“Out” and the Rise of Japanese Thrillers

If You Like…

  • Japanese culture
  • Dark comedy/mystery
  • Horror films
  • Moms gone rogue

Then You’ll Like…

Out by Natsuo Kirino

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I’ve heard it said that if you want to get to know another culture intimately, look to their writers, the ones in the trenches revealing what hasn’t been seen before. Of all the cultures in the world, I have been drawn to the Japanese culture the most. It’s not just due to their polite ways and rising Western influences on their young generation, but it’s also their resilience and what secrets lie within that we don’t see in pictures and travel books.

It pleased me to find that Japanese literature is making a comeback, and I would say it’s thanks to the rocketing popularity of anime and manga in the Western market. However, much like how our teen dramas rarely show a legitimate glimpse into a realistic teenager’s life, it would be a mistake to think that slice-of-life school anime or manga is what Japanese student life is really like. But a demographic that often gets lost in the noise is the older generation, the middle-aged men and women of Japan who are still making it while their children dream and revolutionize.

Natsuo Kirino is one such mystery author whose books delve deep into this lost demographic and reveal the life behind the facade. I love how gritty her work is, but my favorite of all time is her novel Out. Such a simple title for such a complex story.

The tale revolves around four women, friends and acquaintances, who work at a boxed lunch factory. One of them kills their husband in a moment of insanity, and it’s up to the four of them to dispose of the body and keep their alibis in check. But what follows is a wild and frightening stroll through the violent back alleys of Japanese society. I chose the word “stroll” for a reason — if you’ve ever been to the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, they always do a Terror Tram ride where they cart guests out to a remote section of the backlot, and then guests have to walk a mile back to the main park through a series of Halloween sets and ghoulish actors. You don’t have a choice but to be on your guard for a mile, and there’s no running anywhere. That’s what it felt like to read this book.

I rarely read books where the main characters are a troupe of young to middle-aged women in a, for lack of a better word, gender-biased society. Oftentimes in literature the heroes are young, nubile teenagers and young adults. But to watch these women struggle to hide their crime from their families and the authorities, trying to keep their masks from slipping, was very suspenseful and kept the pages turning well into the night. Although, it may not be a good idea to read this at night.

Stephen Snyder was the individual who translated Natsuo Kirino’s Out to English, and I have to give him major props for a job well done. There is no language barrier here, and her work is just as engrossing and suspenseful as a Stephen King novel, if not better (yes, I said it).

From what I’ve gathered, crime and thriller fiction is very popular in Japan. We already know how inventive their horror films are, so suffice to say that their literary counterparts are just as popular. There is a rise of Japanese authors making their way to our bookstores in America, and I eagerly look forward to what comes next.

If this is your first time delving into Japanese novels, I highly recommend Out for a thrilling read. Later, I’ll probably be reviewing another Japanese favorite of mine, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. Both are equally great introductions into the world of Japanese dark mystery and horror lit.

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Will Make You Feel: Like brushing up on Japanese

Music to Listen to While Reading: Actually, none. Silence makes the best thrill.

Publisher: Vintage Books

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