On Tsumiki Kuzushi

The cover of the book.

Hozumi Takanobu is a Japanese actor who’s had a lengthy career – he debuted in 1953. However, none of the many roles he’s played in films and TV series immortalized him as much as a certain book he’s written in 1982… His Tsumiki Kuzushi: Oya to Ko no 200-nichi Sensou (which translates to Toppling the Block Tower: The 200 Days-long Parent-Child War) is a piece of fiction based on fact which chronicles the long struggle of a family with their very problematic single daughter. The book was a bestseller – one year later it was adapted into a 7 episode-long TV series which multiplied the story’s success and set the record for highest ratings among J-dramas. The record that hadn’t been beaten for decades.

Why would I watch an old-ass topical J-drama from the eighties, you ask? It’s because Tsumiki Kuzushi is heavily referenced in this OreImo doujinshi by Takotsuboya, whom you might remember for his infamous cruelly subversive K-ON doujin trilogy. Or that copypasta about TK’s multiple failed attempts at becoming a professional mangaka. If I was sarcastic, I’d say the intertextual allusions he makes are giving his age away. Anyway, I remembered the drama’s title to this day and… imagine the excitement I felt when I recently stumbled upon the ugly VHS rips of the drama on Nyaa. That place is a magnificent treasure trove. Anyway, is this tale special enough to be referenced in the second decade of the 21th century?

Hotaka Kaori (all the names of real persons were changed) has had some serious health problems as a child, which forced her to spend plenty of time in hospitals. Her father, as an actor, was hardly ever present. Her mother was a stereotypical Japanese woman – as servile to her husband as she was to her child. The story goes out of its way to show how spoiled she is. Now, Kaori is thirteen. Some female delinquents from her school cut her face up with a razor, so she decides she needs to switch sides from the abused to the abusing. And so begins her descent into corruption. She starts stealing money from her mom, ditching school and fucking around the town with her takenoko-zoku friends while Yokohama Ginbae plays in the background. In a short period of time, Kaori turns into a paint thinner-huffing shitgremlin. By the way, I’m surprised the band agreed to have their songs used in Tsumiki Kuzushi – their tunes about righteous bad boys riding motorbikes with their girlfriends are an ill fit for this disturbing story.

While Kaori lies, gets in trouble, brings her suspect friends home and beats her mother up, all Dad, the head of the house, does is chiding his wife for failing at her duties. At least until Mom literally begs Dad to do something. Dad finally realizes the weight of the situation and so they visit the police bureau of juvenile advisory where they meet officer Takemura, who presents them a rather radical plan to set their child straight… The show could just continue showing you one awful incident caused by Kaori after another, but the conversation with Takemura becomes a major turning point for the family. The family clearly hadn’t taught her any clear rules – of family life or the society, and the advisor states Kaori “stopped developing socially as a pre-teen child” at a point. She’s an egocentric sociopath. An animal, since that’s what humans are born as – they become humans in the process of education, which eluded the girl. So, Takemura gives the family quite a severe ruleset, requires them to execute this new law and tells them to come again after a week. Do not converse with your child. If it asks something, answer. Do not engage in discussions, though. Do not bargain with the kid. Don’t look for her if she doesn’t come home. If something bad happens, it’s her responsibility.

The parents obviously struggle with sticking to the rules, but what other choice do they have? Sometimes, they break their own rules, unable to take the pressure from their child anymore, but most of the time they’re holding out bravely. With time, Takemura adds new rules to the list for Kaori to stick to. The parents can’t give her any money. Then she has to return home before 2200 or suffer the consequences. Soon, Kaori joins a bousouzoku gang and seems to feel elated that she’s of use to people who love her when they send her on errands to buy them cigs. The titular “war” is damn harrowing to watch – like that moment when Kaori trashes the entire home looking for money and then wrestles with Mom to take her handbag away. All this happens while Dad is off fucking around with his showbiz friends.

Meanwhile, Kaori doesn’t really get better. She only goes further and further in being an evil, stupid little bitch. The parents keep struggling, while hoping that they’re slowly working towards success and that at some point, Takemura will tell them of some miraculous cure-all which will reverse the collapse of their family. A solution that would make their daughter normal and end their nightmare. That never happens, however. Takemura tells them Kaori needs to “accumulate a resource of bad deeds” to make her aware of the monstrosity she’s become. All her parents need to do is to endure.

The most the family achieves are baby steps. Kaori returns to school, quits the bousouzoku, gets a job… And yet she never stops being a monster, who kicks her mother around and is a blight on society. At the very end, Mom says her family was a fragile block tower that could collapse again at any moment. Was Takemura right or not, with his methods, which seem far from common sense? The answer remains unclear. The “epilogue”, a black screen with white letters states that Kaori’s failed attempt at returning to school was not repeated. And that she still does paint thinner.

If you checked out the Wikipedia article for “Tsumiki Kuzushi”, you’d learn this tragic story continued for much longer than 200 days. The collapse of the Hozumi family produced several adaptations and sequels to the original book. The real life counterparts to Mom and Dad had a divorce, and the former committed suicide soon after. Hozumi Yukari (or Kaori, as she was knows as in the series) died suddenly in 2003 of multiple organ failure. She was 35 years old.

That was a wild ride. The book is nigh-unobtainable in the West, so if you’re interested in this impressive chunk of history of J-drama, your best bet is to get that torrent with the TV show while it’s still there. Watch it and maybe compare it with that OreImo doujin afterwards.

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