2006’s The Crimson Labyrinth is a stand-alone thriller by Yusuke Kishi. The English-language edition was translated by Camellia Nieh.
Yoshihiko Fujiki had it all: a high-status job, a wife who adored his salary and company housing. Japan’s economic woes stripped all that from Fujiki: first the job, then the wife and finally his home. Only after he loses everything does Fujiki grasp the transience of success.
Living hand-to-mouth in a squalid apartment, it might not seem that Fujiki has much to lose. He knows better. As far as he has fallen, he can still far farther. Fujiki has seen his future and it’s bleak.
Waking up stripped of his recent memories in an alien labyrinth still comes as a rude surprise.
Fujiki is not alone: Ai Otomo, Eisuke Noroto, Fumiko Abe, Shigeta Funaoka, Takamichi Kato, Masaki Naramoto, Katsuya Tsurumi, Fujiki were also kidnapped and deposited in what turns out to be Australia’s isolated Bungle Bungle Range.
Their captors are nowhere to be seen. Instead, each player has a generic gaming computer which supplies each person with instructions.
The Bungle Bungle Range is surrounded by inhospitable terrain and the handset hint darkly at unspeakable punishments for players who try to escape the game. Having no choice, the players form four teams: AI and Fujiki, Naramoto, Abe and Tsurumi, Seno and Funaoka, and finally Noroto and Kato. Offered four enticements, the teams head off in the four directions.
The four starting caches on offer are:
Ai and Fujiki opt for the last. Although information isn’t as immediately useful as crossbow or a meal, the pair chose wisely. Even though much of what they are told is deliberately unclear, they know what deadly animals lurk in the Bungle Bungle, which caches are traps and most important, what prize the victor wins. Or rather does not lose.
Fujiki and his companions are playing for their lives. And only one will win.
Readers may be wondering if this is Battle Royale: Salaryman Edition. There are some important differences. The game is not sanctioned by the government. Whichever malevolent entrepreneurs are behind the game are careful to keep their identities secret, because the murderous game is very, very illegal. As well, most of the characters are not as sympathetic as a bunch of innocent schoolkids rounded up to kill each other (1).
Judging by one passage in the novel, the author has some pretty confused ideas about how recently Australia was settled. I wonder if this is specific to Yusuke Kishi or if there’s a school of thought in Japan that Australia’s Aboriginal population only reached Australia in the last couple of thousand years?
I’ve only read two novels by this author but I get the sense he really is not the go-to author for comforting stories. Fujiki starts off stripped of wealth, status and the certainty he once know, and is then thrust into a situation where the choices seem to be between retaining civilized values and dying or surviving at the cost of becoming a killer. Either choice makes him a pawn of the people who orchestrated the game, who have carefully placed themselves well beyond the players’ reach.
Even there, the author finds ways to strip Fujiki of what little certainty he has. By the books’ end, he is not sure which of his companions are fellow victims, which (if any) are there to push the deadly game along for the delectation of its intended audience. It’s possible he might survive but even he does, he will never get the answers he wants. Neither will the readers, so set your expectations accordingly.
Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com
1: Some of the school kids in Battle Royale refuse to betray their principles and kill themselves rather than become killers. The Labyrinth’s recruiters seem to have avoided grabbing people with such crippling moral qualms.