Under the title of this book is written Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter, so I figured I could now understand what a Yakuza is from someone within and, perhaps, I could finally separate fact from myth. However, early on, Tendo makes it clear that this book is about her and not the Yakuza. It would be harmful to the persons to divulge information about them, which she’ll avoid, or to talk about the workings of the Yakuza… right, I’m thinking the title is a marketing gimmick.
This is a first person account of Shoko Tendo who was the daughter of a wealthy Yakuza boss. The early chapters reveal the relationship she had between her emotionally stiff father, her mother who constantly worries and frets over the family, and her rebellious sister who set the example on how to be cool by cutting off classes and hanging out with young gangs – otherwise known as a yanki. There’s little mention of her oldest sibling, her brother, whom also suffers by reputation from being of a Yakuza family and from Tendo’s stunts when she, too, becomes a yanki.
According to her accounts, her father was suffering financial difficulties and falling into debt. With little knowledge offered about the workings of the Yakuza, all I could gather is that if you have money, you’ll be regarded with respect and feared; if you’re loosing money, fellow Yakuza offer you bailouts with outrageous interests that you can’t possibly pay back; if you loose all the burrowed money, you’re in for it because first, the collectors come and harras you to pay up and then, when you can’t make the payments, the hitman comes around. Well I don’t see the logic in any of this. Furthermore, Tendo never shows that her father’s activities were criminal since even she accorded the term Yakuza synonymous to Mafia.
The events and circumstances that are supposed to evoke my sympathy are hard to relate to since Tendo made her own choices knowing what she was getting herself into. Frankly, there was little validity to her ditching school or joining a gang. Then there’s her fall into drug use where she talks about the rush of shooting up and f***ing while high. Or her accounts of physical abuse, which start gradually with her boyfriend who she shoots up with, before it builds up to outbursts of violence where her descriptions conjured the image of her being a human punching bag. The abuse continues with other men, too, even after she ended her drug addiction, and it reads more like a tab on the number of violent encounters than anything with more substance.
The problem with Tendo’s character portrait is that it’s written without depth. At no point does Tendo ever go into the impact such physiacl abuse had on her state of mind or the emotional turmoil it inflicted upon her. At this point, the book lost all credibility to me. The only argument Tendo has to justify her actions such as become a yanki, alomst get gang-raped, use speed and f*** all the time – was that she was Yakuza, an outcast in society, in school, among friends… But what does Yakuza mean?! I’m just supposed to grasp Tendo’s contextual references because she tells me that that’s how things work.
Later on, the book takes a different tone where she doesn’t even need to justify or argue any of her choices. I have to take it at face value that she works as an escort (but is not a prostitute even though men constantly proposition her), she willingly lends money to her gambling brother-in-law because her sister asks her to, she supports her family even though she can barely afford rent… I’m not necessarily saying this isn’t all possible or truthful, but I’m saying that she chose to write about it, so why not make me understand and feel for her?
Suffice it to say, the book came across as more of an account of the hardships of being the daughter of a Yakuza – whatever that means – and the choices a young woman makes as a result of that alone. A thin, non-compelling argument given the extremity of what happens to her while her parents worry and offer her support in the background. Her story could fill a 500 page memoir stuffed with emotional investment and reflection but, instead, it’s 195 pages with scenes and dialogue that read more like a bad thriller.