A psychological drama about the obsessive relationship of three misfits from different cultures and backgrounds in 1980s Kobe, Japan.
Barnes & Noble.com
Robert W. Norris
Synopsis: The year is 1983. The place is the Kobe-Osaka area. A 33-year-old American drifter has just arrived in Japan seeking one more adventure and an escape from his past. A promiscuous and suicidal 23-year-old Japanese woman has just returned from a two-year homestay in a Canadian mission. A snobbish, 22-year-old Japanese virgin is about to graduate from university and enter the frightening world of adulthood. Three people searching for a place to belong. Three people dancing on a psychological highwire. Three people about to become enmeshed in a relationship that will change each of their lives forever.
"Toraware" takes a penetrating look at the obsessions, suspense, grief, misunderstandings, and joys of people from very different cultures and backgrounds who are brought together by fate to find the separate life paths they must follow.
There was an ear-piercing screech as the local train pulled into Hankyu Ashiya Station and came to a stop. Several passengers stepped out of the train and onto the platform. Those who had been waiting boarded. Sachiko Yasui waited for the others to board first before getting on the train and finding a seat separate from them. She knew it was a mistake to go to Harlan's apartment unannounced, but her desire to see him was too strong.
The train began to move. Sachiko settled back in her seat and looked out the train window at the passing scenery. Buildings of steel and concrete, serried rows of drab apartment buildings with their many-antennaed roofs, rushed by. Near Nishinomiya she saw the UCLA conversation school where she had first met Harlan. At Tsukaguchi Station Sachiko changed trains to the Itami line. A week had passed since the last time she visited him. She had gone to Itami to return his novel. They had talked about it and he seemed happy she understood it so well. There were many questions she wanted to ask, but her English had failed her.
He had touched her. She did not shrink away. His touch was gentle and reassuring. She massaged his back on the futon. Then she lay down and he massaged her back. She relaxed. He kissed her and took her blouse off. She did not have the courage to take her dress off. He did not force her.
Harlan took his pants off. She touched him and asked if she could hold him. He consented. She took him and tasted his tumescence. Later, in the darkness of his room, they huddled by his small electric heater. He said he liked her. He said he mistrusted the word "love." It had little meaning for him. She understood. She liked him very much. It was a relief he had come into her life.
She had written him a letter the next day telling him not to worry. She would not tie him down. She had learned from her experience with Tom, the American who had taught her Spanish before she went to Mexico three years ago. She knew what a vagabond's life was like. Tom had deceived her, had settled down with another woman. She was glad Harlan was honest. She liked to be with him. She knew he was not her possession. No one was her possession.
The train stopped at Hankyu Itami Station. From the elevated platform Sachiko could see the large apartment complex where Jose's co-workers had lived. It was a squalid, ugly building where common people lived. Itami City itself was squalid and ugly because of the association. Jose had been her other unrequited love. He and his family had been her neighbors in Ashiya for a year when he had come to Japan on business. Sachiko later visited the family in Mexico. Jose had not read her the way she had hoped. She had been too young and naive and her disillusionment had been deep.
The walk to Harlan's apartment took about 15 minutes. The February morning was grey and cold. Sachiko pulled her muffler and jacket tightly around her. She walked quickly and kept her head down, avoiding any kind of eye contact. She passed the hat factory with its weather-worn boards and rusty pipes. She put her hand over her nose to ward off the foul smell that came from a nearby trash barrel.
Finally, she approached Harlan's apartment building. It, too, was old and dilapidated. An overweight, middle-aged woman peered suspiciously at Sachiko from inside one of the apartments on the ground level. Sachiko climbed the single flight of steps to the second floor. There were four apartments. Harlan's was the last one on the left. Sachiko felt her heart beating quickly. She held her hand out to knock on his door, hesitated, then pulled her hand back. She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and knocked softly two times.
Sachiko heard a rustling sound inside and the murmur of two voices. An icy wetness broke out under her armpits. The door opened. Harlan came outside on the balcony and closed the door behind him. He was wearing only his jeans. His hair was ruffled. He rubbed his eyes as if to get the sleep out of them. Sachiko stared at his tall, lean figure and tried to force a smile.
"Sachiko, what are you doing here?" Harlan said. There was no anger in his voice, but his eyes revealed his surprise.
"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"
"Not really." Harlan paused for a few seconds. "Look. You can't come in. I've got company. Is it about my book?"
Sachiko nodded, knowing it was a half-lie, but no words came to her.
"Well, I'm sorry, but your timing is not so good today. I'll call you later in the week and we can talk about it then. Is that OK?"
Sachiko nodded again and said, "I understand."
"I'll talk to you later then."
Sachiko said good-bye, then descended the steps. The woman in the first-floor apartment was still staring out the window. Grief and powerlessness beat within her breast as she walked back to the station. It was her own fault, she told herself. She should have yielded herself to him before. She had known what she would find today. For a brief moment she imagined the other woman making love to Harlan, ripping and tearing him with her fingernails, trying to suck the marrow out of his bones, riding him wildly. She stopped suddenly, somewhat taken aback by the impurity of her thoughts. A faintness came over her, then passed.