In Out, Yayoi Yamamoto strangles her husband in a fit of rage. Her friends agree to help her dismember and dispose of the body – “it was a human being, but now it’s an object” (95). Is this so shocking when we consider the toll that the global city exacts upon them?
In the factory in which they work, these four women are reduced to objects but more specifically to components. If they are injured, even a scratch, they cannot work. If they refuse to perform the backbreaking labour there are plenty more to take their place, in what Sassen refers to as “the informalization and casualization of work” (288). If they wish to go to the bathroom they have to make it known to management hours in advance, neoliberalism prying into the most personal aspects of their lives if it increases profits. Management’s chief concern is productivity, not the wellbeing of the workers. “What the hell are you doing?!’ … How could you have spilt all this?!” (12).
None of this is reasonable, but we do not live in a reasonable world. Society has them over a barrel; the four need the extra income that the night shift provides, and, by god, Tokyo needs those boxed lunches. Because of this they are all profoundly isolated. Masako and Yayoi pass their husbands in the doorway every morning, both marriages crumbling. Yoshie’s daughters siphon what income she brings in and refuse to help care for a mother-in-law she despises, a task that demands nearly all of her free time. When Tetsuya leaves, Kuniko has nothing left but debt, “the neoliberal self… defined by its capacity to consume” (Davies 1-14). The four grab what sleep they can and each night the cycle begins anew.
Breu notes that “in killing and disposing of Kenji, the woman turn the thanatopolitical violence that the larger society directs towards them momentarily outward” (49). They disassemble him as methodically as they assemble meals on the conveyor belt, Kirino juxtaposing images of food with the process of dismemberment – “watching the blade slip through the layers of yellow fat, she heard Yoshie mutter that it looked ‘exactly like a broiler” (100). Operating outside the law, operating outside what many criminals (Yayoi included) would regard as sacrilege – how could they be expected to give that power up, when we consider the alternative? Their freedom “[can’t] be assured by institutions and laws but must be exercised” (Brown 8).
Reluctance to give up this power might be one reason why Masako and Yoshie are able to treat Kuniko’s corpse as just another job. “Skipper, set the line to eighteen” (441). Her presence and loyalty while alive helped mitigate the factory’s neoliberal demands on the four, but, once dead, she has no value. She, like Kenji, is categorised as waste, a category that Giroux explains “includes no longer simply material goods but also human beings, particularly those rendered redundant in the global economy” (Giroux 308). This is not an anomaly, Jumonji stating that “there’s a fairly steady supply of people who nobody wants found” (256). Slowly, begrudgingly, but ultimately, Yoshie comes to see her mother-in-law in this light. “Once her daughter was gone, she must have lost all hope, and with it her last reason for hesitating” (491). In a novel brimming with terrible people and terrible acts, Yoshie deserves sympathy. Her belief in family and compassion only brings her pain, and it is only when she abandons these concepts for those of thanatopolitics does she finally get out.
Gender is incontrovertibly tied to the question of the body and its worth in Out. Satake made a business of bodies long before Masako, Yoshie and Jumonji, the girls in his club the product in the neoliberal marketplace that is Kabuki-cho. His empire is predicated on the belief that these women are objects – they are to be enjoyed, consumed, by lonely men. They, like the flagging newcomer on the line, are reduced to components. “They began to hear sounds of distress from the new woman… efficiency began dropping on the line and they had to cut the pace” (11). Satake too abhors inefficiency on his line – “I don’t mind if you fool around, but you can’t let it get in the way of work” (232).
When he is released from jail and finds that he has lost everything, Satake snaps. His objectification of women rockets past anything that Kinugasa or even Kenji would condone. He deems Kenji a loser for chasing Anna, but hunting Masako becomes his only purpose. She, in his mind, only exists to fulfil his impossible sexual fantasy. “It wasn’t so much that she’d tried to stab him but that she’d spoilt the sensation he had worked so hard to bring back” (506). Masako despises him in this moment, but what should indicate self and personhood only arouses him further. Satake reduces her and her affect to an object to be consumed. When Masako slices him with a scalpel, killing him, she reduces him in turn. Both Yoshie and Masako get out, but Masako gets out with the money. I believe that is because, unlike Yoshie, she experiences every aspect of what it means to live in a world of objects. ‘If this fellow here’s an object, then so is my mother-in-law. And then we’re all objects – the living and the dead’ (95).
If those you work with are objects, and people see you as an object, and your family view you as an object, then it becomes fair to view others as objects. If we take that to its depressing conclusion, there is nothing remarkable about an individual human life in this unreasonable world. Cheers.
Breu, Christopher. “Work and Death in the Global City: Natsuo Kirino’s Out as Neoliberal Noir” Globalisation and the State in Contemporary Crime Fiction. Ed. Pepper, Andrew, and David Schmid. Palgrave, 2016.
Brown, Wendy. States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton, 1995.
Davies, Bronwyn. “The (Im)Possibility of Intellectual Work in Neoliberal Regimes. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 26. 1-14.
Giroux, Henry A. “Violence, Katrina, and the Biopolitics of Disposability” Theory, Culture and Society 24. 305-309.
Kirino, Natsuo. Out. London: Vintage, 1997.
Sassen, Saskia. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2001.
Midaka, Masahiro. “Workers process scallops at the plant”. Bloomburg. 25 August 2017. Accessed 24 October 2017. <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-25/japan-s-richest-village-can-t-find-workers-for-its-factory>
“Anatomy of man muscular system – anterior view – didactic”. Shuttershock. Accessed 24 October 2017. <https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/anatomy-man-muscular-system-anterior-view-109588475?src=sIgqUjBDxwGPHQBlaivqlQ-1-77>
Brenn, Moyan. TokyoCheapo.com. Accessed 24 October 2017. <https://tokyocheapo.com/entertainment/things-to-do-in-kabukicho/>