Friday, April 5, 2019

Review of Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama (2016, Riverrun; 2012, Japanese)

1989, a seven-year-old girl is kidnapped. The police botch the investigation and the kidnapper retrieves the ransom money and the girl is found dead. Yoshinobu Mikami was a young detective working on the Six Four case, as was his wife. 2002, Mikami has just been transferred from the Criminal Investigations to Administrative Affairs to take up the role of Press Director. It’s a bureaucratic and political role, caught between his police colleagues and demanding journalists. To add to his woes, his home life is in turmoil, his teenage daughter having run away and his wife refusing to leave the house in case she calls. The press are making his and his team’s life hell over a case in which the police are unwilling to share information, and there is clearly a major battle going on between Administrative Affairs and Criminal Investigations, the details of which he’s not privy to. Given his career to date, Mikami has split loyalties and is determined to try and discover what is underway. Then a bomb-shell lands on his desk. The police commissioner general is going to pay the prefecture a visit and he wants to meet the Six Four family. Mikami is to arrange the visit and the press coverage. Only the father is not interested, the press want his head, and the internal battle is threatening to turn into all out war. Determined not to pick sides and for his team to survive, Mikami tries to try and find out the truth about the Six Four case and act as peace-maker.

Six Four is a police procedural tale set in Japan in 2002, with flash-backs to 1989. It’s a long read (635 pages), somewhat of a slow burner, and is more akin to a multi-part television series than a two hour movie. It has a large cast of characters and focuses a lot on the internal politics between fiefdoms inside of a prefecture, particularly the battles between the press and administrative affairs, and criminal investigations and administrative affairs. The lynch-pin to the story is Mikami, a former detective who has become the press director against his wishes, and the Six Four investigation, a fourteen year old kidnapping case that the police botched leading to the death of a seven-year-old girl. The Six Four case has resurfaced and it seems as if it’s being used for internal political leverage, with Mikami trying to get to the bottom of the conspiracy as well as battle the media. The strength of the story is portrayal of institutional politics and conflict as inflected by Japanese culture, and the stoic and embattled character of Mikami. There’s a lot of moving parts, but Hideo Yokoyama keeps it all ordered. However, it did feel overly long and drawn-out at times, especially the first 150 pages, and the plot devices around the timing of events and the denouement felt forced and unlikely. Overall, though an interesting and engaging read and if you like really detailed police procedurals with a strong dose of institutional politics you’ll probably enjoy.

No comments: