Strangers - Yamada Taichi

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Yamada Taichi

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To purchase Strangers

Title: Strangers
Author: Yamada Taichi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 195 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Strangers - US
Strangers - UK
Strangers - Canada
Présences d'un été - France
Sommer mit Fremden - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: 異人たちとの夏
  • Translated by Wayne Lammers
  • Strangers has also been made into a movie, Ijintachi to no Natsu (1988), directed by Obayashi Nobuhiko, and apparently released in the US under the titles The Discarnates and Summer Among the Zombies

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Our Assessment:

B : decent supernatural doings, with a nice twist

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 4/2/2006 James Urquhart
The Guardian . 5/3/2005 Steven Poole
The Observer . 30/1/2005 Kate Kellaway
Scotland on Sunday A 2/1/2005 Peter Burnett
Sunday Telegraph . 16/1/2005 Patrick Ness
Sunday Telegraph . 27/2/2005 Anthony Thwaite
TLS . 25/2/2005 William Skidelsky

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yamada has gained accolades from substantial writers such as David Mitchell and Bret Easton Ellis, but this novel is more a gentle entertainment than a serious psychic disturbance." - James Urquhart, Daily Telegraph

  • "(A) story that pens in spare strokes a portrait of urban alienation. (...) Less subtle, unfortunately, are the vagaries of the translation into American English. (...) What survives, however, is a memorably uncanny tapestry, and a powerful atmosphere, of heat and rain and sorrow." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "Strangers is written with a clarity I have come to recognise as Japanese." - Kate Kellaway, The Observer

  • "Strangers is written with a tone that reveals great emotional discernment." - Peter Burnett, Scotland on Sunday

  • "What might have been a simple ghost story evolves into a psychologically acute portrait of a man unused to being cared for. (...) All of this manages to survive a poor translation that renders a delicate tale in clunking prose" - Patrick Ness, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Taichi Yamada's Strangers is a very efficient and chilling up-dating, to the 1980s (when it was written in Japanese), of a Noh-play-type story: of ghostly spirits filtering through into the living world, and of how the spirit must be put to rest by the living." - Anthony Thwaite, Sunday Telegraph

  • "As an exploration of the power of delusion, Strangers is not without interest. As a ghost story, however, it is not very frightening." - William Skidelsky, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Strangers is narrated by middle-aged Hideo, a recently divorced TV scriptwriter living in a Tokyo apartment building where most of the apartments are used as offices, leaving the building practically deserted at night. Hideo has few friends, and no family -- he lost his parents when he was twelve. He's had professional success, but he still struggles some.
       One night the woman who appears to be the only other residential tenant in the building shows up at his doorstep with a half-empty bottle of champagne, looking for some company, but he pretends he is too busy and so she leaves.
       A short time later, on his birthday, Hideo is drawn back to the neighbourhood where he spent his childhood, before his parents were killed in a hit-and-run accident. The old neighbourhood has, of course, changed dramatically since then, but he's still somehow drawn to it. He goes to catch a show at a local variety hall -- and finds a man there who looks exactly like his father. In fact, the man looks exactly how his father looked decades ago, when he died. It somehow seems entirely natural then for Hideo to take up the man's invitation and go for a beer at the man's home. Hideo doesn't quite know what to make of the uncanny resemblance -- and he's even more confused when he finds the man's wife to be the spitting image of his mother, looking just as she had when she died at age 35.
       Hideo is amazed and confused, but he's also drawn to the couple, and they treat him -- despite the fact that he's ten or more years older than they are -- like their son. In their company Hideo can relive his childhood and make up for what he missed -- something so tempting that he can't pass it up, despite realising that it is somehow unnatural and possibly even dangerous. But there's not enough in his present everyday life to compare to the idyll of the past, and so he returns to the couple again and again.
       Meanwhile he also become more involved with the woman in his building, Kei, with a real relationship developing between them.
       Hideo's visits to the people who resemble his parents so closely turns out to come at a high but confusing cost, appearing -- to others -- to sap the life out of him, though he himself remains largely oblivious to this. Eventually, however, Kei makes it clear to him that he must essentially choose between this unreal wallow in nostalgia and embracing the present.
       The cleverness of Yamada's novel is in its final twist, when it turns out that Hideo's choice leaves him still ensnared in a dangerous position. Only by allowing colleagues, friends, and family -- all of whom he had largely abandoned or allowed to drift away -- to help can he be saved. It's a neat and clever (and very creepy) twist, and makes for a satisfying conclusion.
       Strangers relies on quite a few entirely unbelievable occurrences, and there are a number of supernatural goings-on, which means that significant aspects of the novel can't withstand much close scrutiny. Nevertheless, it is still an engaging story: told from Hideo's perspective his desperate wanting to believe allows the reader to do the same. The surprising additional twist to the story also isn't at all believable (even allowing for some of the supernatural effects the actual occurrences are too unlikely and unreal) -- but it's eery and effective enough that one makes allowances for it.
       As a novel of alienated modern urban life Strangers is a success. The reliance on the supernatural -- which is occasionally simply too clumsy or simplistic -- is irritating, but for the most part Yamada does tell his story effectively.

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Strangers: Reviews: Ijintachi to no Natsu - the movie: Yamada Taichi: Other books by Yamada Taichi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Yamada Taichi (山田 太一) was born in 1934 and is best known as a TV scriptwriter.

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