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Latest Review: "Remote Control" by Kotaro Isaka

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Will Eells on Kotaro Isaka’s Remote Control, translated from the Japanese and published by Kodansha International.

(Quick side-note: the closing of Kodansha International sucks. That’s all I have to say about that. I’m out of witty attacks for today.)

Will Eells is: a University of Rochester student getting a certificate in Literary Translation Studies, a promising young Japanese translator, one of our contributing reviewers (thanks NYSCA for the funding to make this possible), and a very enthusiastic reader of international fiction.

Kotaro Isaka has written a number of novels, but I believe this is the only one to be published in English translation. In Japan though, his novels have received quite a bit of praise and attention, starting with the wonderfully named Foreign Duck, Native Duck Coin-locker, which won the Eiji Yoshikawa Newcomer’s Prize for Literature. He has also been nominated on four occasions for the Naoki Prize, which is given to “the best work of popular literature in any format by a new, rising, or (reasonably young) established author.” According to Wikipedia, “the winner receives a watch and one million yen.” The four nominated titles are: Gravity Clown, Children and Grasshopper, Accuracy of Death, and Desert. He won the Honya Taisho in 2008 for Golden Slumber (aka Remote Control).

Here’s the opening of Will’s review:

I’m just going to fess up right now: I’m a bit of a culture snob. I can’t help it. I don’t know what happened in my upbringing that led me to be this way – that I can’t check out a summer blockbuster without reading the reviews first, that I prefer listening to the local college or independent radio station to KISS (at least when I don’t have my iPod and car adaptor on me) – but at this point all I can do is play with the hand I was dealt. With books, this means that my elitism extends to the point that I can’t even look at any sort of mystery, crime novel, or thriller without a hefty dose of cynicism and distance. I don’t even really know why that is; maybe we should call it the “James Patterson exhaustion” effect. But I’m pretty sure that in the history of my book-reading life, I can only recall maybe three books that I’ve read that fall under this category: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Natsuo Kirino’s Out, and (I guess if you consider it a psychological thriller) Ryu Murakami’s Piercing. I was pretty lukewarm about all of these.

In my defense, I realize this is an annoying and extremely close-minded way to experience the world, and I couldn’t possibly proclaim that everything I’ve ever enjoyed was of the highest cultural value. But I say all of this to preface my review of Kotaro Isaka’s conspiracy thriller Remote Control, and admit that its target audience was probably not me.

But lo and behold! It was actually pretty good.

Remote Control takes place in a possibly now, possibly near-future Japan, where the city of Sendai has been outfitted with “Security Pods” in all public areas that can capture 24-hour surveillance in all directions, and can record and track nearby cell phone activity. It is here that the newly elected Prime Minister is assassinated during a parade by a bomb flown in by remote control helicopter. All evidence points to former deliveryman and accidental-actress-rescuing media darling Masaharu Aoyagi as the culprit in the assassination. But is he really the criminal everyone thinks he is?

Click here to read the full piece.



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