A translated interview with Joker Game author Yanagi Kouji originally published on Shukan Bunshun Web (March 1, 2015). Shukan Bunshun Web conducted the interview a few months after the release of the fourth book in the novel series.
A first-rate spy mystery which pulls tricks on its readers
Yanagi Kouji-san published his latest work “Last Waltz” of the Joker Game series. The series sold a cumulative total of one million copies. In this book, the spies of the former Japanese army’s non-conformist “D-Agency” secretly maneuver all over the world once again.
He says, “I released this book while they made the film. So I thought of making it a brilliant thing.” Accordingly he opened the story with “Asia Express”, using the setting of a luxurious limited express train.
“Even before I debuted I wanted to use the Asia Express[ref]The Asia Express was an express train built and operated by the South Manchuria Railway from 1934 until 1943.[/ref] as a motif one day, because I read books like Ayukawa Tetsuya-san’s “Petrov Case”[ref]The Petrov Case (1950) is the debut novel by a Japanese mystery writer Tetsuya Ayukawa.[/ref]. Although I said that, I was a long way off from such theme, but the more I wrote I gained.”
Joker Game’s “Don’t die, don’t kill”
A Soviet assassin targets Seto of the D-Agency inside the train. Seto thinks of his opponent as troublesome as he is not willing to murder according to his principle. He doesn’t do it because of their rule: “Don’t die, don’t kill”. This exact rule is the greatest D-Agency’s trait which is used in the series.
“There was a description of instructions saying “Don’t die, don’t kill” in the documents of the Nakano School[ref]The Imperial Japanese Army established the Nakano School in 1938 to train personnel in military intelligence operations.[/ref]. I took the opportunity to write it in the D-Agency as a remaining impression in an army which valued extermination and honorable deaths. Even in organizations such as the law enforcement and in banks, common sense is thoughtless in general. It’s rather the heresy within organizations that matches together in the reader’s feelings. The same kind of nested structure also applies to the D-Agency. To a normal person, “death” is something that attracts the public gaze the most. A spy should accomplish his duty without attracting attention and suspicion. For them “Don’t die, don’t kill” is not a law or a moral; it’s a rational method. If war broke out, death would become commonplace. So the rule would probably be forced to change as well.”
Also read: A Look into Yanagi Kouji’s Workspace
“A conspiracy surrounding the German movie business”
In the second story, he depicts a ball dance at the embassy through the eyes of a lady of nobility. In the connecting third story she gets entangled in a conspiracy surrounding the German movie business. Even Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, is involved.
“I wrote from the point of view of a woman, and I also made a historical person appear, which is a first in this series. In each work I concentrate on devising stories that are easy for the reader to get into. Every time I finish writing I think “With this I used up everything.””
The spies Yanagi-san depicts are self-confident enough to say “If it were me, it’s reasonable to do this much, and master their many duties.
,”A spy is in an extreme world, but I think it’s also the obligation of an adult to show professional self-confidence to a young person. I myself longed to read stories of Chandler[ref]Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959) was a British-American novelist and screenwriter.[/ref] and the like during my university days, remembered his words, and tried to use them while aiming too high: because acquiring words and expanding your world is also one of the greatest pleasures of reading.”