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Villain by Shūichi Yoshida

I saw the book Villain in the new 2011 paperback edition in my library and I decided to pick it up. I knew it is a crime fiction but I don’t quite what is all about. The blurb says: 

A young woman is brutally murdered on a remote mountain road. A young construction worker, Yuichi, is on the run – but is he guilty?… As the police close in on Yuichi and his new lover, the stories of the victim, the murderer and their families are uncovered. But these men and women are never what they appear to be….

 Without reading any of the fellow blogger reviews, about 50 pages into the book I feel that the blurb was misleading. It is not Yuichi is on the run, it was a boy called Keigo Masuo seems to have disappeared and on the run. It goes to show that many blurb writers do not put a lot of thoughts into writing an enticing, spoiler-free and most importantly “accurate” blurb (so that the reader doesn’t end up feeling like they have been cheated).

Fortunately the story is far more deftly written and sophisticated rendered than the amateurish blurb. I am now careful that I don’t introduce any further spoilers and to say that the book is one hell of a good read. A crime fiction which is clearly the focus isn’t the crime but it is about the characters; and it is not only about the depth of the characters but it is about showcasing the tapestry of the contemporary Japanese society through the eyes, heart and soul, sorrows and yearnings of these characters. 

National Route 263 is a national highway of Japan connecting Sawara-ku, Fukuoka and Saga, Saga in Japan, with a total length of 48 km (29.83 mi). Mitsuse Touge. jpg Mitsuse Pass, on the border between Fukuoka and Saga Prefectures.

There is a girl named Yoshino Ishibashi, the murder victim at the Mitsuse Pass, an insurance sales girl who left the countryside to the city, left her parents, Yoshio (the father) and Sakoto (the mother) behind not knowing what their only child is up to. Yoshino shares a flat with Saki and Mako, her colleagues and has a penchant of telling lies about her going out with a rich, popular college boy named Keigo. Besides being a sales girl, Yoshino is acquainted with several men and Yuichi Shimizu, a construction worker, is one of them. Yuichi lives with his grandparents Kajuki and Fusae, and bears the responsibility of helping them out with their daily chauffeuring to and fro hospital and shopping needs. There is also a pair of twins Mitsuyo and Tamayo, in which Mitsuyo works in a departmental store in men’s suit section, wishing to find her dream man by looking up to the one when she kneels down for measurement of the trousers, which didn’t happen.

These various characters lives soon intertwined without first coming alive with the author Yoshida’s patient and painstaking description of the inner lives and emotional turmoil of the characters. The chapters are told through different voices, sometimes a third-person narrative, so it takes quite an adjustment for me, and I suspect other reader, to be able to know whose voice it is.

I’ve known Yuichi since grade school, about twenty years, and sometimes I can’t figure out what’s on his mind. It’s like he’s a ball that’s left lying on the playground for a couple of days. The kids play with it all day and then when it gets dark someone gives it a final kick and it rolls over by the horizontal bars. The next day someone else gives it a final kick and it comes to rest under a cherry tree…. this makes Yuichi sound pretty pathetic, but it never bothered him to be treated like that. He actually prefers it that way. – page 239

The fabric of the Japanese society from the many books I read tells me that it is an emotional suppressive, disengaged, lonely society. Where the old is aging in need of care, yet depending on young people who seems to distant themselves from human contacts with less and less communication with the older generation, as they close-up and conceive an inner life that fills with text messages, internet and online social networking site. So in this detached and cold society, when two people finally met and fell in love so intensely, it became much more rare and romantic, surprisingly this book which suppose to be a crime fiction has managed to spawn an affected tale of romantic love on the side.

It is labelled a psychological thriller and it is truly gripping and tense. Yoshida offers an ambiguous take of who is actually the “Villain”, is it the person who put the murder victim in that situation, or the person who actually committed the murder, the victim who aggravates the infuriating situation or the mother who abandoned the kid at the harbour? And I must say as I imagined the kid at the harbour waiting for his mother to pick him up but was disappointed as he was abandoned, was one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book.

“She abandoned <name> there at the ferry dock that day. He sat there, waiting, all alone, until the next morning. She said she was just going to buy their ticks, and ran away, but what she did was hide behind the pillars of the pier until morning. The next morning, when one of the ferry workers found him, Yuichi refused to budge. ‘My mom told me to wait here!’ he said, and actually bit the guy on the arm.”

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. I don’t want just anybody to hold me. It’s got to be someone who wants me and I want him to hold me tight. – Mitsuyo page 152

I guess I was the one who was off in my own little world, convinced I was in love. – Mitsuyo page 294

So a murder is not simply a murder but the cause and effect of many events and factors. Why it is hard to see a person for who he or she is because each of us place our own beliefs, judgement and influenced by our own background onto the how we want to perceive a person to be. This applies to young girl who falls in love with the wrong guy, girls who falls prey to unscrupulous men they met in the Internet, girls who believes in finding love as the ultimate objective in life, thus perceives the man they came across as, depending on desperate she is, favourable…. more favourable than he truly is, and this brings me chill and shudder to think about the real life crime is evidenced in example like this. Being a male author, Yoshida has described accurately and achingly the women who made such desperate call for love.

It is told in a subtle, clean and clear prose, like most Far Eastern novels, the plot is not particularly convoluted and complex, but the psychology of each characters is. I think this book could make a great book club discussion book.

One small complaint, some Japanese names are confusingly similar (try Yoshino, Yoshio, Yuichi) and also it takes me awhile to suss out the name is a female or a guy’s name. This book mentioned many names of Japanese cuisine and I have checked them out one by one just to get to know them. 🙂


There is the Shōchū (焼酎) is a Japanese distilled beverage. It is typically distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice, though it is sometimes produced from other ingredients such as brown sugar,buckwheat or chestnut. Typically shōchū contains 25% alcohol by volume (weaker than whisky or standard-strength vodka but stronger than wine and sake).


Osechi-ryōri (御節料理 or お節料理) are traditional Japanese New Year foods. The tradition started in the Heian Period (794-1185). Osechi are easily recognizable by their special boxes called jūbako (重箱), which resemble bentō boxes. Photo creditmore about Osechi-ryori at wiki

Kombu or Konbu is a type of seaweed

Gyoza, is fried dumpling, in Chinese it's called Jiao zhi

Kamaboko are colourful cakes made of flour

I read this with haste because I wanted to know the ending but I really would like to give it a second read in the future and take in everything slowly on my next read. I was disappointed by the ending and because of that I am inclined to score a half mark less than full. Still, after I put down the book, it continues to haunt me, I can’t shake off the scenes in the book, for that I’m giving it a perfect 5. If I keep saying the following, I will be swarmed with mountains of books that I want to read but won’t be able to finish in my lifetime, but I look forward to read everything Shuichi Yoshida has to offer (and Peter Gabriel can translate!) in the future. I will watch the movie and I can’t imagine Out by Natsuo Kirino would be better than this but I’ll soon find out.

I truly recommend that you read it.


I’m reading this for the Japanese Literature Challenge 5.

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage 2007, 2011; Length: 294 pages; Setting: Contemporary Japan. Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading at:23 November 2011. Translated by Peter Gabriel.

Other views:

I may have been the last person who read this book as you can see many reviews from last year and this:

Petrona talks about the book’s social commentary eloquently than I could

Maxine@Petrona: I thoroughly enjoyed Villain, admittedly somewhat against expectations. The plot is a skeleton for the intersecting stories of a range of ordinary Japanese people affected by a crime. …

Bernadette@Reactions to Reading: For its first two thirds Villain is pretty bleak but towards the end there are glimmers of hope in which an unexpected person or two displays a hint of humanity and some of the characters, though none of the younger ones, show a bit of backbone.  However the overwhelming feeling I’m left with is sadness as I think about these difficult to forget characters. If you can handle a slow-paced thoughtful novel that might leave you feeling uneasy about the state of the world then I would highly recommend Villain.

Mel U@Reading Life: This book is for sure worth reading for those into gritty crime novels.

Dolce Bellezza: I was completely enthralled in this novel; couldn’t wait to get my hands on it after reading Parrish’s review. It is my first novel for the Japanese Literature Challenge 5, and a most worthy one at that.

Mrs Peabody Investigates: Read an interesting article of Mrs Peabody compares Villain with the Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy:

Villain’s dominant themes are class and patterns of cause and effect, Millennium’s are misogyny and power. And stylistically, the novels are as different as can be. Mrs. Peabody awards Villain an impressive 5 stars.

About the Author: 
Shūichi Yoshida (吉田 修一 Yoshida Shūichi), born14 September 1968, is a Japanese novelist.

Shūichi Yoshida was born inNagasaki, and studied Business Administration at Hosei University. He won the Bungakukai Prize for New Writersin 1997 for his story “Saigo no Musuko”, and the Akutagawa Prize in 2002 (the fifth time he’d been nominated for the prize) for “Park Life”. In 2002 he also won the Yamamoto Prize for Parade, and for winning both literary and popular prizes Yoshida was seen as a crossover writer, like Amy Yamada or Masahiko Shimada. In 2003 he wrote lyrics for the song “Great Escape” on Tomoyasu Hotei’s album, ‘Doberman’. His 2007 novel, “Villain” (In Japanese: Akunin), won the Osaragi Jiro Prize and the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award, and was recently adapted into an award-winning 2010 film by Lee Sang-il. Yoshida lives inTokyo.

The film is reviewed at Diverse Japan.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


21 thoughts on “Villain by Shūichi Yoshida

  1. What a brilliant review, and wonderful pictures – thanks for the education! (And you are too kind about my own review). I so much enjoyed this book, but I have one very strong rule now about books – I never read the cover blurbs in advance. They are either misleading or give away so much of the plot that it ruins the author’s suspense/build-up. This book really was so much better than the publisher info led me to believe – for its portrait of mainly young people in Japan, one felt as if one were really there.

    Posted by Maxine | November 28, 2011, 8:08 pm
    • Maxine,
      It is tough to resist the temptation to read the blurbs when I’m browsing the bookstores or library for ideas! I trust bloggers’ review a lot more now, so the blurb doesn’t really do it for me if I really want to read a book badly. I felt I was there as well, it is strange but I feel as if I’m in the heads of these characters. I thought Yoshida is a genius! Thanks for your comments Maxine. Appreciate it. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | November 29, 2011, 10:23 am
  2. You gave such a wonderfully thorough review! I think I went mostly for the plot, and only noticed the underlying thoughts on society as a secondary theme. You’re so right that it’s tense and gripping and heart-breaking all at the same time, and I also liked how you brought up that we are made to question who is the true villain? I wish knew a bit more of the Japanese culture than I do, so as to be able to understand their thoughts/emotions/habits. But, I am gaining knowledge in that department with every piece of Japanese literature I read. It’s such a wonderful genre to me! Thanks for your in depth thoughts, and wonderful photographs, and participating in the JLC5. xo

    Posted by Bellezza | November 28, 2011, 11:56 pm
  3. This is a fantastic review Jo – though I am hungry now after all those yummy pictures. I very much enjoyed this book (if you can be said to enjoy something that is so sad) and would like to read more by the author…In the meantime though I may have to track down the film of the book. I totally agree with you that the blurbs and other publicity material for this book were completely wrong – silly marketing people should read the books they’re promoting 🙂

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | November 29, 2011, 10:02 am
    • Bernadette,
      Thanks! Interesting to note that there has been more Japanese food names in this novel than many others I have read, so I was curious! 🙂 A bit disjointed for me to talk about food when writing a review about a dark Japanese crime novel! LOL 😀 Let me know when you finally watch the movie!

      Posted by JoV | November 29, 2011, 4:29 pm
  4. Great review, loved the extra touch of the description of the food and drinks that was in the book. My next obsession after reading is probably food 😀

    Posted by jessicabookworm | November 30, 2011, 9:03 am
  5. I haven’t read your review as I was persuaded to buy this book after seeing Bellezza’s review and plan to read it soon, but I am so pleased to see that you’ve awarded it 5 stars. I’m really looking forward to it now. 🙂

    Posted by farmlanebooks | November 30, 2011, 1:13 pm
  6. What a great (and very interesting) review. I saw that this is your favourite book of the year on Kim’s blog. I have just read a Japanese crime novel (The Devotion of Suspect X) which is why I was curious about this book. I will definitely be adding this to Mt. TBR 🙂

    Posted by The Book Whisperer | December 4, 2011, 4:05 pm
    • Book Whisperer,
      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll be adding The Devotion of Suspect X into my Japanese crime fiction read. The more the merrier, till TBR topples over! 😀 Thank you for your first comment.

      Posted by JoV | December 4, 2011, 6:38 pm
  7. I loved this book and want to try another work by this writer, when they get around to translating them.

    Posted by Parrish | December 4, 2011, 7:33 pm
  8. I haven’t read a lot of books set in Japan, but I am adding this one to my 2012 list. Thank you for a great review

    Posted by Helen | December 7, 2011, 1:56 pm
  9. Nice review, Jo! I love the picture of Jiao zhi – it is one of my favourite snacks and it looks so delicious in the picture 🙂

    Posted by Vishy | December 14, 2011, 4:56 am


  1. Pingback: My Favourite Book of the Year « Bibliojunkie - November 30, 2011

  2. Pingback: It’s wrap-up (although a little late!): October and November 2011 « Bibliojunkie - December 7, 2011

  3. Pingback: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino « JoV's Book Pyramid - March 17, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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