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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Yoshida Shuichi

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To purchase Villain

Title: Villain
Author: Yoshida Shuichi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 295 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Villain - US
Villain - UK
Villain - Canada
Le mauvais - France
  • Japanese title: 悪人
  • Translated by Philip Gabriel
  • Villain was made into a film in 2010, directed by Sang-il Lee

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Our Assessment:

B- : exposes an uglier underside of Japanese life, but somewhat disjointed and rambling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 6/9/2010 Adrian Turpin
The Guardian . 14/8/2010 Laura Wilson
The Japan Times . 10/10/2010 Steve Finbow
TLS . 20-7/8/2010 Henry Hitchings
Wall St. Journal . 5/8/2010 Tom Nolan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Told from multiple viewpoints, Villain is less interested in who done it than in how its characters manage to play the multiple, often contradictory, roles demanded of them, caught as they are between technology and tradition. A gripping psychological thriller which shows a very different Japan from the neon-lit Tokyo we are more used to." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "(A) complex and powerful exploration of the lives of a victim, a killer and their families and friends. (...) Villain is a moving and disturbing novel about loneliness, lies and the gap between expectation and reality. Highly recommended." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "An intelligent contemporary thriller, Villain pumps new life into the whodunit genre, asking questions about identity, culture, values, and the widening gulf between reality and make-believe in our technologized world -- Shuichi Yoshida cleverly using love hotels, pachinko parlors, and the Internet as metaphors for our bright, shiny, dehumanized and automated lives." - Steve Finbow, The Japan Times

  • "Yoshida is more interested in the frozen terrain of modern Japan. (...) The translation by Philip Gabriel (...) is largely colourless. Memorable images are scarce, for Yoshida's is a world without poetry. Yet the dialogue surely needs more seasoning. (...) Yoshida has some sharp things to say about the anomie of Japanese youth, but, for a novel billed as dark and seductively desolate, Villain is underpowered." - Henry Hitchings, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(E)ngrossing and unsettling (.....) Mr. Yoshida gives us a psychological puzzle in which the identity of the villain becomes ever more difficult to learn. This is an environment where people have internalized their own ambiguities." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

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:

       Villain centers on a murder but is not primarily a mystery or police procedural. Instead, it is a psychological portrait of a cross-section of Japanese society. The guilty party is not immediately revealed, and for quite a while there is some suspense about who it might be, but the killer is identified long before the book ends; Yoshida's point, however, is that guilt attaches elsewhere too: it's easy to find villains in this story.
       The murder victim is Yoshino, a young woman who works in insurance. Like many other women her age, not yet ready to settle down and looking for a good time, she hooks up with men she meets on the internet; one of them is Yuichi, a car-lover who works in construction. Essentially abandoned by his parents, and eventually adopted by his grandparents (even taking on their family name), Yuichi -- like most of the characters -- has some relationship issues. On the night of her murder Yoshino arranged to meet Yuichi, but first she went out for dinner with some friends (keeping Yuichi waiting) -- and she told her friends she was actually meeting a college student she said she had been dating for a while, Keigo; in fact, there was no relationship between Keigo and her, and she just said that because she didn't want to admit to what she was really up to.
       Yoshino is loose and shallow and a liar, and hardly sympathetic; as one of the characters observes:

This is the kind of girl who's going to get murdered by a guy someday. What kind of girl he meant he couldn't say, exactly. But he was convinced that she was the sort of girl who could enrage a man so much he'd strike her down.
       That's the impression readers get, too -- and, of course, soon enough that's exactly what happens. It's hard to argue that she didn't have it coming, though the way things work out she's literally pushed to her fate by one of those involved.
       There are a variety of sad and lonely characters in this novel. Yoshino doesn't seem to care much about anyone else, and treats her parents and friends pretty shabbily; her trolling for men suggests at least some desire for intimacy (or control over another person). Another girl is far more honest to herself:
     Sex I can take or leave. I just want somebody to hold me. For years that's what I've been looking for. Somebody to hold me.
       Yuichi, meanwhile, is hard for others to fathom:
He's always leaped from point A to point D, imagining the intermediate steps, and never telling anyone what he had in mind. When she happened to tell him, "I'd love to quit this job and live in a small apartment with a guy like you," the first thing he did was go out and rent an apartment. Unbelievable.
       As for privileged college student Keigo, he is simply a perfect cad.
       Yoshida shifts the focus among the various characters, who also include Yoshino's parents (her father is a barber, dissatisfied with most of what life has given him) and Yuichi's grandmother, and the storyline includes tangential sub-plots such as the contract the grandmother is bullied into signing, binding her to pay an exorbitant sum monthly essentially for nothing.
       While most of the novel is in the third person, the first person does creep in, especially towards the end, and at the end two of the main characters write out what are essentially scripts for themselves in an attempt to come to terms with what happened, reinterpreting the facts to make them bearable for what will follow. Others, like Yoshino's father, must also try to come to terms with what happened: in the case of the victim's father, he has to grapple with the fact that he didn't really know his daughter (much less how she lived her life) -- as well as the fact that:
It seemed as if the whole country hated his daughter, as if everyone in Japan despised him and his family.
       It's a very bleak and ugly picture Yoshida paints of contemporary Japan, and even the characters who should be sympathetic -- Yuichi's grandmother, or another girl who gets mixed up with him, Mitsuyo -- display at least some contemptible weakness. Parts of Villain are cleverly built up -- readers are left guessing for quite a while who the murderer is -- but even here relies too much on what seems entirely like chance. As a whole, Villain feels tugged in too many directions, from what the book is meant to be in the first place (mystery, social commentary, portrait of a generation (or several), or of changing mores) to who the central character(s) are meant to be; shifting focus among so many, the picture becomes rather fuzzy at times.
       The unpleasant taste to all the sordid stories doesn't help. Despite some interesting ideas and successful scenes, Villain doesn't quite add up.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 September 2010

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Villain: Reviews: Villain - the film: Yoshida Shuichi: Other books by Yoshida Shuichi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Yoshida Shuichi (吉田 修一) was born in 1968.

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