Author: Takeshi Kitano | Translator: Dawn T. Laabs | Page Count: 189
“It’s easier said than done. It takes real strength to live freely, and if you’re still working at it, then you’re not really free.”
Beneath a cover that appears to promise some kind of awful beach novel is a story about religion and its usefulness, or lack of. The deeper aspects of Japanese religion would be lost on most Westerners but the novel isn't really about that, although being able to use it as a contrast would certainly be useful. It focuses on one of the many religious sects that pop up across the country like weeds in a neglected but fertile field. The ones that mix old and new, creating something not quite as unique as they like to pretend they are. Kitano is both a traditionalist and a rule breaker, so that particular mix is perfect fodder for him to explore.
At a gathering of one such group is Kazuo Takayama, a young guy hunting for a cause to believe in. He dares to believe that the lack of satisfaction he feels about life will ease if he's able to devote his efforts to something altogether larger than himself. He's awed by the figurehead of the group, the silent Guru, a miracle-worker of great importance. In Kazuo’s inexperienced mind the serendipitous nature of such a meeting can’t be mere coincidence.
Even in translation the language is whittled down to just the essentials without losing the beauty of allusion. Within the larger whole are numerous tiny passages that can only be described as the product of a haiku culture. They aren't structured as haikus but they work upon the reader in a similar way.
Unlike the majority of the Western world, Japanese stories don’t require an easy resolution. It’s something I've gotten used to in film, they’re usually only 90 – 120 minutes of my life, but in literature, where much more time is invested, usually over a number of days, it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens.
2½ end results out of 5
Note: Guru was originally published in Japan in 1990. It was adapted into a film by Toshihiro Tenma, titled Kyôso tanjô (1993); known as Many Happy Returns in English, although at time of writing it seems to be unavailable for purchase.