Saturday, 21 November 2009

Dream Messenger by Shimada Masahiko

Set just before the 'Ushinawareta Junen'  (lost decade), after the economic bubble burst, I'd read alot about this book, published in Japan in 1989 as Yumetsukai, a lot of criticism likened Shimada's style with Murakami's, although similar in places they have quite different approaches, a novel in four parts, with numerous sub headings, it's difficult from reading only one of Shimada's novels to make a fair comparison. There are quite a few references in the novel about the price of real estate spiraling out of control, which was a major factor in the economic burst, and in the novel the president of a real estate company is taken hostage, as if in some kind of possible fictional compensation, (?).

Maiko Rokujo, a broker's analyst receives a letter from Mika Amino, which reads,'Please find my son', Maiko Amino's late husband was a property speculator, and shes now a wealthy widower. After agreeing to see Mrs Amino, Maiko finds that her servant is Takahiko Kubi, who was once a popular novelist who had fallen heavily into debt after pursuing the dream of building an off shore city. Finding that he couldn't pay off his loans and just as he was about to jump off a building to end it all, he had the idea that he could sell himself, he put an advert in the paper - 'Pay off my debts, and I'll be your slave', Mrs Amino obliged. Mrs Amino tells Maiko her story, that before she was married to her late husband,she had a son, Masao, with another man, and that he had kidnapped Masao, she last saw him when he was three, also that he had a favourite pillow, which he called 'Mikainaito'. Masao speaks three languages Japanese, English and Cantonese, which he learnt from his baby sitter. Mrs Amino had placed an advert, for information from anyone who knew anything about 'Mikainaito'. After receiving some strange replies, someone from New York knew something and had a description fitting Masao's, but now goes by the name Matthew. Maiko's job was to go to New York and find out more from this man.

The narrative following Matthew's story starts to appear in a fragmentary way, after being beaten up by a gang, then breaking into an abandoned hotel for the night, and conversing with 'Mikainaito', he can't remember the past ten days. Maiko meets with the New York man, who is Japanese, Katagiri Yusaku, who with his wife had started an orphanage for children gone astray, Katagiri also dabbled in child psychology, and this is where Matthew had first come into contact with his guiding spirit, giving him the name 'Mikainaito', all the children at the orphanage had one. Matthew could also make Mikainaito visit people's dreams, at first making him visit Katagiri's wife when she was in hospital, all the children sent their guardian spirits to her, to help her recover. He tells Maiko that the last time he had heard from Matthew was that he had returned to Tokyo and was working as a translator at a magazine. Matthew has begun working in the 'friendship' business, Katagiri and his wife had also started to rent the children out, in a kind of extension to his sometimes strange psychology/ philosophy. Matthew as a hired friend helps out an array of ailing characters; a depressed Professor, a mother jealous of her daughter, Mariko's strange addiction, he acts as a kind of therapist.

Through a friend he helps a nihilistic rock singer, Tetsuya Nishikaze with his English, but ends up running out when the singer's anger spills over, ending in the fumbled kidnapping of the real estate president. Matthew's closest companion back in the orphanage was Penelope, but before they went their separate ways, they agree to meet up every three years, the only friendship he's had, is his relationship with Raphael Zac, who he met in gay bar.Takahiko Kubi meanwhile has been searching the streets around Shinjuku in an attempt to find Matthew, his luck changes one day after a meeting with a fortune teller, telling him he will meet a man who will end his confusion. Kubi gets diverted, and ends up having a one night stand at a love hotel called 'Norwegian Wood', after that he has a meal with a tramp, who tells him he is descended from the Heike clan. Not really sure where to turn next, out of the night a man approaches him, Raphael Zac, the link that might enable him to trace Matthew. Murakami comparisons aside, and now twenty years old, the novel has aged quite well, I enjoyed reading it, a kaliedoscopic portrait of Japan in the pre-milenium. This translation was by Philip Gabriel and was published by Kodansha, I can only hope more of Shimada's back list will make it to translation soon.

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