Koji, a bestselling author, is often called Japan’s answer to
Stephen King. After graduating from Keio University, he worked
a number of jobs, including working at a cram school, where
he told scary stories to entertain his students. While taking
care of his two daughters while his wife worked, he started
In 1990, he won the Fantasy Novel Award with Rakuen [Paradise].
In 1991, he published the novel Ring, which was made
into a successful feature film. In 1996, with Rasen (Spiral),
the sequel to Ring, he won the Yoshikawa Eiji Young Writer
Award. The Ring series included two more installments,
Loop and Birthday. In 2002, Dreamworks SKG remade
the Ring for American audiences. His most recent book, Kami
kami no Promenade, (The Gods' Promenade) was published in
April 2003. Ring is the first of his novels to be translated
Mr. Suzuki has also written extensively on fatherhood in Japan,
criticizing traditional absent salarymen fathers. He has written
a number of books on the subject (Fusei no Tanjo, Kazoku
no Kizuna, and Papa-ism) and has spoken in front
of the Japanese Diet on the suject. He has translated Simon
Brett’s children’s book, The Little Sod Diaries, into
Japanese as well as writing his own children’s book, Namida
[Tears]. In addition to writing and translating, he is an avid
motorcyclist and expert sailor.
A Japanese national, Mr. Suzuki resides in Tokyo. He is fluent
Interview: April 25, 2003
The main story of the Ring (arguably the most famous
of your works due to both the Japanese and Dreamworks SKG movie
versions) is of a videotape of jarring discordant images that
mysteriously kills people who watch it in exactly one week.
What sparked this story?
When I started writing this novel, I didn’t have a specific
idea in mind. It was more or less an inspiration that literally
commanded me to write this novel. I didn’t know in advance what
this story would be about and I didn’t know where I would go
with this novel.
In some ways, it was just like composing music. I was listening
to a story told in my head and I wrote it down. It was kind
of like Mozart—it was said that symphonies and concertos went
through his brain, and Mozart wrote own the notes. But Mozart
didn’t know where the music came from. I didn’t either. It just
Well that’s pretty mysterious. . .This book, Ring, seems
to touch on a number of themes: misanthropy, hermaphrodism,
gender issues, disease, the media, morality, utilitarianism—
to name a few. What do you feel are the most significant themes
and ideas contained in Ring?
When I was writing this novel I was taking care of my two
daughters. I wrote this novel fourteen years ago—in 1989. At
that time my elder daughter was only two years old and my wife
was a high school teacher of Japanese history. So I was taking
care of my daughters instead of my wife.
Which is unusual in Japan. . .
And so the theme of the Ring is really about the
love I have for my daughters. In my book, it’s not a heroine,
but a hero: Asakawa Kazuyuki. He is a father. He has a daughter
and he has a wife. And like many men, his greatest fear in life
is losing his wife or daughter.
Me too. For me the biggest fear is to lose my daughters or wife.
So in my novel, Asakawa, the protagonist, fought for the life
of his wife and daughter.
What informs your work, consciously or unconsciously? Books?
Folk tales? TV? Movies? Steven King or Edgar Allen Poe? Religion?
Philosophy? What inspires you? Or is it all out of your psyche?
For the most part, my writing is a product of my personal
experiences. But, to be fair, I think I am influenced by what
I read. I studied French Literature in my university days. And
I have read lots of American, French, and German literature.
The thing is, I don’t read horror: I don’t like horror novels.
I once read Stephen King, but not so much. I don’t watch TV,
and I don’t watch horror movies. I am most influenced by my
experiences—most of all, my daughters.
I like to think of myself as a tough guy though—a Japanese macho
macho man [laughs]. I may look Japanese but I have a lot of
sympathy for the American archetypes of manhood. I like the
Hemingway men—and I like to sail, so Hemmingway suits me. The
Old Man and the Sea and all that. . .
What is “evil”? The word seems over used these days. . .
Unlike Steven King and Western religion—whose themes generally
focus on the idea that it is generally ancient, a primeval evil
that merely exists—the evil in Ring is very much
created by human will—Sadako’s hatred of mankind. To borrow
from philosopher Jean-Paul Satre, is hell "other people"
I believe in the human consciousness. Yes.
I don’t believe in evil. I think of myself as very much an optimist.
So it follows I’m not so interested in the concept of evil.
But for a novel, it is necessary to have evil: you have to have
good things and bad things for a novel to work. I strive to
write the good parts of the human experience. If there is no
dark, there is no contrast, and it doesn’t highlight what you
are trying to show. Dark and light.
Do you yourself believe in a hell, devils or ghosts?
No, I don’t. I don’t believe in devils, demons, or evil.
It’s often that what is imagined in books never lives up
to what is shown on the movie screen—no matter how good the
film. A book is a medium that allows you to create a private
and tailored world of terror, where as a film adaptation has
to depend on more generic/universal conventions of fear. How
do you feel about the film adaptations of your book in both
Novels are different from movies—I know that. If readers read
a novel, there is a buffer between the written word and the
text. If a man read a line of text, his instinct, his imagination,
his circumstances shapes the image in his brain of the hero
or heroine. This is the nature of the novel.
But movies are a direct experience. Movies go straight into
the eyes and ears so imagination is not necessary. It goes straight
into the head.
I know this difference exists between movies and books. Novels
But how do you feel about the adaptations?
Well, I think I’m very lucky. The original Japanese Ringu
and Hollywood Ring are very good. And I’m lucky to be
the author of them. If I didn’t think so, I would be unlucky.
The Hollywood Ring is a very good movie. . .but the novel
is very different.
Ring appears to be an homage to meticulous detective
work that unlocked a disturbing mental landscape. The Japanese
movie seemed dependant on Asako’s intuition, and her connection
with psychic phenomenon. Was that a shortcut to get to the conclusion
in the film? Do you feel that it weakened the ideas of your
I think it was a short cut—a movie is only two hours. It’s
impossible to get all of that on film. If they had ten or twelve
hours, maybe then it’s possible.
Why do you think the sex of the protagonist was changed from
male to female in both the Japanese and US films? Asakawa Kazuyuki,
the reporter, was changed to Asakawa Rieko. It seems that in
general horror/slasher movies (at least from Hollywood) have
had female protagonists. Take, for example, Jamie Lee Curtis
in the Halloween series, or Neve Campbell in Scream.
Was this your choice?
In the original Ring movie—I wanted the director
to use my situation. A male Asakawa, Aasakawa Kazuyuki. I wanted
to write a “father story”, a father who protects his lovely
daughter. But that’s not customary in Japan because the instinct
to protect a daughter is considered more maternal, a mother’s
task. So in the Japanese movie version, the heroine is a woman,
But I don’t really think it’s the way it has to be. I wanted
to write a new type of novel because I was a new type of father
in Japan—like the way I took care of my daughters. And I think
it was very important for a novelist to write about his own
I wanted the American Ring to have a male, not female
hero. I think American father figures are so strong so a male
lead was not so unreasonable. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger
in Commando. [laughs]. His whole purpose was to fight
for his daughter.
One of the most poignant aspects of the book is the exploration
of male friendship and loyalty between Asakawa and Takayama
Ryuji. Was this inspired by a real friendship?
I...Hmmmm. . .I know that I keep saying it’s important
for a writer to draw on his experiences. I made two characters,
one is Asakawa and the other Takayama Ryuji. They are actually
two aspects of my own character.
Split into two?
Asakawa is ordinary and has a very serious outlook on life.
Takayama Ryuji is very strong but rather peculiar. I myself
have these two types within myself. I divorced my own character
so these two very different people could be born.
Is there such thing as a “Japanese” horror genre? Or does
horror have universal appeal? Do you think what scares people
is culturally based?
I think it is necessary for human beings to be sensitive
for fear. It’s a very necessary instinct for existence. If there
is no sense of terror or fear, you won’t live long. An original
instinct. For example, if a mouse has no sense of fear, then
it won’t live. If danger comes, and it does not know to run,
it will be killed.
Were you pleased with the American Dreamworks version of
the Ring movie? How active were you in its “translation”
for an American audience?
I like the Hollywood version of the Ring. I read
the scripts and made some comments after reading it. First:
No blood. No splatter. No slasher action. I don’t like blood
because it kills the need for imagination. Second: it has to
fully capture the awful events—by fully engaging the viewers
Why the delay in the translation of Ring—the book
was published in 1991, it has been over eleven years. How did
you choose your translator?
I wrote this a long, long, long time ago. A lot of American
novels are imported to Japan. Only a few Japanese novels go
to America, few are translated into English. I feel that I am
lucky—if there is an eleven-year delay, so be it.
You seem to be a man of many hats: you are a writer, translator,
expert on child care, expert sailor, adventurer, devoted father—who
are you? Are you all these things?
I think I am Koji Suzuki.
What are you working on now?
I have a new book now—Kamikami no Promonade—which
went on sale today. This story is about cults, like Aum Shinrikyo.
A mystery about women, and I think readers will get energy from
What are you reading right now? What do you like to read?
I am interested in every subject. I like to read French and
American literature, as well as good world literature. Right
now I am interested in science. I’m reading about DNA as well
books about relativity and quantum theory. Everyday I try to
read good literature, science and history.
What do you think is required reading in Japanese fiction?
[pauses] Hmmm. Not American fiction?
Japanese fiction. Japanese literature.
[pauses] I think American literature has its own special
logic. Whereas Japanese literature exists in a small world.
. .it does not have an external logic.
Japanese novels, in my view, are very narrow. Japanese people
read Japanese novels and they think it is interesting. People
in other countries, I think, would not find it interesting in
the least. Japanese literature does not have a global appeal
nor does it meet global standards.
The shishosetsu, the private [the I-novel] is form of
the Japanese novel. If Americans read a private novel, I don’t
think they would find it interesting because it is so narrow.
It has no global view.
Have you ever seen a Kurosawa movie? I think Kurosawa has that
kind of logic and a global view. People all over the world find
his movies interesting. I’d like to be a Kurosawa. I want people
all over the world to get something out of reading my books—whether
they feel happier or just merely interested for a few hours.
thanks to T. Ishizaki for his assistance in this interview.
- © Copyright 2002-2004 JapanReview.Net, All rights reserved.