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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Deep Red

Nozawa Hisashi

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To purchase Deep Red

Title: Deep Red
Author: Nozawa Hisashi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 284 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Deep Red - US
Deep Red - UK
Deep Red - Canada
  • Japanese title: 深紅
  • Translated by Asumi Shibata
  • 深紅 was made into a film in 2005, directed by Tsukinoki Takashi

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing story but unevenly handled

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Deep Red begins with twelve-year-old sixth grader Kanako on a school trip that is suddenly cut short for her: late in the evening her teacher has her gather her things and brings her back to Tokyo, where something has happened to her family. Kept in the dark at first, she imagines a traffic accident, but gradually it dawns on her that something truly terrible happened. Initially headed for the hospital, ultimately it's only necessary to go to the medical examiner's office, where her parents and her two young brothers all lie dead, slaughtered in their home a few hours earlier.
       The first of the novel's five chapters describes Kanako facing what has happened in the immediate aftermath, through the funeral, a fairly quick blur of emotions and bafflement. The second chapter introduces the perpetrator, Norio Tsuzuki, in the form of his official statement given to the court, explaining what led up to the crime and then describing the murders, and then the official ruling in the case (in the first instance), two years later, unsurprisingly sentencing him to death.
       Tsuzuki's statement explains how he came to commit this awful deed. He had long had a business relationship with Kanako's father, Yukihiko Akiba, and at one point allowed himself to be pressured into signing a debt obligation as guarantor, ostensibly to help the chairman of a company that could benefit their business. Tsuzuki not only found himself on the hook alone -- and for an amount much greater than he had been told --, but also that the circumstances surrounding the loan weren't as Akiba had claimed. And while Akiba offers to help get the money back, straight arrow Tsuzuki can't accept the dubious means for doing so he proposes. Having also suffered a great personal loss -- his wife died tragically -- and raising his daughter, Miho, on his own, Tsuzuki became unhinged, went to Akiba's home -- into which he had never been invited -- and took out the family, one after another.
       The story then resumes eight years after the original crime. Twenty-year-old Kanako is now a college student with a boyfriend and a part-time job -- tallying audience-reactions to new movies. And the Supreme Court has just upheld Tsuzuki's death sentence, meaning that he will spend another four or five year on death row and then, one morning, be hauled out and put to death.
       When driving to Tokyo, before she knew exactly what had happened to her family, twelve-year-old Kanako had recalled an incident at her school when a college student had suddenly appeared on the school's track field; her teacher had explained that he had a "medical history", likely because of some childhood experiences. Kanako wonders and asks: "Do people grow up weird if something happens when they're kids ?" -- just as her life-changing trauma begins to take on shape. It's something she continues to wonder about over the years, even after years of therapy and when she's living a fairly normal-seeming college student life. (Nozawa doesn't let the question simply echo in the background, either; he (unnecessarily) brings it up repeatedly.)
       Much about the crime has long remained a mystery to Kanako. Even as she was very much in the public eye -- hounded by photographers, and with journalists seeking comment -- the trial and information about Tsuzuki are shrouded in more mystery. Nozawa is clearly critical of the Japanese judicial system of the (still very recent) time, where:

     To begin with, the system was such that the victim's side couldn't appear in court. Relatives weren't even informed when the trial be held. [...] In their nation's system, there was no opportunity for the victim's family even to convey its sorrow over the loss. [...] They couldn't even observe the public hearing, unlike the defendant, and didn't receive a copy of the ruling.
       A 1990 Supreme Court ruling sums the reasoning behind this up:
The purpose of conducting criminal investigations and employing prosecutorial powers is to maintain a greater good, namely public and social order, and not the restitution or reclamation of rights of the victim of the crime.
       Kanako can't leave well enough alone, however, and gets her hands on Tsuzuki's official statement, finally learning the details of what happened. She continues to have mixed feelings -- there's her survivor's guilt, her anger at her father, who she understands acted badly (in other respects as well), and her incomprehension why her innocent brothers should have suffered. And there's one detail she latches onto in particular: Tsuzuki had a daughter, Miho, who was almost exactly her age. Kanako wants to know how she handled the consequences of what her father did -- and toys also with the idea of some sort of revenge:
     Kanako wanted to meet her polar opposite and ascertain whether the shape of suffering in the other's heart vied with the one locked away in her hideaway.
       Kanako seeks out Miho, though she doesn't tell her who she is, using a false name. Miho works as a bartender, and is married -- in an abusive relationship, though she seems to feel she deserves no better. The two girls befriend each other -- though Kanako is less open, still plotting in the back of her mind. It's an interesting dynamic, with Miho very open -- she reveals what her father did early on -- while Kanako necessarily remains guarded, since she specifically doesn't want Miho to know her true identity.
       Deep Red is uneven, with Nozawa getting diverted by particular angles to the situation(s). Some of the aspects are interesting -- the role of the press, who are outrageously in-your-face, even by Western tabloid standards, or the secretive judicial process -- but Nozawa seems unsure just how much to harp on these, and as is they flap somewhat loosely in the story. The crime is a fairly clever set-up -- there are extenuating circumstances to aspects of it (Akiba arguably had it coming, to quite some extent), but other parts (the killing of the innocent young boys) are beyond any pale -- but Nozawa sets it up almost too neatly -- only to then not delve into it past a certain point.
       Most interesting is how the two girl handle their pasts, and how they interact in the present. We learn too little of how twenty-year-old Kanako got here, but Nozawa makes clear that she has not processed what happened adequately -- even as she publicly claims she has:
     "I'm not as tied down to the past as everyone thinks I am."
     That was a lie. She was shackled to the past more than anyone could imagine.
       Miho, meanwhile, has embraced an unhealthy relationship, and long hasn't sought to change her circumstances -- until then finally considering drastic action, with Kanako's help .....
       There's arguably too much her to churn through. For too much of Deep Red, Nozawa seems uncertain exactly of what he wants the novel to be, so it shifts uneasily around, from straight-out thriller to a variety of critiques of aspects of Japanese society, including business, the legal process, capital punishment, and family life. Still, Nozawa follows Kanako's thoughts and actions reasonably well -- including a number of detailed, focused scenes that work particularly well --, and much here is intriguing. Parts of the story, particularly Kanako and Miho's relationship, suggest he's digging at something deeper -- even if he never quite manages to dedicate himself fully to the novel's most successful strands.
       The writing, too, can be a bit rough and uneven, the translation too often distractingly just-stilted. Still, Deep Red is readable, and compelling enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 May 2019

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Deep Red: Reviews: 深紅 - the film: Nozawa Hisashi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Nozawa Hisashi (野沢尚) lived 1960 to 2004.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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