11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2003
Succinctly translated into English by Wayne Lammers, Strangers is a Japanese novel by Taichi Yamada of a jaded TV scriptwriter who feels pangs of loneliness, and encounters an ordinary workingman that is, eerily, the very mirror image of the father he lost years ago in a tragic accident that orphaned him. Hauntingly told, with a sublimely subtle undercurrent to the tides of emotion, Strangers is an unforgettable journey through memories and the inner striving to reach out and contact others.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2005
"Strangers" is a very diiferent kind of ghost story, full of the physchological, the metaphysical and the allegorical. The book's protagonist, Harada, is a recently-divorced writer for Japanese television, and a jaded and solitary character he is, to much more of an extent than he realizes. Although he's a very believable individual character, he also is something of a metaphor for some of the more unsettling trends in the world today. Subtly bitter over his divorce and having given up on the notion of romantic love, he's also allowed himself to drift apart from his son over the years to the point where they're practically strangers to one another. A very successful and very respected writer in his field - a position many would envy - he's become cynical and skeptical over his art and his profession for little apparant reason. Approached often with overtures of friendship both from within his line of work and from without - including a beautiful young woman named Kei who also lives in the appartment building he does (used mostly nowadays as rentals for daytime office space) he seems at best unaware of the admiration his younger co-workers have for him and his achievements, and at worst dismissive of these efforts at making friends - including that from the lonely and mysterious Kei - to the point of considering them impolite intrusions.
And then one day he walks into a nightclub and encounters the spitting image of his father - who died decades before, but not only looks and acts exactly the same but seems to recognize Harada and see nothing unusual about their bumping into each other this way. And through his father he also meets with his mother, who also died decades before.
Is Harada so disconnected with the world that his mind is inventing this new situation to have something to be a part of? Is he already so much removed from the land of the living that it's opened up some kind of doorway through which the dead can pass? Have his parents returned of their own volition to try and help their unfortunate, dysfunctional son learn to live again? Or are these entities even his true parents at all? Mysteries and possibilities abound, and as the book progresses more and more of them seem to involve Kei.
A spooky and engaging book that, for all the cynicism of its central figure, also brings the opposite set of emotions and viewpoints into excellent play, "Strangers" is a great addition to the library of any fan of horror, mystery, or even the social-commentary-through-character-study genre of literature. Great book!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2005
It seems like everyone in Hideo Harada's life is a stranger. His ex-wife, who agreed to a divorce because of the growing distance between them. His estranged son, who sides with his mother and barely speaks to Harada anymore. His colleague, with whom he works well but doesn't really know.
And then there are his new acquaintances. The fragile, mysterious Kei, who lives in the same building he does and shows up at his door late one evening. And the man he meets in a darkened theatre near where he grew up, the man who bears a striking resemblance to Harada's father, dead since Harada was twelve.
When I first bought "Strangers," I saw that it was touted as a ghost story on the cover, and I was concerned that it would ruin the surprise in the story. Fortunately, I was mostly wrong. It's not an obvious ghost story at the beginning, but from the first few pages, when screenwriter Harada becomes aware that he is alone in his apartment building at night, it has the feel of a good ghost story. This is a feeling which is built upon as the story progresses, gradually and subtly. There are no "gotcha" moments, nothing which jumps out and declares itself as That Spooky Thing. This isn't a book about shambling zombies or ghosts coming to attack you out of the television. This is a story about creeping dread and the growing feeling that something, somewhere you can't quite see it, is just a little bit off.
In terms of execution, overall it comes off very well. Some of the dialogue may seem a little clunky (I suspect that this may be to do with the translation), but most of it works just fine. The prose is spare and efficient, enough to convey the essentials and leave much up to the reader's imagination, which I prefer for a story like this one -- nothing is so frightening or poignant as that we we can imagine for ourselves. The story develops steadily and smoothly, with no real lags or rushed points.
And as it develops, as Harada learns more about the things he is experiencing, we also come to see that it is a story about the distances we create between us. This is a very modern Japanese ghost story, with modern themes and ideas that aren't just scary...they're more than a little bit sad, too. The central tragedy of the book is that all of Harada's experiences are brought about by his own choices, and the consequences they have on the people around him.
So, when you see the words "ghost story" used to describe this novel, don't think of shock-value scares or easy, predictable conclusions. This is very much a book of building tension and ever-increasing unease, and very well done. It may just make you look twice at the strangers you see around you, every day.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2007
A middle-aged, cynical and now divorced TV scriptwriter Harada is living a lonely self-contained life in his work-come-apartment when on the spur of the moment he returns to the dilapidated downtown district of Tokyo where he grew up. Orphaned at an early age and raised first by his grandfather and then his Uncle, Harada is very much removed from human emotions, unhappy but not knowing understanding that he is unhappy he is looking for something that he is not able to find in the modern world that he has to live in.
Whilst wandering through his old childhood home he visits a theatre and meets a man who looks exactly like his long-dead father with a wife who is the image of his equally long dead mother.
And so begins Harada's journey into the land of strangers, as he's drawn into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they had died so many years before.
Is he living a dream? Are these people real? What is happening to him? A spooky ghost story with a modern twist, well worth a read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The protagonist is a man with no family (parents dead) who has recently divorced. He has almost no routine ties with anyone, and discovers that only he and one other person live in his apartment building. There is a real sense of alienation -- aloneness -- in this book. Even when he is out in public, you feel that he might as well be in a universe of shadows. One day he goes back to visit his old neighborhood and discovers a nice, friendly couple who look like his parents did when they were alive. He is now 47, but this couple appear to be in their early 30's, just as he remembers his parents. He is very moved to find people that look so much like them, and begins to visit these people. The story goes from there. I had actually guessed the "surprise" denoument, but it was still well done. This book was not as "frightening" as it might have been, but succeeded very well in creating a sense of distance and coldness in this world. I recommend it for a cold evening by the fireplace, when the wind is blowing outside, and you want a story that is quite moody.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2005
This is a great ghost story where nothing makes sense until the end. It`s about a divorced man in Tokyo who has had a very sad life. His parents died when he was a child and he was sent to work on a farm in Aichi prefecture. After University he becomes a T.V. writer and marries. Several years after that his marriage falls apart and his health falls apart and he is visited by the ghost of his parents and meets a mysterious woman. It`s a fantastic book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2004
yamada's strangers is a wodnerfulyl drawn out psychological story that makes one question our relationships, with our parents, our loved ones and who we deem as "strangers" in our life.
the story isnt the scariest around, and despite its surprise ending nor is it the most shocking. however, the evenly tense plot that keeps the reader thinking but still on edge reveals the craft of the author.
a thinking persons ghost story, but one that could have beena lot better with superior translation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2009
Taichi Yamada, born in 1934, is an acclaimed Japanese screenwriter and novelist. "Strangers" was first published in 1987 and won the Yamamoto Sh'gor' Prize for best human-interest novel - it was also his first to be translated into English.
The story is told by Hideo Harada, a 47 year old television scriptwriter. Harada has recently divorced : the marriage hadn't ended messily and the divorce hadn't been a difficult one. He felt he and his wife, Ayako, had just grown apart and he rarely saw his son, Shigeki, who is studying at college. Where Hideo had asked for the divorce, Ayako was initially reluctant - however she soon warmed to the idea.
Thanks to his hefty alimony, Harada is now reduced to living in an apartment he had once used as an office. The apartment block is so close to Tokyo's Route 8 that few people actually want to live there and most of the apartments are apparently used as offices - so things get very quiet in the evenings and he initially takes it for granted he's actually the only person living there. He gets a bit of a surprise one evening when, three weeks into his stay, a woman walks past him in the foyer and takes the lift to the third floor.
A few nights later, Harada is visited by Mamiya - a television producer he's been working with on and off for about 10 years. Initially, Harada is pleased to see him - the work the pair have done together has been among his best and he naturally assumes there's another few scripts in the pipeline. Things take an unexpected turn though : with the ink on the divorce papers barely dry, Mamiya announces that he aims to start dating Harada's ex-wife and, as a result, feels the pair will no longer be able to work together again. Although Mamiya claims Ayako knows nothing of his plans, Harada naturally is a little suspicious...it's only been a month since the divorce and his former colleague is talking about marrying his ex-wife. Unsurprisingly, he's rattled and - when Mamiya has eventually left - he's not in the mood for any further visitors. Unfortunately, tonight's the night his only neighbour decides to call round with a half bottle of champagne. Harada brusquely knocks her back - although he subsequently feels a little embarrassed about his behaviour and worries about the effect it might have had. He's a bit relived to run into her again a couple of days later and asks her to call over again.
It's not long afterwards that Hideo, on a whim, takes the metro to Asakusa - his birthplace. He'd been born there in 1939, the first - and only - child of a sushi and a kitchen helper. Unfortunately, he'd been orphaned when he was 12 when his parents were killed in a hit-and-run. He's a little afraid to begin with to visit the streets where he'd spent his last days with his parents, though he could not have seriously expected when was to come. Stopping in the Asakusa Variety Hall on the way back to the Metro, he spots a man in the audience who looks and sounds exactly as his father did when he died...and the man, as it turns out, is married to a dead ringer for Hideo's mother. While the subsequent visits bring him a great deal of happiness, there is an associated cost...
An enjoyable book overall, with `ghosts' proving to be the obvious answer. However, it's more of a puzzle than a really scary read : it's clear that Harada's "parents" aren't there to cause any intentional harm to their "son, but something's happening to him. A quick and easy read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2006
Taichi Yamada takes us to the world of a Tv producer from Tokyo, who after a painful divorce gets in touch with his dead parents.Are they ghosts? were they ever dead? Everyone can relate to the character's predicaments since we all wished at some point of our lives to meet a dead loved one again. That is what makes this ghost story human and realistic to a certain extent.
The main character however sees himself affected negatively by these ecounters, and he is in for a very big surprise.
This book makes you think, but it's fast paced and very enjoyable at the same time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2013
This books starts with a Japanese man named Harada in his third week of new bachelorhood after divorcing his wife. Harada writes screenplays for television. The tale initially seems to be about a man experiencing mid-life angst with divorce, work problems, and loneliness. But it veers sharply into the unreal when he encounters a man who looks like his deceased father, is invited to his home and finds his deceased mother there. This ghost story is sad and wistful. Even though the ghostly parents are sapping his life with each visit, there is such a paucity of affection in Harada's life that he continues to visit them for the joy of their gentle and unconditional love.
Harada is not a strong character, he has a grey life but seems unable to find the spark and energy that would make it more enjoyable. A lady friend that he dated while he was married has drifted away. He gave his home and much of his wealth to his ex-wife. He starts a relationship with a young woman, the only other resident in the office building where he lives, but it seems perfunctory. Even when he is angry or upset there is not much outward emotion.
I enjoyed the book, it is a fast read. At 201 pages I was able to finish it in a few hours. I had the feeling that it is poorly translated as evidenced by some awkward dialogue and odd turns of phrase.