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Top Tier (4 to 5 stars)

Shadow Shinjuku, by Ryu Takeshi

5 out of 5 stars. A spiritual journey, mixed with Yakuza and philosophy. Art cinema for the soul.

5 stars

Read the interview with Ryu Takeshi!

Since this tale takes place in Tokyo – within parts of the Yakuza – you can expect a lot of Japanese culture. It speaks highly of Rye’s talent that he’s able to capture the reader effortlessy within this world, in a way that even a westerner like me can find his way. Well done!

There are a lot of movies about Yakuza and Ninja and their likes out there, and I must admit to being partial to those sometimes. Even when they contain some supernatural elements (Ninja Assassin, anyone?) – so this book is right up my alley! If you like these themes and philosophical observations, you can’t go wrong with Shadow Shinjuku.

Just like Tokyo is a mixture of the modern and the classical, Sato will experience things that defy a clear categorization. And so this tale blends Yakuza life with philosophy and the supernatural. The resulting blend does, in itself, again deny every categorization. It’s a novel, sure. But what kind of novel exactly?

Certainly it’s a good one. And the tapestry of tales from the past, the philosophy about life – in general, and specifically about life in Tokyo’s underworld – do well to hide the fact that there isn’t much going on at present. Not much action, I mean – and the one instance of violence you’re going to encounter in the first half feels so remote, so distanced. It’s more art then violence.

As things tend to be for simpletons the world around – I’m talking about us, guys -, everything starts to change when we meet that one girl. (It’s not limited to romantic relationships though, it could be a relationship of some other kind; just for the record.) In this case, that girl is the daughter of Sato’s boss. And Sato learns he is not meant to be the bodyguard of his boss, as he thought – instead, he’s going to be guarding her.

We crave normality in our lives, but we ridicule it at the same time and strive to be different from everybody else. It’s confusing. Jesus must’ve been confused. I’m confused.

Ren

What starts out as a Yakuza crime novel quickly turns into a journey, not only throughout Tokyo at night, but to a man’s soul – or even his abyss, if you would like. And there are many more abysses along the way. And slowly, while Sato tries to keep control of what’s happening around him, his life starts to unravel instead. And he finds that there are more people like him out there, people he sometimes think of as denizens of shadow Shinjuku. (Shinjuku is a district of Tokyo.)

Ancient Japan, background for the philosophical ideas occurring throughout the story.

There is one interpretation I’m going to share with you, because I was dwelling heavy about it. In Sato’s world, some people (including him, Ren and others) are kind of removed from the world; maybe by unlocking something dark deep within them. They are not able to see their mirror images, but can instead use some mirrors as portals to other places. Combine that with Sato’s love for the night, and I was thinking about some kind of vampirism. (Without blood drinking, but as some kind of symbology.) Then I thought about the meaning of mirrors in Japan, and according to a site I found:

In Japanese culture, mirrors are one of the strongest symbols of power and are revered as sacred objects that represent the gods.

That’s curious, but it fits the narrative – those people have awakened something inside them that broke their bond to the divine, unhinging them from our world removing them from the eyes of the gods – which vibes with the pop culture idea of Cain as the first vampire, who was removed from God’s Eye by way of his mark. Of course, that’s just my interpretation. Food for thought. And like a vampire craves blood, these people have their cravings, too. Don’t we all?

We need stuff, hell, we crave stuff to manage our fears somehow, our weaknesses, our fragility. And it’s true for all of us.

Kobayashi

In the end, this tale is a spiritual journey. There are beautiful words, almost poem like, blended with philosophical ideas and counterbalanced with the ugly and mundane. If this would be a movie, it would be art cinema, and it would be worth the ticket. And as it is with true art: You have to experience it for yourself. I recommend you do.

Disclaimer: I’ve received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy and are leaving this review voluntarily.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

4 replies on “Shadow Shinjuku, by Ryu Takeshi”

Loved many of the comments you made: ” the one instance of violence you’re going to encounter in the first half feels so remote, so distanced. It’s more art then violence.”
You ascribe a poetic style to the author, but you aren’t so bad yourself, Stefan! Excellent review – almost compelled me to want to read this one! Trade you a cookbook for a dark warrior philosophical journey? (Just kidding!)

Liked by 1 person

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