Photo credit: David Martínez
I was about half-way through Otsuichi’s Goth when I finally realized why this book was giving me a case of déjà vu—it was the basis of Gen Takahashi’s 2008 film of the same title, starring Rin Takanashi as the iconic black-clad girl, “Morino,” and Kanata Hongō as her equally sullen and only friend. In the case of the 2005 novel, which Haika Soru has republished with two of the author’s afterwords and a novelette titled Morino’s Souvenir Photo, Otsuichi creates an endlessly fascinating world of perpetual darkness. However, by “darkness” I do not mean melancholy, hopelessness, or even evil per se, but rather soullessness. Each one of Otsuichi’s characters, especially Morino and her unnamed male friend, are utterly without any warmth or emotion. As for whether or not Goth is truly Goth seems to be a matter of opinion. The author does admit to the dubiousness of the label in “Afterword 1.” Nonetheless, there is undeniably an eerieness to the universe contained within Goth that infects even the daylight, when society is supposed to be at its most normal. Morino embodies all that is not normal. The narrator of Chapter IV “Memory/Twins,” for example, says of Morino:
“It seems fair to call Morino Goth. She frequently expresses an intense interest in torture methods and execution devices, and a fascination with the dark side of humanity is a common characteristic among Goths.
“Morino rarely exchanges words with anyone else. She has nothing fundamentally in common with our healthy, overenergetic classmates. If classmates smile and speak to her, Morino will simply stare back at them, her blank expression never crumbling—and she’ll say, ‘Oh.’ Even if classmates wait for her to say something else, nothing will happen: Morino will react no further.”
Yet, Morino’s relentlessly dispassionate demeanor is irresistibly intriguing. Morino has a kind of black magic that attracts to her persons and situations that expose an array of damaged human beings that inhabit the world around her. Goth, more specifically, is an anthology of morbidity in which the author reveals through the eyes of Morino, and her friend, a secret society of psychopaths, whose disdain for humanity is not above torture and murder. At the same time, Morino and her friend are open and unashamed about their perverse interest in the lives of serial killers and the places where homicides were committed. Because of Otsuichi’s skills as a storyteller—complete with an eye for subtle but effective character development, as well as a compelling way of disclosing evidence and plot-twists—Morino’s enthrallment with the murderous domain of killers becomes our fascination. Consequently, we are led through stories, among others, about a man with a compulsion for severing people’s left hands, twin girls who enjoy pretending to be dead, and another man who buried his best friend alive in his backyard. As for Morino’s ineffable but dark charm, in the novelette at the back of Goth, Morino is at a site where a girl was murdered a few years earlier. While there alone she encounters a man with a camera with reasons of his own for being there. Morino asks the man to take her picture. The man complies with her request. Then, Morino asks another favor:
“‘While you’re here, could I ask you to take a few more?’ she said, and lied down on the roots of the tree. Her hair fanned out on the ground, and her coat opened up.
“‘What are you doing?’
“‘I’m being a corpse.’
“I waited a few seconds, but there was no further explanation. My imagination took over, and I finally understood. Morino wanted to pretend to be the girl killed seven years ago and have me take pictures of it?”
Goth is full of moments like this, in which abnormal behavior is regarded as normal, and even beautiful. My mind was riveted on the image I had of Morino’s long black hair fanning out across the tree’s roots. Like the man taking her picture, I wanted her to look this way forever.
Photo credit: David Martínez