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Hotel Harbour View By Matt Martin
Viz Ė Natsuo Sekikawa (w); Jiroh Taniguchi (a)
Iíve owned this book for about three months now and Iíve held off on reading it until just this past week, when I broke down. I didnít avoid it because I was afraid that itíd be bad. No, I kept my distance because I knew it was going to be great. And I also knew that when it was mind-boggling good, I would feel compelled to write up a review for it and that, for me, is a bad thing. Why? Because no matter how much I tell you to go out and buy a copy, thatís going to be a difficult task for you: this book is out of print.
And I am telling you, if youíre a fan of crime fiction or film noir (anyone see a theme starting to develop this week?), do what it takes to track this book down. It is absolutely amazing.
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Self-loathing is a common theme in a large portion of contemporary American crime fiction (just ask James Ellroy, his novels are living proof) and Sekikawa proves in this graphic novel that it isnít a concept that those authors have a monopoly on: it is the central theme to both of the stories that comprise this collection. In turn, these two stories are tied together by a shared central character: one female assassin named Mariko.
In the titular opening story, a businessman arrives in Hong Kong to escape trouble on the mainland (or so he claims). Drinking himself into a stupor, he awaits the arrival of a prostitute, who he then pays for the services that working girls are known for, as well as the chance to amateur pornographic photos. Pillow talk with the girl reveals that he is awaiting a confrontation with an unknown hitman (or hitwoman, I guess, in this case) and that it is his intention to test his skill with the gun or die trying.
A good portion of the panels in this first story are establishing shots, static images the city and its environs that evoke the mood of the story so well that one can imagine a slow, mournful sax being played in the background, as though ďHotel Harbour ViewĒ were a film noir rather than a manga version. In the end, the twist is revealed: the man isnít a rogue agent from some shadow government. Heís an administrator at the Ministry of Trade, a man who simply and tragically was stricken with cancer, a man who loved guns and paid an assassin to ensure that he was able go out in a blaze of glory like a gangster in a movie rather than an emaciated patient in a hospital bed. The entire story is an elaborate game of Russian roulette, as the eponymous manís revolver is drawn first, but the gunís hammer finds only an empty chamber.
In the second story, ďBrief Encounter,Ē the lack of self-respect is even thicker, as the story revolves around a quest to win that feeling back. Mariko is featured again; only this time she is the central character of the story, rather than simply serving as the source of conflict. Hired to kill a man, she realizes that he is someone with whom she had a brief romantic entanglement several years prior to the story. Again the use of establishing shots is heavy and Taniguchiís art shines as he displays a wide range of emotions through his charactersí dynamic facial expressions. Here, however, those shots are often overlaid with narration, Marikoís inner thoughts expressed on the page, silently willing her target to recognize her face and remember their encounter as she shadows him through his day-to-day life.
I just canít say enough good things about this book. The stories are classic, worthy of the great of prose crime fiction. And the atmosphere here is so thick you could cut it with a knife. The two shorts told herein would be great no matter who penciled them, but I canít imagine a more fitting artist than Taniguchi after having seen his performance. Again, if itís at all possible, go out and track a copy of this book down. For Godís sake, I found my copy in a fifty-cent bin.