In an unnamed asylum, a patient without any memory or identity is being treated by an unnamed specialist. The treatment is very experimental. The patient is asked to read a series of documents detailing a horrible crime. It all suggests that he was the one who committed a grotesque murder. But who is the specialist, then? And what is the treatment really for? The document turns out to include a novel-in-progress and suggests a great effort on the part of a writer to solve the mystery of the atrocity. Is the patient the murderer? Or the specialist the author? The game of identities becomes a philosophical puzzle. Is it possible to lose your identity in order to escape from guilt? Or can you accept the guilt of a stranger’s crime in order to establish an identity? A murder mystery becomes a big labyrinth of human enigma. What does it mean to be ‘I’?

A veteran writer in Japan now shows you the very strange world of human motivations. A murder mystery with a big twist.

Excerpt

“So you want me to read this as a part of my treatment?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Then you believe that reading it will help bring back my lost memories. So that must mean that the events written here have something to do with me before I lost my memory.”

“You don’t need to think that,” said the treatment specialist. “Making logical assumptions and coming to a conclusion will not help you get your memory back. No, I just want to stimulate your brain. The aim of the treatment is for your memories to come back to you—naturally.”

“It seems rather tedious.”

“There’s no other way to do this. Let’s imagine that I was able to tell you what sort of person you were, what your history was, and the sort of lifestyle you led. You’d probably believe me. You’d know your name, your address, and your age. That sort of thing. But that wouldn’t mean you’d have your memory back. You’d only know those particular facts—you wouldn’t have remembered them. You don’t need to know what actually happened in this crime for the treatment to be effective. Don’t think about it that way. Your job is to remember, and that’s what you need to concentrate on.”

I wanted to tell him not to mess with me. I didn’t want to be manipulated. The doctors and the treatment specialist must know that people with amnesia feel this way. They wanted me to remember, but I was terrified of the prospect. I trembled in fear imagining what I might see when I was able to see into my past. I wanted to run away and hide. I didn’t want my memory back.

I didn’t have any choice, though. We patients had no say in our treatment.

“Is this all about the same incident?” I asked wearily and reached for the papers in the specialist’s hands.

“Yes. Read them please.”

I had to read them, even if I was sick and tired of the subject matter. I looked at the top page.

Record of Reporting

<A-1 #4 for Kunji Ikebe>

Ikebe: I really didn’t want to do this. I mean today. I should never have agreed to meet you, Mr. Nakazawa. I don’t even want to think about it. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not her. I’ll never forget the fun we had together. Lots of good memories, you know? But it’s all sad right now. Everything I remember now, when I think of her.

So, I don’t want to forget her. I want to keep the good times here inside. But when I think about what happened—and I’ve thought of it hundreds of times—every time I remember what, you know, what happened to her, to Manami . . . I’m sick of it. I can’t make her come back, and I can’t bear the thought of it. 

From the Introduction

“A Very Labyrinthine I: An Introduction to Yoshinori Shimizu’s Labyrinth” by Matthew Cheney

The first mysteries that capture our attention in Yoshinori Shimizu’s Labyrinth turn out to be, if not wrong turns exactly, early ones still far from the center of it all. Who is the narrator? Who is the “treatment specialist”? We likely form hypotheses quickly, and test them out as we read on. By the last pages, when the identities are (apparently) revealed, few readers will be surprised. What is truly revealed, though, is that the revelations we desired could not satisfy the most meaningful questions.   

Yes, “Who is the narrator?” and “Who is the treatment specialist?” are primary questions within the labyrinth of this novel’s ways of meaning, but the questions are not, it turns out, merely matters of providing a name. The names are easy enough, even obvious. But what the novel reveals is that if we put x = [a name] into the equation narrator = x, we will not have solved the equation.   

Labyrinth is a philosophical novel and perhaps even more than a novel, it is a philosophical experience for a reader. The problem of how to solve I am x is a classic one of philosophy, a question of ontology. What does it mean to state “I am” or “You are”? It is a problem most fiction ignores by assuming that people are coherent, unified, continuous. The I in this sentence is the same as the I in the next; the person given a name on a certain page is the same as the person given that name on any other pages.