Murder, sexual intrigue, and broken dreams combine to create an intense depiction of Vancouver’s Second World War-era Japanese-Canadian community.
The novel opens in 1940 with a clandestine meeting between the two main characters – Etsuji Morii, a Machiavellian crime lord, and Yoshiko Miyamoto, a “picture bride” who desperately wishes to escape her domestic cage. While Morii and Miyamoto seem worlds apart, they both demonstrate the brutality necessary for survival in their ethnic ghetto. The narrative successfully parallels Morii’s attempts to consolidate and maintain community control with Miyamoto’s efforts to prop up the crumbling façade of her marriage.
Through deft shifts in time and narrative perspective, a multifaceted and troubling portrait of the community emerges. Repressed secrets fester, and all too frequently, violence becomes a way of silencing dissent. When local police uncover the murder of Miyamoto’s husband and daughter, the raw tension in the story becomes even more pervasive. Morii and Miyamoto find their lives increasingly entwined.
The feeling of horror that dominates the book is its greatest strength and weakness. Watada effectively captures Japanese-Canadian characters who are warped by their marginal existences. He also skillfully conveys a feeling of impending doom that foreshadows the devastation of internment. However, the novel often relies too much on sensationalism to sustain interest. This often results in characters who are distorted products of their environment rather than individuals who can find hope outside of tragedy.
The novel ends with a depiction of a Japanese-Canadian community that is rife with corruption, abuse, and degradation. For these ill-fated characters, the ocean current separating Japan from Canada – kuroshio – remains as difficult to grasp as the shape-shifting fox.