“I know why psychos run so incredibly fast. It’s because they’re running for their lives. Anyone can do it; all you need is an assassin charging in from behind[…] the problem is that the assassin’s invisible to everyone else.”
I should be honest from the jump: I haven’t read much Japanese fiction outside of a few books by Haruki Murakami, Fuminori Namamura’s transcendent existential crime novels, and a bunch of Zen Buddhist texts. I’ve seen a fair amount of films from the region, but not as many as someone like Andrew Nette, who is a walking Netflix account.
The reason I say this is because I really enjoyed “Run” by Kaori Fujino for a number of reasons, but I felt like I was missing something and wondered if it was a lost-in-translation kind of thing, and if I knew more about the culture I would’ve been able to access some deeper level of the story. This could be a product of me teaching for too long and always trying to find the meaning of a story when it’s just supposed to be entertaining, or I could just be dense. One is as likely as the other.
In “Run,” we follow a man who immediately tells us he’s a psycho. When he hears a voice in his head yell run, he turns into a “basher,” someone who sprints behind unsuspecting pedestrians while swinging a weighted plastic grocery bag and bashes them in the head to knock them out, then puts the bag over their head and crushes their skull. His girlfriend—whose “infatuations [with clothing] change with the speed of a dying man’s complexion”—lives in rundown neighborhood despite having a good-paying job with “a large company that everyone knows the name of,” which is convenient for a basher like our narrator. She’s incredibly fickle with gifts, but he realized he could get her this expensive, imported honey and she’ll always like it. Fortunately for him, the honey jar also cups nicely against the curve of his hand when he needs to crack someone’s skull. There’s not much more to say without ruining the story for readers, but there is a nice twist at the end.
As I mentioned earlier, this story fascinated me for a few, odd reasons. There are some great lines, like the clothing one above. The randomness of the bashers hit a nerve in me, likely because I have two kids so I’m constantly worried that some accidental catastrophe will befall us at any minute, but also because we had a spate of “Knockout” incidents in Baltimore a couple years ago, where kids would walk around and punch random people in the face to see which kids could knock someone out first.
But what really stuck with me was the opening line, that, as humans, most of our negative actions stem from having our hand forced by external forces/assassins. Which is a reasonable enough assertion, especially in crime fiction, except that no one can see the assassin, so it appears to others as if we’re just a terrible person doing a terrible thing. The basher goes on to say that he wonders if that assassin chasing him is actually another psycho who has another invisible assassin chasing him, and so on and so on, until some innocent person has to foot the bill. It’s a different, more philosophical take on the ripple-of-violence story we see a lot.
Once that idea is set up, the narrator then flips it when he says something along the lines of “it’s true that no one says you have to kill them when you bash,” somewhat taking responsibility for his bashing. Later in the story, when he’s walking down a dark alley to his girlfriend’s terrible apartment, he comments, “I’m lucky, I guess, in that the unseen psycho behind me only closes in when the conditions are all in place for me to become a basher myself.” The tension (as I see it) between enjoying something bad you’re being forced to do and doing something bad just because you enjoy was fun to see play out. Then once I’d settled in with this notion, the end put yet another spin on the idea and make me look an alternate, third motivator (for lack of a better word).
On a smaller level, “Run” reminded me of the question posited in Breaking Bad: did Walter White become bad because of his cancer, or had he been bad the whole time and his cancer finally allowed him to express it? “Run” was an enjoyable read but didn’t knock me out the first time through. The second time it got better, and better again on the third. But I’ve been thinking about it for nearly three days, which means there’s obviously something to the story, even if I can’t figure out what it is.