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Sunday, Jan. 20, 2008

A solitary shark hunts in Shinjuku's dark side


SHINJUKU SHARK by Arimasa Osawa, translated by Andrew Clare. New York: Vertical, Inc., 285 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Looking for a terse page-turner about a hard-boiled detective on the trail of a psychotic cop-killer? With plenty of tough guys, druggies, sleazy cross-dressers, rock musicians and other various low-lifes lurking in the crevices of a glitzy red-light district?

Then Inspector Takashi Samejima — the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's answer to Sam Spade and "Dirty Harry" Callahan — is your man. This tale of a tough-as-nails cop whose beat includes Kabukicho, Asia's largest adult entertainment district, appeared in 1990, rocketing Arimasa Osawa to fame as Japan's leading author of hard-boiled fiction.

In a 1998 telephone interview, Osawa explained to this reviewer that the Shinjuku he writes about is largely a figment of his imagination.

"Many readers either see this imaginary place I write about as being the real Shinjuku, or else they feel that perhaps this is what Shinjuku will become in the future," he said. "I wasn't too concerned about depicting Shinjuku realistically. I wanted to describe the kinds of people who work and live in a lively sakari-ba (entertainment area) like Kabukicho. Some of them, of course, have sullied their hands with crime."

Speaking of crime, in "Shinjuku Shark," someone in possession of a high-powered firearm has gunned down several MPD patrolmen. Samejima is convinced that Kizu, a master gunsmith recently paroled from prison, must be involved. Shunned as a maverick by his colleagues and detested by Yagi, the elitist bureaucrat sent to head the special task force, Samejima uses his network of underworld contacts to embark on a solitary manhunt.

"Shinjuku Shark" does have its moments, although its contrived dramatics should not be mistaken for realism. In a hyper-violent scene eerily similar to Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," Samejima wakes up from a whack on the head handcuffed and helpless, at the mercy of a sadistic homosexual suspect he'd been chasing, typically, without backup.

Although the translation gets a passing grade, too much of the dialogue comes across as stiff and artificial ("Do you like it — being beaten up?" "No I don't. I hate it. It hurts."). Along with better editing, the narrative would also have benefited from more careful proofreading and fact checking (Monzen Nakacho is not the next station on the Tozai Line from Nakano, but on the opposite side of town). While a disappointment, this one still gets my recommendation, with reservations, because it and the upcoming sequel — "Shinjuku Shark 2: The Poison Ape" — are an entertaining way to see why Kabukicho has come to bask in its probably undeserved literary notoriety.



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