The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Book review: Japanese crime thriller “Out” investigates murder

3 min read

"Out" follows the murder of a woman's husband and the plot to cover it up. Matthew Simmons / The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

I recently stopped by a local bookstore to see if I could find anything that was not similar to what I have read up to this point. As much as I enjoy only reading styles and authors that I love, I couldn’t help but think about all the books I might be missing as a result. I ended up asking one of the workers for a recommendation, and he pulled out a book from under the pile in front of him titled “Out” by Natsuo Kirino. After skimming the summary, I had reservations about reading a thriller, as I had never read the genre before. But instead of putting it down, I reminded myself that I might end up liking it—the whole point of trying out an unfamiliar genre.

Released in 1997, the dark Japanese crime thriller, “Out,” takes place in suburban Japan, where the main character, Masako, lives and works. Her shifts go from late at night to early in the morning because wages for day jobs are much lower, at least for a middle-aged woman with children. her status and age. Working in a boxed lunch packing factory is far from ideal and is physically demanding, to say the least. Thankfully, Masako has developed a relationship with three other women in the factory, and after an unexpected unfolding of events, they begin to grow closer. 

Following a long night at work, one of these three coworkers, Yayoi, returns home to find out her husband has spent her entire life savings on gambling. That, paired with a number of other issues including infidelity and domestic abuse, threw her into a state of rage, leading her to kill her husband. She may have freed herself from him, but now she has the task of hiding the body and getting away with murder.

Soon, the three other women have to decide what exactly to do with the body and where to hide it. Each woman has their own reasons for partaking in such a crime and, although starkly different, they’ve bonded through experiences of falling victim to dealing with the unfortunate realities of a sexist and ageist society. The rest of the plot is a telling of the deadly decisions and agreements they make from this point on, as well as the consequences that inevitably follow. 

Aside from being a thriller, “Out” works as a commentary on Japanese society and the negative impact it has on the women who live in the country. It was upsetting to see that some of these women were more comfortable talking with each other about where to hide a body than the sexual violence that they have faced. The social critique made by Kirino provided the book with more than just the telling of a suburban crime, separating it from your typical crime thriller.

I, of course, don’t recommend that anyone should commit murder… however, it was interesting to see how the power of desire and economic benefit can lead people to do things they never imagined. It seemed that although each woman recognized the grotesque nature of her actions, it gave their despairing lives some sort of excitement in a weird twisted way. It released them from their insufferable and monotonous lives where their agency seemed to be entirely limited by what society and the men surrounding them told them to do. 

This book was a lot to take in, to say the least, but as much as it was dark, it was equally as addicting. Although I can’t say that “Out” made me particularly happy, I can say that I enjoyed it, and the only disappointment I have with this novel is the somewhat dissatisfying ending. All of this said, I am happy with my random book recommendation and will be using it as a reminder to explore things I may not have considered before.