Remote Control

~written by Kotaro Isaka
~translated by Stephen Snyder
2008 Honya Taisho Award Winner
2008 Yamamoto Shūgorō Award Winnder

Remote Control is the first and so far only novel by Kotaro Isaka to be translated into English. The novel was first published in Japan under the title Golden Slumber in 2007 before Kodansha International released Stephen Snyder's English translation in 2010. Like several of Isaka's other works, Remote Control was the subject of a film adaptation: Yoshiro Nakamura's Golden Slumber, also released in 2010. As far as I know, only one other work written by Isaka is available in English, "The Precision of the Agent of Death," which was collected in the international mystery and crime short story anthology Passports to Crime. However, some of Isaka's novels are the basis of Megumi Osuga's manga series Maoh: Juvenile Remix. Isaka is a popular author in Japan and has been nominated for and has won many awards. In 2008, Remote Control earned him both the Honya Taisho Award and the Yamamoto Shūgorō Award.

When a bomb is detonated during a parade in Sendai, Japan's newly elected prime minister Sadayoshi Kaneda is killed in the blast. Comparable to the John F. Kennedy assassination, the event shocks the nation. Soon after, the media reveals the identity of the prime suspect in the case--Masaharu Aoyagi, an ex-delivery truck driver who had become a hero when he saved a local celebrity from a botched burglary attempt. Despite all of the evidence that points to Aoyagi as the culprit, his friends and family can hardly believe he could be capable of such a serious crime. And they would be right; Aoyagi has been framed, the victim of a vast conspiracy. With no hope of proving his innocence, all he can do at this point is run, a particularly difficult task since Sendai has been filled with state-of-the-art surveillance and security technology.

In Remote Control, Isaka has created a compelling, highly-monitored, near-future society. This provides plenty of opportunity for pertinent social commentary on the state of society today. Isaka explores concerns of public safety versus personal privacy and the role the media plays in the portrayal and investigation of crimes. Along with the creation of a realistic future, large parts of Remote Control also look to the past as Aoyagi and other characters reminisce. Isaka easily shifts between the different time periods, employing a technique that uses similar phrases and scenarios to naturally trigger the change from the present to the past and back. I appreciated the importance of these memories and reminiscences; Aoyagi's actions and thoughts as he was avoiding capture were often informed by his past experiences and it showed the importance of his friendships.

Remote Control starts out strongly but unfortunately falls apart about two thirds of the way into the novel. Up until that point, I was really enjoying the work. But suddenly the engaging, suspenseful narrative was overwhelmed by too many convenient coincidences; my suspension of disbelief was shattered. Too often Aoyagi would receive help just when he needed it and in far-fetched ways. But more problematic, I was never completely convinced by the nefarious scheme to frame Aoyagi. So much effort was put into the plan when a less convoluted approach would have been more effective. Every good conspiracy theory, no matter how outlandish, needs at least some sort of logic and reasoning behind it. Despite some vague speculations, Remote Control left me wondering why Aoyagi was being targeted. While there were aspects of Remote Control that I greatly enjoyed and found entertaining, unfortunately I was ultimately frustrated and largely disappointed by the novel.

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