The bastard child of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Stephen King’s Carrie, Kai explores how one innocent girl becomes the target of enormous rage living inside another girl-who is seemingly from another world.
Satsuki Takamoto is an invisible otaku teenager in Hiroshima. The only thing she has going for her is the upcoming birth of her sister. No longer will she be alone. But when her mother has a gory miscarriage right in front of her, Satsuki loses her one chance at happiness. She spirals into a deep depression, shutting out everyone and everything by locking herself inside her bedroom-for good. Her sadness, however, pales in comparison to her uncontrollable anger. It spreads like a nuclear fire, ambivalent to what or who it destroys, and won’t stop until Satsuki accepts her sister’s death.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Evanston, Illinois, Seul Bi Rissiello can’t sleep because every time she closes her eyes, she relives her adoptive parents’ gruesome deaths. Why is she thinking so much about them now, ten years afterwards? As she struggles with working at a clinic for the mentally disturbed, Seul Bi starts to unravel under the weight of living a lonely life and being twice an orphan. Her life devolves into a series of ominous and dangerous hallucinations that threaten not only her sanity, but her very existence as well.
As both girls struggle to understand what is happening to them, their enigmatic connection comes into focus, raising the question: What if all the suffering in your life was carefully choreographed by somebody you’ve never met?
I’ll start by being honest – I don’t really like horror as a genre. I used to. When I was a teenager I read lots of Point Horror and Stephen King – I even had a go at writing horror stories myself. I used to like horror films too. But now I don’t. I would never usually choose horror as a genre when picking a book or a film, and especially not a Japanese horror as these are notoriously gruesome. Nevertheless, I was asked by Derek Vasconi to read and review his Japanese horror novel Kai, and thought I’d give it a good.
Kai definitely had a flavour of Murakami about it, and it was those bits that I liked. I liked the brain-fucky bits, if you’ll excuse my language, and I liked the characters. Unfortunately I didn’t like the really nasty bits, but I’m sure if you were a horror fan and more used to the genre these would be good too. I found the gory miscarriage unnecessary – surely a miscarriage is traumatic enough without making it into something horrific – and some other scenes were beyond disturbing.
The story was interesting and well-crafted, and I liked how it flipped between Satsuki’s story in Hiroshima and Seul Bi’s story in Illinois. I won’t spoil the ending for you – I hope you’ll want to read this yourselves – but I didn’t entirely get the story towards the end. It pushed my boundaries of disbelief a little too far, and in the end I just felt confused.
I do think Kai is a well-written, and I think if you’re a fan of Japanese horror or just curious about it, I recommend checking this out. Vasconi has set out to avoid the typical slasher or supernatural antagonist that you might find in most horror novels, and instead seeks to contribute something new to the horror genre. On Vasconi’s website he addresses why he has decided to focus the book on Asian characters: “I’m sure you might notice that the two main characters in the book are Asian. I prefer Asian books and movies because they rarely wrap up neatly or have a clear message and that, to me, makes a story even more scarier. Fear comes from not understanding something, so it’s kind of built into Kai’s narrative, and I’ve shamelessly borrowed from many Asian books and movies to make Kai ambiguous. I think this speaks to the unknown which lies in all of us; I’m talking about the creative power we each have to sketch art, make babies, fly planes into buildings, and build nuclear bombs. I’m essentially asking readers: how far are we willing to go with our creations?”