Lofty nostalgia versus the gravity of reality (4/5)
Prior to last year, this novel had been on my to-buy for ages and ages, but I never found a Kurodahan book at any bookstore I ever shopped at on two continents or online. I was becoming desperate—I must have this book! My last resort to quenching my thirst for Japanese speculative fiction and finally procuring the books was to contact the publisher. Masaki Yamada’s novel Aphrodite was one book of many I received from Kurodahan Press after I
for nicely asked for begged on my hands and knees for translated
Japanese SF. Edward Lipsett was kind enough to send me a Japanese SF
care-package and I’ve been kind enough to give the books an honest review—and
honestly, I love this stuff.
This novel was originally published in Japanese in 1980 (Kodansha) and later translated by the pseudonymous Daniel Jackson in 2004 (Kurodahan).
Rear cover synopsis:
“This is the story of Makita Yuichi, a youth who escapes the regimented world of Japanese society for the beauty and freedom of the island city Aphrodite. But as Yuichi grows and changes, we approach the true heroine of the work: the city Aphrodite—ever beautiful, ever filled with the limitless energy of creation. And as the global economy spirals downward, leaving Aphrodite a deserted slum slated for destruction, perhaps Yuichi is the only person who can save her…”
Yuichi was only seventeen years old when he decided to leave his family. Slotted in the pit of urban, social, and spiritual decay, he had nothing to call his own, nothing with which to coddle or idolize, only “drifting aimlessly through life like a rudder-less ship” (11). He left his family in that insane city of Tokyo and emigrated to the land of opportunity—the floating city of Aphrodite. Here, he fancies himself a type of James Dean and begins to become optimistic. Now he has a cause for which to live.
Mr. Caan is a world-renowned architect who designed and had Aphrodite constructed; he’s also a “sportsman, an international playboy, and … a wielder of vast political power” (13). It is this influential man—the mayor of the city of Aphrodite—whom Yuichi works for as a mere boat boy for the mayor’s rocket submersible. While Yuichi doesn’t exactly idolize Mr. Caan, the mayor is the personification and driving force of Aphrodite. Soon, however, Yuichi will find himself questions other citizen’s allegiance toward the city and it’s demigod mayor.
As much as Yuichi thinks that Aphrodite is a heaven of sorts for himself and all disfranchised, Mr. Caan says that the city was structured to always be somewhat incomplete because,
people can’t live in totally finished worlds. It is a city, and yet it isn’t it’s something else… People aren’t such high-class animals. They can’t live in a true utopia. An incomplete utopia—that’s the best environment of all. (42)
The some-200,000 residents of the floating city live in “highly-advanced welfare system” (27), quartered in the city’s regions: Herhead, the nautilus-shaped island’s pinnacle; Herself, the administrative and nerve center; and Herleg and Herhip sections for common residency. Down by the docks of the island, Yuichi tends to the expensive submersible with caged desire to experience the machine under his own control.
On a casual evening with his friends, he meets a beautiful girl; however, his friend, also a boatboy, also thinks she's beautiful. This provides the ideal circumstance to test his ability to control the craft and control the direction of his own life. When a vortex of water disrupts the race and nearly kills them, Yuichi must accept his stupidity and must be confronted by the mayor-cum-boss Mr. Caan. Surprisingly, his punishment is absolved; surprisingly, his love interest is a lost cause; unsurprisingly, his life continues.
The prior events in 2018 mold Yuichi's life into its future form of disappointment the outcome of his expectations and disconnectedness with the island's social ethos. There seems to be going resistance toward Mr. Caan's clutch over the floating island's destiny—what was supposed to be unique outfit of sea civilization and exploration that could be employed by various nations has turned into one of a number of such floating islands. On Aphrodite's horizon, three futures loom: one of military affiliation, one of industrial taint, and another of touristy irrelevance.
Regardless of the expressed concern by many, Yuichi maintain his allegiance to Mr. Caan. Considering that the island is of his own design and destiny, he feels that Mr. Caan knows best about all decisions, even though Mr. Caan had some previous poor decisions in his personal life. Whether in 2023 or 2028, Yuichi keeps to his hope as an 18-year-old that Aphrodite will blossom in its own way. Flows of nostalgia engulf Yuichi as the sentiment around him regresses: “[F]ear was rooted deep inside himself, and that was why he was scared to look at reality, instead fleeing into nostalgia” (94).
While Aphrodite is on the brink of disastrous uncertainty regarding its future as a seafaring city of welfare and camaraderie, the cusp of reality encroaches upon Yuichi and soon the cusp broadens into a crack, a crevice, an expanding chasm of doubt. This doubt plagues him; the years of lost love and lost hope age him immediately when reality sinks in: Aphrodite isn't perfect and is no longer viable. Having lost his love, hope, and passion, Yuichi departs in 2028 only to return on the eve of Aprhodite's destruction many years later—though still a young man then in appearance, his experiences have aged him greatly.
The syrupy nostalgia of Yuichi is a common sentiment among those with sheltered hopes. His dreams aren't exactly shattered because his motivation for moving to the island was simply one of living simply; in this, he achieves his goal to a fault. He has incubated his hope for so long on a personal basis that he hasn't developed additional hopes or shared his life. From 18 to 28 years of age, he remains detached from popular opinion. When turmoil effervesces from the cracks in society, Yuichi remains coldly subjective in the sense that he doesn't understand the negativity and as someone who loves Aphrodite, the negativity must not exist.
Like the island upon the sea is, at first, an independent entity free from outside influence, so too is Yuichi. As Aphrodite's independence is being dissolved and its importance diminished, Yuichi too is quickly becoming prone to the sentiments of others—his long-incubated personal hope begins to feel the chilly persuasion of the population. When he realizes his loss, his precarious hope is teetering high upon a cliff with only reality to assist its plunge.
Aphrodite is an introspective foray into escapism and caged hope in conflict with reality. Yamada paints a dualistic portrait of a solitary man with his solitary dreams on a solitary island... but when the latter-most is encroached upon by outside influences, the former two become tainted and diseased—if the dream is not amputated, the death of the individual would quickly follow.