I sort of read this book by accident. I’ve heard about Shusaku Endo for years but never read his work, and I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film, Silence, based on Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name. Then after reading a review in a friend’s blog about Endo’s 1986 novel, Scandal, I headed over to the Kinokuniya near Shinjuku Station’s east exit to see if they carried this title or any of his others. Half a dozen or so Endo novels were on the shelf but not Scandal, so at random I picked The Sea and Poison (1958).
Much of this story takes place at a hospital in Fukuoka at the end of the war. It’s told from the perspectives of ordinary people, all but one of whom become involved in an atrocity. The central character is Suguro, a medical intern whose colleagues are coercing him to participate in the vivisections of two captured American pilots. For a short novel, Endo covers a lot of ground, with a focus on guilt and culpability, ethics and morality. Reading it, I knew and dreaded that I'd eventually come to the vivisections. And although they weren’t so graphic, they were described in enough detail to be disturbing, as was the impassiveness of some characters in the lead-up to those grisly experiments. Endo’s prose in this book are smooth and easy to read, while the subject matter is rough terrain that’s hard to get through in places. I do look forward to reading more of his work but hope not all of it is so dark. I'm also interested in seeing how the story is told in the 1986 film The Sea and Poison, which was directed by Kei Kumai, with Eiji Okuda as Suguro and Ken Watanabe as Toda.