Mystery Short Stories

Backlight – Kanji Hanawa

1 December 2020
Backlight Book Cover Backlight
Red Circle Minis
Kanji Hanawa
Red Circle
23 November 2018

This thought-provoking and intriguing tale, by the Akutagawa Prize-nominated master short story writer Kanji Hanawa, revolves around the extraordinary real story of the seven-year-old boy who went missing in the bear-inhabited forests of northern Japan for six whole days in 2016, after his parents had apparently abandoned him as a punishment. In Backlight, a child is left alone at the side of a road in the mountains of Hokkaido in northern Japan by his parents. When they return moments later, the boy is gone. Ishida, a Professor of Psychology is enlisted as part of the search team. As days pass, the search goes on and the number of people involved reaches more than one thousand. Ishida and his colleagues assess, analyse and discuss mostly at a safe and comfortable distance, taking them on their own journey from theories concerning the whereabouts of the child, to the very heart of the Japanese psyche. A complex and challenging look at an unfolding emergency, a culture and a country. Red Circle Minis: Original, Short and Compelling Reads Backlight is part of Red Circle Minis, a series of short captivating books by Japan's finest contemporary writers that brings the narratives and voices of Japan together as never before. Each book is a first edition written specifically for the series and is being published in English first.


An unnamed Japanese family leave their seven-year-old son at the side of a mountain road and drive off to teach him a lesson. Ten minutes later they return and he is missing. Various experts and searchers are brought in to help find the child and the search parties grow to one thousand people over a six-day period.

Momose and Ishida are two psychology professors at the university and help assess the situation and possible choices the child may have made. They consult with each other and proffer different scenarios to the searchers as to how the young boy may have reacted and which direction he may have travelled. They analysed why he should have travelled up the mountain, down the mountain, in search of water, in search of warmth, to follow the road, not to follow the road, and all the time worried about hypothermia.

I had a feeling that the moral of the story would be that for all the complexity our minds can conceive, the answer is often simple and staring us straight in the face. That wasn’t the outcome, and it ended very abruptly and without incident. Ishida did contemplate; had the boy seen the same demons he saw as a child and did his professional work shine a spotlight on people’s issues or was this all a profound backlight to his own self-assessment and realisation of himself.

I just didn’t get the story although it is well written with a great flow. I would rate this book 3.5 stars and I would like to thank Richard Nathan from Red Circle Authors for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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