Book Talk: What happens when society turns on you

TOKYO (Reuters) - Masaharu Aoyagi is meeting a college friend in his car for a brief chat by the side of the road. But as they talk, the Japanese Prime Minister is blown up just blocks away -- and Aoyagi becomes the top suspect.

His life turned upside down, the former package delivery man and hero of Kotaro Isaka’s “Remote Control” is forced to run as a net of media and police closes relentlessly around him for no reason he can understand.

Set in a near-future Japan where “security pods” track citizens’ every move and based roughly on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the book looks at what can happen when a witch-hunt mentality is given free reign.

Isaka, who lives in Sendai -- hit hard by the recent Japanese earthquake -- spoke with Reuters about how he writes.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this?

A: I basically wrote this wondering what would happen if I tried to write something like a Hollywood movie. Before this I’d never really been able to write something in this style. What I had in mind to start with was “Die-Hard” and “The Fugitive.”

So I borrowed a lot of movies and watched a lot of fugitive-style movies, getting an idea of what it was like, how it flowed. There were a lot of things that I didn’t like and decided to get rid of. For example, in fugitive movies there’s always the side that’s chasing and the side that’s being chased, which to me almost seems as if it’s giving a sense of security: ah, the next scene we’ll see will show the police, the scene after that will be the fugitive. I didn’t think that was so exciting. So, what if you only write from the point of view of the person who’s being chased, and stick with that throughout?

Also, if you know who’s doing the chasing, it’s actually kind of boring. Somebody really close to them betrays them, or there’s somebody within the police. That pattern came up a lot. If you know who’s doing the chasing, it’s exciting at first but gets dull after that, especially toward the end.

Q: Then you had to decide who was being chased.

A: Yes, that was a key point. Doing the work I do makes my world pretty narrow. But every day, a guy from a delivery service comes to my house, bringing me packages from Amazon and other things from the world. I wanted him to be my main character. Once I decided that my character would be a delivery man, then I realized he’d know addresses, and a lot of other topics came together. Then I thought OK, why would a guy like this be chased, and came up with the idea that in the past, he was a hero. So after that it was just adding things like that.

Q: Do you plan everything in advance of writing?

A: I don’t really plan out the story that much. First I decided I’d start with his former girlfriend eating soba noodles and there’s an explosion, then after I finished that part I thought it would be interesting to show some people in hospital watching the news... I’d decided that things would really start by him jumping off a pedestrian overpass onto the back of a truck, that was as much as I’d come up with beforehand. Basically I thought of the next bit just before I’d start to write.

Q: I’ve always thought this sort of writing style led to a lot of discoveries for the reader as well as the writer.

A: I’m not sure why I write like that. I think it’s something to do with my character -- I get bored of things pretty easily. When I think of something, I want to write it right away. If I plan something out, all the work gets kind of boring. Also, if you don’t write it you don’t really know how it will turn out. If it doesn’t work, well, you can always rewrite.

Rather than make something that’s pulled together from the start, I like to make things like building with clay, to rewrite if needed. Sometimes -- but not that often -- I have things that work out from the start, and that’s a special kind of pleasure.

Q: You said you had a vague sense of dread when you were writing this. Was it something in society that made you feel this way or something in your life?

A: I wrote this in 2007. The “security pods” are a big part of this book, but it’s not as if I felt any kind of danger due to surveillance in society. I just thought it would make the story more interesting. But personally -- well, I tend to be a bit of a worrier, things seem scary to me. This unavoidably shows up in my work... I was a child during the Cold War. Add the chance of earthquakes and there was a sense that the world could end at any time. I’ve basically spent the last 40 years trying to think how to be positive. Almost all of the things I’ve written are like that too, they tend to try to figure out what to enjoy within a generally dark situation.

“Remote Control” is a more drastic expression of this. He’s chased, he flees, he even changes his face, but he hasn’t lost. This is the real meaning of this. It’s entertainment but I think it’s also about how you manage to go on living.

Editing by Steve Addison