After reading Night Worker, you knew I’d be back for more Yamaji. I mean, it was obvious, right? I was so captivated by her storytelling, her clean lines, her weirdly frozen movement, and the sensuality of all it, that I wasted no time in finding something else of hers to read. Which was actually a very easy feat. It might have been Tomoko Yamashita’s year last year, but Yamaji wasn’t having too bad of a time either. Night Worker came out in May, followed by I’m Not Here, a collection of short stories, in November, and the first volume of her ongoing series Red Thimble the very same day. So I bought them all! Hooray to bookstores!
As usual, I ignored all cover text on Red Thimble since I do love walking into stories completely ignorant of what I’ll find there. But “the nightmare starts now” that’s on the obi is actually a pretty great summation of what awaits readers. It starts off pretty creepily with full color pages of a woman sewing a button onto a shirt, but then pulling the needle and thread through her own finger. In the next panel, we meet our protagonist Shogo on the Ginza line platform at Higashi-ginza where a nice little old lady reminds him, foreshadowingly, that the full moon is that day. Be careful, she tells him. Things get crazy on the night of the full moon. She then hobbles off after realizing that she is actually on the wrong platform. It’s bit of a hacky, forced start to the story that doesn’t really serve any purpose other than holding up a giant flag for the reader that says “Whoa! Get ready, gang”. Maybe this scene will gain weight as the series progresses, but my first read is that it could easily have been cut, and the book would have been off to a stronger start.
At any rate, Shogo heads home to his lovely young wife Midori to show off the new sneakers he got. But in the shopping bag, a mysterious thimble! Shogo doesn’t even know what a thimble is, so his wife kindly explains it to him. (Are there really people who don’t know what a thimble is, though?) He flashes back to a memory of a needle stabbing a finger, a drop of blood welling up. It’s weird. Things are weird. It’s the night of the full moon, after all.
The next day, Shogo’s at work at the frame shop when Midori’s uncle comes by to get some pieces framed. And discovers on the door of the shop a note in English: “Do you remember me?”. Accompanied by a button sewn with thread dyed with blood. Yeah. It is for sure creepy. Cut to Midori at home, pulling a different thimble out of a container of all those little junky bits you find in your house and put into a container because you don’t know what to do with them. Is it just a coincidence that she found this thimble there (not the junk container but an unspecified, mysterious other place) on that day (a day in that mysterious other place)? Twenty pages in and there are a lot of questions that need answering.
And the questions only continue to pile up throughout book one as things get increasingly awful and weird. Deeply awful and weird. I was actually shocked at where we ended up halfway in. And despite the obvious foreshadowing of the old woman and her full moon blah blah blah that started the whole thing off, I was totally invested by the end of this first book. Who sent the note in English? What happened on that day? Why would anyone do this?? I need answers, you guys. I can’t stop thinking about this book. I’m pondering the possible meanings of thimbles while I cook dinner. Thinking about connections with picture frames. Wondering who that uncle is anyway. And don’t even get me started about the mysterious little girl. (You knew there had to be a mysterious little girl.)
Yamaji’s crisp, clean lines somehow make everything more anxious. This beautifully structured world disrupted by such horrible things. And the sharp contrast of the blacks and whites make the world seem so orderly, a place where this sort of thing should never happen. That frozen in motion aspect of her work that I love so much adds an extra layer of foreboding. Like, if you had only looked closer at any particular snapshot, you would have seen what was coming. Her lines grow slightly thicker and the world becomes greyer in remembered scenes, creating a pleasing haziness that feels right for memory. And in one crucial scene, her lines almost fade into nothing, dropping us right into the mind of the character at that moment.
Basically, Yamaji is telling the hell out of this story already. Given how much I enjoyed Night Worker, I went into this one expecting to enjoy it. But I had no idea I would become semi-obsessed with it. It gets seriously and scarily R18, so potential publishers, take note! (And people with some trauma in the relationship-y way, you should maybe think twice about picking this one up?) I hope it doesn’t get much more scarily R18, because the shocking parts of this volume are indeed shocking and make my heart hurt. I don’t know how much more I can take. But you know I will read all the way to the end.