By Kyoko Okazaki
Real fairy tales don’t have a happy ending; life, real or fictional, just isn’t that simple. Pink by Kyoko Okazaki explores life as a distorted fable, a cautionary tale which ignores the caution it seeks to convey. Each character lives in a world of delusion, mostly guided by their unwillingness to accept reality at face value. Although they are delusional, every cast member is capable of seeing the true nature of reality. In all cases the sight of reality at face value triggers a response of repulsion, making justifications feel realistic. It’s difficult to pin a genre, or even a generic guideline on Pink, it casually floats above several different styles of storytelling, never landing on one for an extended period of time.
Generic definitions aside, Okazaki dissects the many ways in which we seek love for ourselves and for others. Often in sarcastic ways and in bizarre situations, one of the characters will spend a brief moment reflecting on the absurdity of the situation. Seemingly minor notions on the quality or inherent qualities of love force moments of grounded clarity, followed by a reasonable explanation. Of course most depictions of love throughout the story fall well beyond the boundaries of what we would consider “normal”, but in Okazaki’s fantasy world, her characters force us to abandon our conventional views of what love is or should be. We are tasked with viewing love as a connection between two people, the rest is details.
Protagonist Yumiko adheres to this notion of distorting the normal throughout most of her scenes in the book. An office worker by day, escort by night, she balances her life between the mundane redundancies of nine-to-five monotony, and the unexpected (sometimes unwelcome) world of hourly companionship. Yumi makes it pretty clear between shopping habits and her lifestyle that her primary office job is unnecessary for financial security. Even feeding her pet crocodile 20 daily pounds of meat (an enormous expenditure in Japan) doesn’t seem to cause Yumi any sort of financial hardship. And above all this, Yumi receives monthly stipends from her well to do father and stepmother. From a reasonable, normal perspective, Yumi’s behavior and choice to pursue a dangerous lifestyle makes her seem absolutely crazy.
The crux of Yumi’s successful existence within the story comes from her relationship between Okazaki’s fantasy world, and the ever encroaching persistence of the real world. Yumi maintains a job we would consider normal and stable in order to accentuate, even heighten her presence inside the fantasy bubble. By having a means of escape from her preferred setting, Yumi can reinforce and justify her choices, insulated through the comforts of her fantasies. Office life may not conform to her view of the world, but it provides her a daily reminder that “normal” lacks any sort of meaning or importance.
Yumi’s views on love are similarly at odds with what she views as the world of conformity. Many of her liaisons have odd requests or fetishes, sometimes driving Yumi to a state of mild disgust. Yet she never makes any sweeping judgements or denouncements against any of her clients, regardless of how depraved they may be. This isn’t to say Yumi is the hooker with a heart of gold, she makes it consistently clear her sole intention is money, but there is always a sense she values each of her encounters. She may question her clients’ desires, or the ways they choose to interact with her, but she is never driven to express any negative emotions.
The value derived from these liaisons expands the scope of Yumi’s fantasy world: where everyday human interactions may be tolerable, unusual human interactions conquer solitude more efficiently. While she can successfully blend into the real world, the interactions Yumi has with real world people are superficial and artificial. Conversely, interactions with clients fulfill Yumi on a much deeper, more profound level. She is able to see a person’s true character, the facade of real life dissipates and their inner beauty is exposed, although these revelations are accompanied by physical intimacy.
In one case, Yumi is with a man who insists on using vulgar, demeaning language to aid his physical satisfaction. She has a bit of hesitation over adhering to this client’s tastes, but is quickly overcome by his passion, submitting to his animalistic desires. She eventually finds out this particular client is an animal rights activist while watching TV shortly after their encounter, eagerly agreeing with his arguments and positions. But seeing this client in his real world setting is superfluous to Yumi’s understanding of his true character. She knows instinctively, by means of their encounter, everything about him, and can even sense the passion he holds for his causes through his expressions of physical intimacy.
Yumi and her controversial occupation may be at the forefront of the story in Pink, but every character has a similarly interesting and deep connection between the real and fantasy world. What makes these characters and their views of reality so compelling is Okazaki’s ability to present each scenario with an unflinching, visceral realism. Many aspects of Pink could easily be sugar coated to make it a more comfortable read, in doing so the impact and underlying reflection Okazaki asks us to make would be completely lost. The relationship between real and fantasy in Pink highlights a paradoxical imbalance between what we see as “real” and “fantasy” in the world around us. Yumi’s job as an escort and the clients who hire her are very real, and exist in the world around us, but we choose to view either as abnormal or unhealthy. Similarly Okazaki’s depictions of love and sex reinforce both as natural human expressions. Scenes may present the acts in ways which make us feel awkward, but on reflection they are inescapably real, despite being in a fantasy world.
Pink is available for mature readers from Vertical, Inc.