hitoshi finds himself even more unmoored:
     I had been imagining that I was an expert camera salesman. In reality, I was nonexistent, belonging nowhere, for without Yasokichi there was no Megaton.
       He can identify with the alter-mes -- MEs as he calls them (or it, as if 'ME' is simply one larger unit of single identity). As the three first MEs find, enjoying each other's company:
     Hitoshi gulped more of his drink. "I've never felt so carefree with others in all my life," he said.
     "There are no others here. It's like I am you and you are me."
       Hitoshi faces not only a loss of identity -- his becomes fluid, beyond his control; he can't influence how (or as who) others see him -- but a subverting of any concept of self. The first MEs he encounters look different, have led different lives, and have different jobs -- and soon MEs predominate: he sees one in almost everyone Everywhere he turns, there's a ME -- even his (well, Daiki's ...) brother-in-law and infant nephew. Eventually, there's an: "entire horde of US. And that horde was indeed nothing more than a formless blob".
       Things get nasty, too. MEs wreak havoc. And turn on each other:
We who should be able to understand one another better than all others were engaged in mutual torment of the cruelest kind. We were plunging headlong toward extinction.
       Ultimately, any semblance of self is something to be wary of:
     No, no, I mustn't remember. The more I did, the more dubious my life story would become. It was better for me not to know what had befallen me or what I had done to others. What I had forgotten I should remain forgotten.
       Ultimately, Hitoshi's world spirals out of control -- though there's a hopeful ending, of him getting past the MEs, choosing to remember, and move on. But it's a very wild ride to that point.
       Much of Hitoshi's account is surprisingly everyday: he had ambitions to become a photographer, and when that didn't work out would up working at Megaton; he has issues with the boss, and things change in the workplace. He likes his McDonald's meals, and he has his family issues -- both with his 'real' family (in the past) and then Daiki's. The contrast between those behaving 'normally' and the MEs who recognize each other, playing out in an overlapping other-world, makes for a surreal and deeply unsettling novel of personal identity.
       ME is a strange, creative and very wild ride, but it's effectively done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 June 2017

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ME: Reviews: It's Me, It's Me - the film: Other books by Hoshino Tomoyuki under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Hoshino Tomoyuki (星野 智幸) was born in 1965.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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