Let’s finish our series on Kanae Minato’s The Snow White Murder Case (湊かなえの「白ゆき姫殺人事件」) and end it with a bang. Picking up where we left off with chapter 4 “Local Residents,” journalist Akahoshi continues to interview about six or more people associated with person of interest Miki Shirono.
The first person he interviews, Yoshie Matsuda, strangely addresses Akahoshi using katakana instead of the kanji for his name, and I’m not sure if that is a reference to an accented pronunciation of it or why that was changed. Matsuda flat out states that it’s impossible that Shirono committed the murder. That testimony only lasts a page before we move on to the next person, Yutaka Tanimura. This testimony also only lasts a few pages before moving on, but Tanimura mentions Shirono’s hometown is Nagasawa and brings up how she went to grade school with another child named Youko. It seems he is accusing her of starting a fire back then. The location he mentions is Miyojin Mountain where there’s a roadside shrine, but the shrine burned down because the kids were playing with fire. Matsuda suggests that Shirono has been cursed because she burned down the shrine. There is a real Miyojin Mountain in Japan:
I’m not sure if Nagasawa is actually a real place or if the Myojin Mountain mentioned here in the novel is sort of fictional but based on a real place. I couldn’t quite pin that down.
Next we read the perspective of Kinuko Yatsuka, who provides more details of the fire caused by Shirono and Youko. This part is particularly interesting because Yatsuka discusses whether the source of Shirono’s cursing power was a black marking pin that Shirono found in the shrine incinerator!
Youko Tanimura, one of the fire-starting duo, explains the incident from her own perspective next and addresses some of the gossip surrounding Shirono while giving details of their friendship, like the English names the girls liked to call one another when they were kids. She also starts to talk about the chat room Man-malo and mentions screen names, but I don’t want to get bogged down in details about that aspect here because there’s plenty to discuss with chapter 6 where we actually read some of the chats.
Fuki Matsuda steps up and talks a little about the Shirono clan in the following segment, particularly Shirono Miki’s parents Chitose and Ichiro and some sordid story about Chitose perhaps murdering someone with a poisoned plate of food. Before the chapter is out, we hear from family members Satsuki Shirono and Kouzaburou Shirono.
I’m going to translate chapter 5’s title as “The Person of Interest,” though it’s a different term used here than the term used everywhere else in the novel. This section is told from the perspective of Miki Shirono, the suspect. She says she heard on the evening news that an arrest warrant for the person of interest in the case had been requested and saw that the mugshot had been made public.
Miki Shirono then goes on to describe her hometown of Nagasawa and its scent of lemons. She describes her family life with her mother and father as a child there, her friendship with Youko Tanimura, and and their English aliases they used in school. Like the earlier interviews, it goes back over the same ground of her elementary school, middle school and college days, only from Shirono’s perspective. I’m kind of astonished at the effect that this has on the reader since it’s supposed to be a murder mystery, but I think at this point it’s important to note that Miki Shirono didn’t even kill Noriko. She’s the total focus of everyone’s attention, she’s having every detail of her life picked apart publicly, people smear as a witch because of her childhood, her family history is questioned…and it’s not even her. There’s obviously a different point to this story than figuring out whodunit.
We also get a short description of her first meeting with Noriko, where her strange name’s meaning is again made into kind of a joke to Noriko. It does give you the impression she and Noriko were pretty close and socialized together quite a bit. One part even talks about how only days before Noriko’s death, Noriko had front row tickets for the Serizawa Brothers concert, and they planned on going to it together. She and others in the novel go on at length in different places about their music and particulars about the individual musicians, but here she calls them musical gods whose work purifies her heart of her foul feelings. She also addresses whether she’s a man-hater, I think because of the incident with the soccer player people accused her of cursing so he’d break his leg.
Later when talking in more depth about the Serizawa Brothers’ concert, Risako gets involved in the discussion, but I’m not sure of the date here. This part talks about how Noriko fell asleep in her car because she had a cold and took medicine for it as well as had a few glasses of beer, how Shirono ran to the train station, and how the person of interest in the OL murder case was actually Risako Kano! Risako was the one who bought the medicine Noriko took, too. Meanwhile, Shirono was running to the station to make the concert time in Osaka, expecting to meet Noriko there after she had slept awhile, and it was only after the concert that she heard that Noriko had been murdered.
Although the murderer and the basic scenario for the murder has been revealed, the book still has another 80 or so pages to go. Chapter 6, “The Shigure Valley Office Lady Murder Case Related Documents” seems to me to be the most fascinating of the whole book. Instead of a narrative or interviews, we get a compilation of primary documents to follow. This chapter has ten documents. Some are reproductions of Akahoshi’s chats at the Man-Malo site, and others are reproductions of newspaper or magazine articles, complete with fuzzy photos of the local community or yearbook pages. Here we find out the details of the second crime and the true killer’s arrest. As the books starts, so the book finishes, with Risako Kano. So let’s dig into this treasure trove. First, I’ll give you a couple of scans of the documents.
That’s the Man-Malo chatroom reproduction for Akahoshi, and this one is a page from the article on Shirono’s hometown Nagasawa:
Document 1 is titled “Community Site Man-Malo – Yuuji Akahoshi’s Page 1.” Akahoshi’s handle on the chat forum is Red Star, which is the literal meaning of the characters used to write the name Akahoshi. This section has his handle with a photo of a dish of food next to it, and he’s talking with various people whose real names as far as I can tell are not mentioned. They go by the names Maurin, Katsura, Keroppa, and a few others in this forum. This chat session starts on March 8th at 10:45 PM, slightly after Noriko’s murder. I think she was killed on the 7th. Red Star and the others are reacting to news as it is announced about the unidentified body. This session lasts through March 16th. One thing that this section does clear up is that there were indeed two crimes that the police were investigating: there was a thief and a murderer to be discovered at the cosmetics company, and the people in the chat session were debating if it was the same person. I guess I didn’t take Risako’s mention of the police investigating the theft at the beginning seriously because over here in the US, it would be a bit weird to have detectives investigate a stolen pen or stolen birthday cake.
Document 2, “Community Site Man-Malo – Yuuji Akahoshi’s Page 2,” continues this discussion and takes place on March 18th. I didn’t notice anything there I was particularly interested in.
For document 3, “The Weekly Sun April 1st (March 25th Release) Selected Excerpts,” we have two short news articles whose titles we saw in the earlier chapter. The first one is “A Body Burnt Black’s True Identity is Snow White!?” which mentions the woman who found Noriko’s body out in the forest and emphasizes the contrast between her snow white skin when alive and her black body now that she’s dead, burned up horribly in the fire. The second, “Did Snow White Kill Snow White?” explores the rivalry between Noriko and Shirono for the same man at the office.
Document 4, “Community Site Man-Malo – Yuuji Akahoshi’s Page 3,” is a bit interesting because someone suddenly uses the name of the person of interest Shirono when the news coverage has usually referred to her as “S-san.” Red Star asks where the name came out once user Saco says it openly. Saco responds that everyone probably knows it because of all of the slanderous gossip going around about Shirono, but there is also a suggestion it was written in some of the articles.
The next chat room excerpt in document 5, “Community Site Man-Malo – Asamu Midorikawa’s Page 1,” switches to the chat page of one of the interviewees we encountered earlier. Midorikawa also uses the literal translation of his last name (I’m not sure off hand if Asamu is a man or woman from the name) “Green River” as his handle with a river photo, and he identifies himself as a friend of Shirono’s and says she isn’t the murderer. The group also talks about where she went to school. On many of these chat pages, the Serizawa Brothers and their music comes up, and this one is no exception.
After the chats, there is a string of newspaper articles that detail major developments in the Office Lady Murder Case. Document 6 “The Weekly Sun April 8th (April 1st Release) Selected Excerpts” has two articles. The first article is titled, “The Snow White Murder Case’s’ Key is a Witch’s Hometown!?” This article is rather long and covers some of the points made earlier by a witness Akahoshi interviewed, including the mention of the shrine curse on Shirono. The second article is titled, “With Spring’s Arrival There is Love Every Night in Show Business ,” which gets into the Serizawa Brothers phenomenon.
Document 7, “The Morning News Selected Excerpts,” circles around closer to describe the actual murderer and her motives. These don’t have the magazine spread look like the other articles but look like serious newspaper coverage with no photos and tight writing. We’ve had almost no insight into Risako Kano until this part. This excerpt is five articles long: 1) “The Company’s Female Coworker Participates,” 2) “A Female Employee is Caught Embezzling Popular Merchandise,” 3) “Suspicious Movements on the Night of the Event,” 4) “A Frightening Prosecution: Person of Interest Risako Kano’s Criminal Activities,” and 5) “A Boasting Close Friend.” I almost don’t even have to read these articles to get an idea of what is happening. The item in question that Risako Kano was caught stealing was the “snow white” toilet soap, and Noriko was a witness to her crime, so Risako killed her.
Document 8 is “The Weekly Sun April 15th (April 8th Release) Selected Excerpt: ‘The Snow White Murder Case’ Witch’s True Identity is Clear!’” Of course, the article points out that Risako was Noriko’s training partner, and that was how Noriko noticed what was happening.
Document 9 returns to Shirono’s loyalist friends with “Community Site Man-Malo – Asamu Midorikawa’s Page 2.” One of the people chatting here discusses whether The Weekly Sun wrote 100% lies about Shirono.
The final document that closes out the book is document 10 “Risako Kano’s Blog ‘The Snow White Office Lady’s Happy Life’ Selected Excerpts.” These pages are a little eerie, and there’s only six short posts reproduced here, the last one dated the day after Noriko’s murder. The titles of her posts are really linked to the key points of the case we’ve read about so far, and this is where we also really see the connection to the old “Snow White” fairy tale I posted the link for last time: 1) Curse, 2) Miss Princess, 3) Cake Thief, 4) Snow White, 5) Criminal, and 6) Snow White Princess.
I’ll give you a few post excerpts because, as I’ve said earlier, we’ve not been given any insight into this character apart from her opening segment at the very beginning of the novel when we knew no details of what was going on. It almost sounds like poetry and isn’t any sort of normal narrative. The “Curse” post starts like this:
As for my neighbor, why does that woman exist?
From morning until night, my eye is visible in the mirror, all of the time that woman’s figure is reflected there.
Mirror, mirror, who is the fairest in the world? (My translation)
From the very last post, “Snow White Princess,” we find these lines:
The Snow White Princess is no more.
A true blood red apple. A true fiery blood red apple. The apple rolling around all of the forest.
Seeing the apple, perceiving it, do I hate her so much, I ask myself…?(My translation)
Very creepy, but very effective for an ending. She totally frames the story with Risako acting innocent at the beginning and at the ending being open about her crime. What I wasn’t sure about, since reading in your second or third language can be a huge challenge, was whether her old friend the journalist Akahoshi was in on pushing the narrative in his paper that Shirono was the killer, throwing suspicion off of Risako at least with the public.
So my observation on this author’s approach to the murder mystery is that we start over the same ground from different, deeper perspectives as we read each chapter, getting more and more personal for the suspect, then the last chapter gives all of the public details of the case. There are clearly a lot of unreliable narrators here, and it is told in a fairly popular style of narrative in Japan, particularly since it was made famous by the short story “Rashomon” written in 1915. There is even a special term for it, the “Rashomon effect”:
Even though the device is hardly new, I think it makes for a very intricate sort of fiction that can be fascinating in itself. This novel is probably worth reading through a few times as a student of Japanese just because it’s so complex. (Rereading is a very good study tactic.) My conclusion is that the novel is a character study of Miki Shirono, a bit of slice of life, and a murder mystery blended together. I wonder if the author also meant it as a sociological commentary on how communities rush to judgement and pick apart the first suspect who maybe didn’t even commit the crime, which they might have noticed if they had examined the evidence more carefully and not engaged in gossip. I’ll have to look for interviews with the author Kanae Minato and see what I can come up with on that, though I know she’s known for writing really shocking novels. The author won the 2014 Shirley Jackson award for her novel Confessions, which sounds from the description I read to be even more disturbing than this on by far, but I think I agree that her skill level as a writer is quite good. Maybe we’ll look at that one in the original Japanese at some future time.
Part three of a three part series.
The rest of 2016 will be focused on the Literati Corner. Next time in January, we return to Korea to look at Dowon Park’s epic historical novel Martyr’s Country!