Hanzai Japan Review: The Long-Rumored Food Crisis by Setsuko Shinoda from Hanzai Japan

hanzai japan reviewed by Rusty Barnes

This is a crime story in name only. Though it has crime in it, certainly, it bears more resemblance to a post-apocalyptic piece than anything else. At the beginning, Tetsuji Okada and his farm are the focus of the narrator’s story. Okada posits that a food shortage will, within five or ten years, devastate major cities and force city dwellers to the farms and fields of Okada and his friends, where they will pay outrageous prices for their food, perhaps going so far as to sell their wives and daughters to do so. The narrator and his friends are unwilling to believe him, though polite to Okada and his messianic style. Then the unthinkable happens: a megathrust earthquake hits western Tokyo, with the aftershocks affecting even the narrator’s family and friends, and Okada’s words become a prophecy fulfilled.

As the days progress and the extent of the damage reveals itself, the narrator’s family become desperate for food and water. Even their friendship with Okada doesn’t produce enough to keep them fed, especially considering the needs and increasingly strident demands of the refugees who visit the family and beg for food. Even the family dog cannot be spared after Okada dies and his farm is looted by refugees. The situation becomes progressively worse and the narrator’s wife begins to resort to violence to get food for the narrator and their son Hiro. Even at the end, after the narrator finds a temporary solution to the food shortage, he believes a sense of order will prevail, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Not the smartest guy.

Shinoda takes what might be a familiar story and amplifies the tension with a series of events that seem both inevitable and original. The story feels a little top-heavy at the beginning, but after Okada’s accidental death the story snaps into place with a great deal of forward momentum. The calm reportorial writing adds to that momentum, as the increasingly painful reminders of humanity’s ingrained ill will during desperate times shows itself. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the nameless narrator believes his world will return to its normal kilter, which gives the story’s ending its gravitas. It’s good stuff, this story that Shinoda and Hubbert put together, well-written and tense, funny and grave, all at the same time.

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