Remote Control Hardcover – 5 Jan 2011
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"Both a comment on contemporary social disconnection and a warning about what can happen when a complacent public welcomes the loss of privacy with open arms, Isaka's Remote Control is a timely thriller. And a rare one that takes an ordinary guy, throws him into the fire, and doesn't make him into some kind of "Sendai's Bravest" hero at the end. Rather, he gets by, with a little help from his friends." - Mystery Scene
"Remote Control by Kotaro Isaka is an exciting, riveting mystery. . . . Recommended!" - J!-ENT
"Set in a near-future Japan, Isaka's remarkable thriller adroitly shifts between the extended pursuit of handsome Masaharu Aoyagi, a former deliveryman accused of killing Prime Minister Sakayoshi Kaneda by dropping a bomb from a remote-control toy helicopter onto the official motorcade, and several other characters associated with Aoyagi, who's been mercilessly set up by high-placed persons unknown. . . . Isaka cuts perilously close to the bone of today's politics in this elegant, intricate, enormously satisfying parable of good and evil." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Winner of the Sugoro Yamamoto Prize and the Japan Bookseller's Prize, this dynamic and complex political thriller is set in a near-future Japan, where high-tech security pods monitor every move. When the new prime minister is assassinated in a complicated conspiracy involving a remote-control helicopter, the perfect patsy is Masaharu Aoyagi, a flawed hero who gained notoriety after saving an actress from a robbery. . . . VERDICT: With a plot that parallels the JFK assassination and the feverish hunt for Lee Harvey Oswald, this is sure to appeal to fans of conspiracy mysteries." - Library Journal
"A bestseller in Japan, Isaka's near-future thriller is a complex crime story inspired by the Kennedy assassination but set in a futuristic Japanese city where everything is monitored by security pods on every street corner. The newly elected prime minister is killed when his motorcade is attacked by a bomb-carrying, remote-controlled helicopter, setting off a media frenzy. The initial story is told from the point of view of a hospital patient watching the news coverage, followed by a 20-years-later overview of the case, which was never really solved. The remainder of the story is told from the alternating points of view of the main characters. . . . Isaka's manipulation of these narrative devices keeps the pace fast and allows for lots of character development. . . ." -- Booklist
." . . plot twists and turns keep the narrative riveting and surprising, right until the end. In this character-driven work, dialogue supersedes action, yet the pacing will keep readers interested throughout. Remote Contro is a complicated story, but a quick read. . . . Translating from Japanese to English under any circumstances isn't easy, but maintaining the author's style, wit, and subtle humor when performing that translation is a herculean effort. Stephen Snyder pulled it off flawlessly." - ForeWord Reviews
About the Author
Kotaro Isaka was born in 1971 and graduated from Tohoku University, School of Law. He debuted as a writer with Audubon's Prayer, which won a literary award for new mystery writers, and has twice been nominated for the Naoki prize, Japan's most prestigious prize for popular fiction. He has written 17 novels and short story collections, 7 of which (including Remote Control) have been turned into major films
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Once the story resumes, the reader is introduced to Aoyagi who is meeting with an old friend from his high school days. His old group of friends are people who Aoyagi lost touch with, but they are never far from his thoughts. It is from his friend that Aoyagi first learns that he has been caught in something sinister. Soon Aoyagi finds himself being chased by mysterious men who accuse him of killing the prime minister. As the force of a mysterious machine is set in motion against Aoyagi including the police and the electronic eavesdropping pods, Aoyagi is constantly facing close calls as he tries to understand what is happening and to figure out what he can do to prove his innocence.
I really enjoyed Remote Control. I found the translated text to be perhaps simplistic in places, but overall the sentences flowed well. The plot is fast paced and the book became harder and harder to put down and the story began to unfold. The storyline does have some tangents, but I found that Aoyagi's memories of his high school friends served to underline the bonds that remained between Aoyagi and his friends and why they would risk helping him. The tangents also served to humanize Aoyagi which makes him very different from the cold, mysterious machine which is working against him.
The book includes commentary on the Big Brother society that the world has become where personal freedoms have been whittled away in the name of fighting terrorism. In the case of Remote Control, the invasion of privacy is done by pods which are distributed throughout the city which record mobile telephone conversations as well as audio and video from their environment. They were placed in the name of catching a serial killer but were actually used to monitor the citizens in the name of protecting them.
I found the intrusive surveillance state in Remote Control to be very believable in this day and age and that someone who is innocent could be framed to be entirely plausible. However, what I did find less believable was that strangers would risk being sent to prison by helping the accused and that the strangers were able to help him in so many ways and so effectively.
Overall, a page turner and a good book. I am looking forward to reading more from Isaka.
I might note that without the Japan setting, "Remote Control" might seem a bit routine: an amiable underachiever has his true mettle tested by an impromptu battle against vast nebulous powers that forces him to a crossroads in his life and rouses him from his sleepwalk through existence. You can probably name any number of works with a similar premise (the Jamie Foxx film "Collateral," for one), but there're a couple qualities that somewhat distinguish "Remote Control." First, Aoyagi is exactly as outmatched by his predicament as you'd expect an untrained worker with no special skills to be; the true killers are, it seems, far beyond his reach, and his best outcome is only to prove somehow that he couldn't have been the perp. Aoyagi's primary weapon, then, isn't guns or fisticuffs but the manipulation of mass media, from outwitting the "security pods" that record video and audio on every street corner in this near-future to ensuring that his encounters with police are in front of cameras, where the cops are more reluctant to shoot a man dead. Indeed, rather unique to the thriller genre are the Japanese characters' consistently stunned reactions to how their cops are now not only brandishing guns in public but are willing to shoot both guilty and innocent in pursuit of their suspect; there are many quarters of the U.S. where that would be just another Tuesday. (Don't Google "Oscar Grant" unless you wish to be thoroughly dismayed by law enforcement and humanity.)
The book pinballs between four points of view - that of Aoyagi on the lam; that of Haruko Higuchi, Aoyagi's college sweeteart who dumped him for his passivity but now, as an urban mom married to a passionless salaryman, has second thoughts; and the former lovers' younger selves, as the sites in Sendai Aoyagi tours during his escape are cross-referenced with defining moments of his youth. Isaka's resolution of his divergent viewpoints is original and thematically consistent, as is a bit about an abandoned car that plays out effectively in the book's milieu of intrigue in the commonplace and Isaka's ruminations on the enduring value of old friendships even after the immediate ties fade. The meeting with the college buddy that kicks off the pursuit is another highlight; the reactions of the once-wisecracking, now-grim friend are exactly right, and the scenario ends with a rendition of a Beatles standard that's heartbreaking.
Let us now begin the airing of the grievances. First, the novel's translation is stiff, as is to be expected for any Japanese author in the U.S. market whose name isn't Haruki Murakami; still, I wish more effort had been expended to bring out each character's individual voice instead of having everyone speak solely in run-on declaratory sentences. A couple developments might stretch some readers' suspension of disbelief: halfway through his flight, Aoyagi receives help from a singularly unexpected quarter who adds some character to the proceedings but whose presence is a bit unbelievable; likewise, one might wonder if the method the true culprits chose to cover their tracks was really worth the investment and risk over digital means. A few too many folks are far too willing to risk jail time to help Japan's most wanted fugitive, and the novel's climax seems to come prematurely and is initially kind of muddled - though that doesn't stop it from being emotionally affecting in the end game. Finally, though Isaka works with the theme of friendship well, there's a lot of untapped potential in qualities like the book's nonlinear timeline and mass-communication fixation; the novel wants to make a bigger statement about the gulf between media images and reality and the untouchably vast forces controlling our lives but ultimately contents itself by simply observing that they exist.
"Remote Control" was published with a grant from the Japan Foundation, and I have to wonder why its translation was deemed such a priority. It's good but not great and contains little that is particularly culturally revelatory. Then again, though, why should every author by expected to write a big national statement? Why don't stories that're just tense and suspenseful instead of Important deserve a wider audience? Like Aoyagi himself, "Remote Control" doesn't quite follow through on its promise, but it is amiable company for a few hours, even managing a few genuinely memorable moments.
IMPORTANT NOTE: An unusual number of reviewers seem all too eager to reveal key plot points for this book. If you're arrived at my review unspoiled and have an inclination to read "Remote Control," go ahead and indulge it before others rob you of the book's surprises.
Remote Control takes place in near future Japan in a city where everyone is watched much of the time by security pods. A recently-elected, young, and popular prime minister is killed during a motorcade in an explosion from a textbook distribution center.
See the Kennedy likeness? But that ends here.
The story of the assassination and the search for the killer is seen in two ways. The opening of the book sets up the situation, seeing it mostly through the eyes of some hospital patients, ending with the suspected killer going to give himself up to the police on national TV.
A short second section is a refection twenty years on of the theories that have built up around the event (also Kennedyesque).
But this is only prologue. The bulk of the book is the story of the accused man and his flight from the police. A former delivery driver, we pick up his story at lunch with a college friend shortly before the fatal motorcade. When Aoyagi learns he is to be the fall guy, his friend urges him to run and to trust no one. Aoyagi doesn't want to become an "Oswald" and that concern fuels his flight and many of his decisions.
He runs and along the way he encounters some interesting people, reflects on his past, and gets help in some unlikely ways. In addition, running through the narrative is his old girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter and how they try to help.
The plotting and action of this book is superb. While there is tons of action, I never felt as if the action was there for its own sake but that it was a necessary part of the plot. I also never felt as if the book was written in such a way to make me feel rushed, nor did I ever lose sympathy with Aoyagi.
It's so easy, even though we know he is innocent, to wish for a resolution other than what we saw as the beginning of the book. It's also so easy to wish that the whole thing were over, but those things would happen with a lesser novelist.
Never once did I wish the plot would move faster, hardly ever did I feel as if I knew where the next turn of the plot would take us. Mot once, not even at the end.
This is a marvelous book and, I think, a very fresh way of telling a story for Americans. This is the first of Isaka's books to be translated into English and I'm ready for more.