Tokyo Hostess by Clare Campbell: Deviant Death

When I picked this book up at my local Library, I did so because the title rang a bell. Not the Tokyo Hostess part alone  but the prefacing statement above the title: The Shocking True Story… bit. It rang a bell because it was not too long ago that a young English girl who had gone to Japan as an English teacher had been discovered murdered in a tub of sand on an apartment balcony. *In fact it was March 2007* When the news reported this event they mentioned that this was not the first time that this had happened. They also mentioned a name, Lucie Blackman in connection with this “current” event.

Lucie Blackman (September 1, 1978 – July 1, 2000)

This also sparked a bit of recognition. Not because of her disappearance and death, but because of the controversy of her father taking money from her killer; one Joji Obara, a rich Korean immigrant son whose family fortune allowed him to offer huge sums of money to his victims and their families.

Intrigued, I checked the book out and brought it home.

Tokyo Hostess is Clare Campbell’s coverage not only of the events leading up to the deaths of Carita Ridgway and Lucie Blackman but it also contains an in-depth look at the “hostess” trade in Japan and its role in replacing the geisha in modern times but with much more of a risk.

Carita Ridgway murdered in 1992.

The book looks at the promises made by the Hostess trade to prospective employees and how they emphasise how safe it is and how easy it is. They repeatedly assure the young gaijin (non-Japanese) women that sex is not part of the job. They are not prostitutes. Some Hostess’s in the past have had sex with their clients, but, it is a money losing proposition.

The whole Hostess mythos works on the Japanese male’s sense of harmless fantasy. The men (mostly salary workers and mostly married) will come into a Hostess club for the female company of a pretty girl who waits on him exclusively. Pouring his drinks; lighting his cigarettes; laughing at his jokes and appearing to hang on his every word, the hostess gives the promise of this becoming a love affair. But it is a love affair that cannot happen, because once reality hits (in the form of sex) the fantasy is over and the male will move on to another hostess at another club.

But on the fantasy side of this little “harmless” arrangement, the men are all fixated on gaijin women; the curvier the better.

Clare Campbell takes us into the sordid underbelly of Japan’s “entertainment” districts. She shows us the hierarchy of the Hostess trade and its first cousin the sex trade. She interviews “retired” and current hostesses to find out how the whole thing works and what the rules are.

She also tells Lucie and Carita’s stories and the events that led to their deaths. She spoke to the families; the survivors of the horrible phone call, the inept police enquiry and the subsequent trial and publicity. She has also documented the Japanese legal authority’s xenophobic attitude towards gaijin crime (unless it is a gaijin who has done something to a Japanese citizen) and how political pressure was needed to resolve the problems of moving the case forward.

Carita Ridgway; Joji Obara; Lucie Blackman

The fact that Joji Obara had been abducting and raping girls for years (not just gaijin) was well documented by the thousands of videos he’d made and had stored at his various homes. This is the only area that the book has not been able to go into any depth. Obara is still a mystery figure. He was the Japanese born son of Korean immigrants who were fabulously wealthy. A spoiled but popular young man who apparently could not have sex “normally” with a body that could move or feel anything; a fact that caused his weird sexual fantasies to spiral out of control. Aided by his money, he then began his ‘Play’ as he called it, only getting caught when he killed Lucie Blackman.

This book is an interesting read made more so because it gives the reader an insight into the Japanese social culture and their conception of foreign (gaijin) visitors to their shores. It also takes a look at the sexual mores of the country and how “harmless” fantasy is accepted as an everyday staple of life. I would recommend reading this book if you want to see how the judicial system works in Japan on a sophomoric level; if you want something more in-depth you’ll have to look elsewhere.

But Clare Campbell has done an excellent job of showing how “international” crime works and affects different people’s lives and just how difficult it can be to find justice in a country that is not your own.

Author Clare Campbell.

The Fireman by Stephen Leather…Vintage Leather

Published in 1989, The Fireman by Stephen Leather is his second book. Leather was still working as a journalist at the time so it is no wonder that his protagonist and his story are set in the world of journalism.

Fireman is the term applied to a ‘high flyer’ in the news world. They are the journalists who are sent around the world at a moments notice to cover the big stories. They are the heavy hitters, the Babe Ruth’s of reporting and as such are on call twenty-four hours a day. It is an exhausting job, but one that pays well and you have a guaranteed by-line.

The main character is the fireman that the title refers to. Or was the fireman before he got jaded and his intake of alcohol required that he be “dried out.” The rehab was paid for by the newspaper he works for and he has slid down the professional ladder to second string crime reporter. One step below an overpaid youngster.

The paper is being taken over by computers and their workforce is dwindling. The fireman gets a call from Hong Kong where his sister Sally is working as a free-lance journalist. She has fallen from a tall building and the Hong Kong police are calling it suicide. He now needs fly to Hong Kong and sort her things out and explain to the police that Sally would never kill herself.

Set in the days before Hong Kong was “given” back to China, the colour and the pace of the place is brilliantly painted for the reader. The ex-pats and their comfort in a self-imposed exile from England are just as colourful and also sad. These are not life’s movers and shakers, rather they are the ‘also rans’ who have managed to find a place higher up on the social ladder.

That Stephen Leather has a solid background in journalism is apparent in how well he describes the setting of the newspaper’s working environment. I worked for a local rag in the early 90’s. Not as a journalist, but as a driver. As the paper was more localized I was privy to how a lot of things worked and got to see how every thing came together to produce the paper.

But, even if you haven’t worked in that arena, you can feel the authenticity of the characters and the pecking order as laid out by Leather in his book.

Written in the first person, you never learn the protagonists name. When I went to write this review I ‘skip read’ through the book repeatedly to find his name. Not there. This, I have been lead to understand, is a common device with Mr Leather in a few of his books. It does not detract from the story, if anything it helps give the impression that you are living the action right along with the hero.

And there is a lot of action to live through. You follow him every step of the way as he tries to find out who was behind his sister Sally’s murder. It is entertaining and very fast paced. As this was his second work to be published, it lacks a lot of the polish that his later books have. But the rough edges don’t detract from the story and it is still a good read.

In an interview, Leather has stated that he was not too happy about the family circumstances that his editor insist that he put into the story. I can empathise with him as that part of the story stuck out like a sore thumb and did feel “tacked on.” I won’t say what it is but I do believe that you’ll find the same when you read the book.

When the villain is finally tracked down and dealt with it is one of the best cases of poetic justice I’ve seen. I enjoyed my leisurely perusal  of vintage Stephen Leather and I am looking forward to reading some of his other earlier books.

While this book is not in the same league as Fair Game or Nightmare, Stephen still shows that splendid ear for dialogue that makes his books stand out so much from other authors.

I would highly recommend reading The Fireman. It will entertain you and hold your attention.

Thirst (2009): It’s In the Blood

There are a lot of people who watched this film simply because it’s by the iconic, cult favourite, South Korean director/auteur – Chan-wook Park. Chan-wook, who also co-wrote the screenplay with  Seo-Gyeong Jeon which is based on the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, has not disappointed us with his version of a vampire tale.

This is completely unlike any of his ‘trilogy’ films. Of course each of the trilogy films were very different from each other. They all had a “similar” theme, but, visually they were very unalike. Park has, with Thirst, gone completely outside his comfort zone and brought us a masterpiece in the guise of Grand Guignol Theatre.

Starring Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim, Thirst is a love story, horror film, thriller, comedy and a tragedy. I never realised that it was possible to cram so many genres into a single film and more importantly still be able to pull it off. Chan-wook Park has not only managed to pull it off, but he has also, once again, made a film that really is genre-less.

Kang-ho Song plays Father Sang-hyun. He volunteers at a local hospital. He ministers the sick and dying patients, and he provides absolution when they die. He also takes confessions from the staff. But this job is taking a toll on his mental well being. He suffers secretly from depression and doubt about his profession.

He volunteers to become part of an ongoing medical experiment. A medical team is battling to find a cure for a virus known as the  Emmanuel Virus (EV). It affects only Caucasian and Asian men and it is almost always fatal. Sang-hyun allows himself to be injected with an experimental vaccine. When he starts to ‘bleed-out’ he receives a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire.

He checks himself out of the experimental facility to find that he has been transformed in the public’s eyes as a ‘healer.’

He bumps into a childhood friend and gets an invite to join their Wednesday night mah-jong game. When he attends he gets re-acquainted with his friend’s adopted sister, who is now his wife. It turns out that all three spent a good part of their childhood together. The sister/wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) is drawn to Sang-hyun, just like she was drawn to him when they were children.

And so begins their ‘forbidden’ love affair. An affair that will escalate to murder and an almost complete surrender to their passion. It is the first mainstream  South Korean film to feature full-frontal adult male nudity, although not the first commercial film to do so. Made on a budget of five million dollars it can boast a gross revenue of well over thirteen million dollars.

I was completely engrossed in the film from the very first frame. I had no idea where the film was going and at no point could I second guess how it would end.

I suppose that is could be classed as an erotic thriller set in a fantasy. But as I said before I believe it cannot be put in any genre and that is what we have come to expect from Chan-wook Park.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)