“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth ; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air ; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”
In the Bible, what follows bring a sign of hope, of second chance — “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Nothing like it in Hako-Bune, a book written at the eve of the third millenium, in which Shiriagari Kotobuki delivers a gripping story, full of darkness and despair.
He explains the reasons in his post-scriptum, a text without pity in the conclusions he comes to when considering our generation : “The time where we dreamed of flying has gone ; we do not dream anymore of a society without hunger ; and the dream of peace in the world is over. Today, we have lost our golden tomorrow, and there is nothing to replace it.” He then goes on to explain that he wanted to give this world a beautiful death, and that the idea of seeing everything disappear at the bottom of a deep water before writing “The End”, was rather appealing to him.
Interspersed with excerpts from Genesis, Hako-Bune (“The Ark”) follows the last days of Tokyo under the Flood, the slow disappearance of the Japanese society under the rising waters. Of course, this reminds Jacaranda, another destruction of the nippon capital written five years later, where Nature took over during a purgatory night. And, indeed, we find again in the early pages of this book this pitiless look on society, supported by a parodical style with wide star-eyed characters.
Thus, we begin with the little woes of office life, from a rather absurd starting point : a young and dynamic manager launches a marketing campaign for toothpaste, where the lucky winner will see his fidelity rewarded with a lifesize reproduction of Noah’s Ark. Of course, as pouring rains begin to fall with no end in sight, the campaign becomes a success, and toothpaste sales skyrocket — concluding the “success-story” of the manager with the impeccable smile. And as in Jacaranda, all this events are observed, commented, absorbed by an abysmal media machine, obsessed with entertainment and dedicated to advertisement.
Where Jacaranda was playing with “disaster movies” references with a sudden and unexpected menace, Hako-Bune opts for a slow end of the world, following an implacable progression. The social criticism then moves from bitter to unforgiving — Shiriagari Kotobuki painting an acute portrait of some of his fellow countrymen who, even faced with their impending doom, keep on obsessing about futilities and reveal, under a mask of politeness and good manners, all their stupidity, violence and egoism. The archetypes of the genre are still present (the young couple, the worried parents, the young rebel) but Hako-Bune soon leaves aside parody, to deliver griping scenes that are almost unbearable in their distress.
The reader then starts looking for hope, thinking that maybe, somewhere, this vengeful God would found someone to save, that things cannot end this way … But ineluctably, without pity, Shiriagari Kotoburi continues the rising of the waters, systematically destroying the thinnest ray of hope, barely giving some of his characters the time to find a relative peace with themselves.
“- The village has become very silent …
– That’s because the other houses were built lower than this one.”
Until the end, Hako-Bune leaves nothing untouched, delivering a strong story build on raw emotion and visceral sadness. In this light, Jacaranda appears more as a reminder rather than a remaker, a vaguely more optimistic ( ?) echo of this implacable book. Another piece to add to the rich and major work of an author who, under a burlesque appearance, formulates a caustic criticism of the Japanese society and expresses profound preoccupations.