February 17, 2008

Forest Under the Sea (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

Ah, Suzuki, Suzuki, Suzuki. I don't know what to do with you. You give me so many mediocre horror tales that you become easy to dismiss, then something as beautiful as Paradise, or Loop, or this marvelous little gem comes from your mind and leaves me conflicted. Sure, the ghastly ghost stories sell better and get people chatting on message boards, but I feel your true talents are going to waste.

Sorry to go off on a little sidetrack here, but I can't help but regret that Koji Suzuki isn't living up to his fullest potential. Out of all the works I've read so far, only three rise to the ranks of greatness. And it's not hard to see why as they primarily focus on two elements where Suzuki shines: real settings and human characters. Now, to be fair, all of Suzuki's stories feature these elements, it's just that most have the unfortunate tendency of throwing in a poorly thought-out spectre of the supernatural which causes everything to unravel. But in this story, Paradise, and Loop, Suzuki manages to hold onto realism and build it to a firm conclusion. (Well, Loop can't entirely be considered reality, but at least the element of fantasy was better integrated.)

I'm sorry to keep bringing up Paradise and Loop, but both are so closely mirrored by this story in terms of a future generation having to retrace and complete a mission from the past. Hell, the way the story is broken in two segments, set years apart, with a cliffhanger in between, is identical to the structure of Paradise. It worked there and it does just fine here, too.

Our story opens as Fumihiko Sugiyama and a friend find a cave while hiking one day. Being professional spelunkers, neither can resist the opportunity to explore. As shafts and chambers unfold (all lushly described), tragedy suddenly strikes and Sugiyama finds himself trapped and alone. Twenty years later, his fate is revealed as a group of university students set about to retrace his expedition.

Now, I know I've been gushing and gushing, but it's not perfect. There's a minor revelation regarding Sugiyama that doesn't quite make sense, and some of the translation is a bit awkwardly worded. But, still, it's a marvelous, beautiful story that's well worth a read. If you're new to Suzuki, this might not be a bad place to start. Granted, it may leave you disappointed in most of what follows.

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