Akutagawa Prize #130: Keritai senaka, by Wataya Risa

Wataya Risa 綿矢りさ. Keritai senaka 蹴りたい背中. 2003.

Co-winner of the 130th Akutagawa Prize, for the second half of 2003.

A tenth-grade girl, Hasegawa Hatsu, narrates her difficult first year of high school. In junior high she had friends, was best friends with Kinuyo, but now she’s mostly estranged from Kinuyo and has no friends. We don’t really get any reason why: just a lot of high school alienation and hatred of the cool kids. Hatsu bonds, kind of accidentally, with this boy named Ninagawa, who’s also unpopular. Ninagawa is obsessed with this model named Ori-chan (or Oli-chan – from “Olivia” – she’s half-foreign), and when he finds out that Hatsu happened to actually meet her one day in a Mujirushi Ryôhin in town, they find they have something to talk about. “Bond” might be too strong a word, as Ninagawa never evinces interest in anything but Ori-chan, but still he’s somebody for Hatsu to talk to, and so they hang out a number of times. She’s not sure if she likes Ninagawa or hates him. One time she kisses him, another time she kicks him in the back (thus the title). She’s kind of got sadistic tendencies, or she’s taking out her unpopularity on him; he’s even more of a geek than she is. He’s good-natured, a bit scared of her. The climax, such as there is, comes when they and Kinuyo go to see Ori-chan in concert. All the way through we’ve been wondering just how obsessed Ninagawa is, if he’ll end up doing something psycho, and in fact he does try to crash to the front of the crowd waiting for her behind the club, and has to be chased away by security, but that’s the extent of it, and in the last scene he’s kind of dazedly lamenting that he thought the closer he got to her the better he’d feel, but he felt just as distant from her as ever.

High-school loneliness. The author herself was only nineteen when this got the Prize – youngest ever A-Prize-winner, wunderkind, big bestseller, social phenomenon, etc. Unlike some of the other A-Prize winners in this decade, though, it’s not trying to particularly capture a new mode of language – nothing in Hatsu’s language or the dialogue is at all difficult for an older person to understand. It’s not a kogyaru novel, in other words. The whole story feels kind of recognizable and universal, really, although probably the isolation and alienation were supposed, by the Prize committee if not the author, to feel new. (They’ll only feel new if you were popular in high school, or if you have allowed yourself to forget how awful high school was, and how awful it was to be that age. In Japan as in the States, an astonishing percentage of adults seem to fall into this trap.)

All that said, it’s a good book. Well-written, first-person but without the worst clichés of the shishôsetsu (a term, I should note, that I use pretty loosely), a sure narrative voice, good depiction of the two main characters. It does what it does really well.