Yasutaka Tsutsui is quite well known (either you realize it or not), particularly for two of his works that were made into internationally successful anime films: “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” and “Paprika”. For the first book review here in AMP, however, we will deal with another of his novels, “Hell” where the surrealism and the satire, two of his central characteristics, are in full bloom.
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The what and how people from different cultures perceive hell as a concept has been always a crucial one, and Tsutsui presents his own quite eloquently, through the words of a character in the book. “It’s just a place without God. The Japanese don’t believe in God in the first place, so what’s the difference between this place and the world of the living?”
Using this idea as base, Tsutsui presents his characters in a hell where people feel no emotion, can read each other’s minds including their past memories, past and present coexist, and people can be in two places at the same time. In this setting, and through a narrative that flows from character to character, Tsutsui makes a number of sociophilosophical comments regarding almost every part of Japanese society and a number of themes. Yakuza and the concept of male friendship, TV stars and their relationship with the Press, the corporate world, its hierarchies and their consequences, the intense antagonism of the Kabuki world, sex, death and regret are some of the most central, in a story that seems to pass through themes and genres as it does from character to character. In that fashion, and apart from the drama and the satire, one can also find elements of crime and exploitation, (science) fiction, and fairy tale, in a series of combinations that allow the book to flow smoothly for the whole of its 190 pages.
The majority of the book is narrated through people’s thoughts, but there are some moments of action, which, in fact, are the most memorable in the novel. The one with the airplane crash in particular, where all of humankind’s instincts come to the fore in hilarious fashion is bound to stay on mind for quite some time. The second comes through the torture scene, which is presented in a number of chapters and keeps getting worse, particularly after the mama-san and her hate for men comes to the fore, giving this part genuine exploitation essence, and the most vivid semblance with how Christianity perceives hell, at least in medieval terms.
My only issue with the book is that the constant change of person in focus makes it a bit difficult to follow each one’s story every time they appear on the pages, although Tsutsui has used some “tricks” to remind his reader who exactly is the person of focus. The language in general is also kind of simplistic, although that is not exactly a tick in the cons column.
“Hell” is a relatively easy to read book, that manages to make a number of comments regarding human nature and relations through a rather intriguing, diverse style.