The Graveyard Apartmentby Mariko Koike
One of the most popular writers working in Japan today, Mariko Koike is a recognized master of detective fiction and horror writing. Known in particular for her hybrid works that blend these styles with elements of romance, The Graveyard Apartment is arguably Koike’s masterpiece. Originally published in Japan in 1986, Koike’s novel is the/i>
One of the most popular writers working in Japan today, Mariko Koike is a recognized master of detective fiction and horror writing. Known in particular for her hybrid works that blend these styles with elements of romance, The Graveyard Apartment is arguably Koike’s masterpiece. Originally published in Japan in 1986, Koike’s novel is the suspenseful tale of a young family that believes it has found the perfect home to grow into, only to realize that the apartment’s idyllic setting harbors the specter of evil and that longer they stay, the more trapped they become.
This tale of a young married couple who harbor a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building start to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone... or something... lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.
Reviewed by Cherie Priest It’s been 30 years since The Graveyard Apartment was published in Japan, and now this new translation aims to bring the supernatural stylings of Mariko Koike to a 21st-century English-reading audience. This claustrophobic ghost story does lay down the creepy atmosphere and hit the form’s best notes, but I suspect the reception will be mixed—largely because the book could be at least a third shorter, and its protagonists are real jerks. Teppei and Misao Kano are seeking a fresh start in a largely vacant apartment building called the Central Plaza Mansion. Sure, it’s surrounded on three sides by an old cemetery and it overlooks a temple with a crematory, but the price is right and the building is practically brand new. Immediately upon arrival, their pet bird dies, their small daughter complains of ghostly visits, and their dog behaves weirdly. One by one, the neighbors move out, and the scary incidents escalate. From a high-level genre standpoint, it’s satisfyingly paint-by-numbers—which I don’t say as a criticism, or intend as a backhanded compliment. I’m a big fan of ghost stories, and I don’t want every one of them to reinvent the wheel. I love a good wheel. However, there’s a lot of filler, and the narrative is almost entirely tell, no show. Too often the action slows down for a lengthy aside on a topic such as civic planning or urban real estate, and the characters routinely indulge in hefty interior monologues that mostly underscore what terrible people they are. To be frank, despite their adorable daughter and dog, the newest residents of the Central Plaza Mansion are hard to root for. Their relationship began as a torrid affair that drove Teppei’s first wife to suicide, and even when he found her body hanging in their apartment, he couldn’t find it in his heart to say anything nice about her. Instead, he idly mused about how badly he’d treated her when she was alive—and how much she’d deserved every minute of it. Misao isn’t much better, though she does show a little embarrassment about the whole affair-and-suicide thing. Unfortunately, when she isn’t going through the motions of respecting the dead wife’s memory, she’s busy being catty about people who are kind to her. By the end, I was hoping that the kid and dog would ride off safely into the sunset, and everybody else would go ahead and get eaten by monsters. That said, the supernatural mystery at the center is pretty interesting, and there are several solid scare-scenes that are beautifully done. The Graveyard Apartment requires some patience in places, and not everyone will hold out for the reward at the end. But for true genre enthusiasts, it’s worth a look. Cherie Priest is the author of 19 books and novellas, including the gothic horror novel Maplecroft and the Clockwork Century series. Her novel The Family Plot will be out from Tor Books in September.
“Strange, mysterious, a little unsettling, but mostly it’s just good.” Joe R. Lansdale, author of Paradise Sky
“Claustrophobic and chilling, Mariko Koike’s novel will slowly wrap its icy finger around your neck, while the last thirty pages will have you holding your breath. Highly recommended!” Ronald Malfi, author of Little Girls
“This incredibly creepy story seeps into your bones like that basement chill, searing imagery into your brain that’s so startling, your nightmares – and elevator rides – will never be the same.” Maria Alexander, Bram Stoker Award winner and author of Mr. Wicker
A too-good-to-be-true apartment turns out to be exactly that for a young Japanese family in this supernatural thriller.Confronted with prohibitive housing prices, a young couple is thrilled to find a large, airy apartment for themselves, their small daughter, and the family dog that they can afford. Misao, the wife and mother of the pair, has her own misgivings. Why are there so few tenants in a building that offers such a bargain? And why would anyone choose to build a high-rise surrounded by a graveyard on three sides? Unfortunately, all of the portents in this thriller are that obvious. Pet bird found dead in its cage on the morning after the family moves in? Check. Basement with storage space that can only be reached by elevator since—cue shuddery music—there are no stairs? Yep. This is the kind of book in which, if the little girl didn't start announcing that the dead bird was talking to her, you'd think the author had forgotten to add it. It's also of that particularly unpleasant hue where basically decent characters exist to be punished. Ghost stories rarely end well. But the fates in this one are too grim to provide even spooky pleasure. There's a vacancy in the Graveyard Apartment. Just not the one the author intended.
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Read an Excerpt
The Graveyard Apartment
By Mariko Koike, Deborah Boliver Boehm
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1993 Mariko Koike
All rights reserved.
March 10, 1987
When they got up that first morning, the little white finch was dead. The bottom of the cage was covered with a thick layer of loose feathers, and it looked as if there had been a violent struggle before the bird finally gave up the ghost.
"I wonder if it was just his time to go," Teppei Kano said softly. "How old was he, anyway?"
"He was only four years old," replied Teppei's wife, Misao. "We bought him right after Tamao was born, remember?"
"Oh, right. That seems like an abnormally short life, even for a bird. Maybe he was sick or something."
"Or he might have hit his head during the move and gotten injured somehow, maybe when the cage was jostled. I think that's more likely."
Misao opened the door of the metal cage and gently placed the dead bird in the palm of her hand. The tiny body was already cold. When Misao held it up to her nose, she caught a faint whiff of dried grass — the same earthy scent the little finch had given off when he was alive. Hot tears filled her eyes.
Making an effort not to cry, Misao stroked the stiffening corpse with her forefinger. "Poor little Pyoko," she murmured. "You were so cute."
"He really was," Teppei agreed.
The family's mixed-breed dog, Cookie, trotted up and laid her front paw on Misao's knee. The dog's nose twitched convulsively as she sniffed the air.
"Your friend Pyoko went and died," Misao said. Choking back another sob, she held out the bird's lifeless body, now cradled in both her hands, until it was nearly touching Cookie's muzzle. The dog inhaled deeply, taking in the dead bird's aroma, then wagged her tail and looked up at Misao with sorrowful eyes.
"We'll bury him later, outside," Teppei said, putting his hand on Misao's shoulder. "It's kind of ironic that our new location is already coming in handy. At least when we need a graveyard, there's one right in front of our building."
"Oh, don't say things like that! Anyway, I thought we agreed not to talk about the cemetery." Misao was feeling distinctly depressed about the fact that a living creature they'd been caring for had died so soon after their move to a new place. What on earth happened overnight? she wondered. As recently as yesterday the little bird had been in fine shape, chirping merrily away like an avatar of good cheer, both while he was riding in the back of the moving truck along with Cookie and after his cage had been installed in the living room. And yet now ...
"Mama?" Misao's reverie was shattered by the sound of her daughter's voice coming from the child-size bedroom — which they called, aspirationally, the nursery — down the hall. Tamao always went to sleep docilely enough, but as soon as she woke up in the morning she would call out for her mother in a whimpering voice that sounded, to Misao's ears, like an abandoned puppy.
Handing the little bird's corpse to Teppei, Misao responded in a perfectly normal, everyday tone, "Good morning, sleepyhead! Time to get up!"
A few seconds later Tamao's face peeked around the corner of the door to the living room. It was a beguiling little face, with her father's large, bright eyes and her mother's sharply chiseled features, framed by soft, slightly wavy black hair. Every time Misao saw her daughter she thought, She looks as if she could turn into an angel on the spot, if you just attached a pair of wings to her back.
"Sweetie, come here for a minute, okay?" Misao said in a subdued voice, beckoning with one outstretched hand.
Tamao's big brown eyes flicked quickly to the birdcage by the window, then back to her mother. "Where's Pyoko?" she asked.
"He's right here," Teppei said quietly, holding out his cupped hands.
Tamao's bare feet slapped on the floor as she nimbly threaded her way among the jumble of packing boxes to join her father. Teppei opened his hands and showed Tamao the tiny, motionless bird. Tamao took a quick peek, then looked up at her father. "Is he sick?" she asked anxiously.
Teppei shook his head, while Misao explained, "Listen, sweetie, I'm really sorry, but Pyoko's dead. He's in heaven now."
Tamao stared at her parents for a long moment. She looked utterly stupefied, and her thin chest was heaving under her Snoopy-patterned pajamas. Then, very timidly, she stretched out a plump pink finger and began to caress the dead bird. "Poor little thing," she said.
"Later today we'll all go outside together and dig a grave," Misao told Tamao. "We'll make it extra-specially nice, because Pyoko was such a good friend of yours."
Tamao was a delicate, sensitive child. As Misao watched helplessly, tears welled up in her daughter's eyes and rolled down her rosy cheeks. "Poor Pyoko," Tamao moaned. "Poor little Pyoko."
Misao nodded, fighting back the urge to burst into empathetic tears. "Yes," she said, "it's very sad that Pyoko's gone. That's why we have to make a really nice grave for him."
How on earth did this happen? Misao wondered again, with a growing sense of uneasiness. It really looked as though the entire cage had been attacked and mauled by a cat, and the water dish was filled with the bird's minuscule feathers, possibly shed (Misao theorized) in a life-or-death battle. Could a rat have gotten into the cage during the night? But surely there wouldn't be rodents running around in a sparkling new apartment building like the Central Plaza Mansion.
"It's really strange, though, isn't it?" Misao said, cocking her head and attempting to dispel the melancholy atmosphere in the room by changing the focus from loss to cause.
"Definitely," Teppei agreed. "It occurred to me that Cookie might have been trying to play with Pyoko and things just got out of hand. But the cage was latched, so that explanation doesn't hold water."
"Besides, Cookie would never do something like that!" Tamao declared indignantly, roughly wiping away her tears with both hands. "Cookie's a very nice dog, and she and Pyoko were really good friends."
"You're right, of course," Misao said in a soothing tone. "Cookie would never do anything to hurt Pyoko, but it's just so mystifying. I mean, what could have happened? What do you think, Tamao?"
"I have no idea," Tamao said, shaking her head.
"We were all sleeping like a pile of logs last night, so we wouldn't have heard anything," Teppei said, as he carefully wrapped the bird's remains in an old newspaper, then laid the bundle on a nearby packing box. "Hey, maybe it was a giant monster cockroach, almost as big as Tamao. Grrrr!"
Tamao's eyes were still brimming with tears, but now they crinkled around the edges and she began to giggle. There was something a bit forced about her laughter, but she was clearly doing her best to play along with her father.
"Could there really be cockroaches on the eighth floor of a new building? And wouldn't March be a little early for them to show up, in any case? If this apartment has cockroaches, even if they're just the normal size, I'm going to move out right now!" Misao said playfully.
Scooping Tamao into his arms, Teppei said, "Did you hear that? Your silly mom got totally hysterical at the very mention of a bug. Who's afraid of the big bad cockroach? Not I!" he chanted in a comical singsong.
Tamao laughed outright at this, and Cookie began capering manically around the room, apparently sensing the change in mood. Misao was relieved to see that things seemed to be returning to normal. Briskly, she picked up the empty birdcage and took it out to the balcony. After sending Tamao off to wash her hands, she set about brewing a pot of coffee.
The spacious, south-facing living room was flooded with morning light. Okay, Misao told herself, it was a terrible shock to find that Pyoko had died in the night, but now it's time to put aside our feelings of sadness and confusion, and get to work.
The to-do list for the day was as long as Misao's arm. For starters, she needed to clean and organize the kitchen; go out and buy enough groceries to keep them going for the next couple of days while they were settling in; and air all the quilts and other bedding, which had no doubt picked up some dust during the move. She could put Teppei to work hooking up the electrical appliances and pushing the furniture into place, but she would still need to give the toilet, washroom, and bathroom a thorough scrubbing, and arrange both bedrooms for comfort and convenience. There were so many stacks of cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked that just looking at them made her feel slightly ill.
Still, compared with the rather dark, cramped rental apartment they had lived in until yesterday, their new home seemed like a vacation condo at some glamorous seaside resort. The eight-story building had only fourteen units, not counting the husband-and-wife caretakers' quarters on the ground floor. There were two units per floor, and while the floor plans of those units were mirror images of each other, the placement of the balconies differed a bit from apartment to apartment, so the building's facade had an interesting irregularity when viewed from outside.
The entry hall opened into a spacious, airy living room with a sunny southern exposure, which abutted a separate kitchen. Ranged along a corridor were a toilet cubicle, a washroom, and a separate bathroom with a tub lined up along one side; next came the two Western-style bedrooms, each with a single window and both facing north. The master bedroom was about half again as large as the nursery, and thanks to numerous built-in cupboards there was no shortage of storage space.
Heading south on foot from Japan Rail's Takaino Station, it took only seven or eight minutes to reach the Central Plaza Mansion, and another railway stop — the privately operated South Takaino Station — was just a few blocks farther away. From Takaino Station the train took just under twenty minutes to reach the center of Tokyo, and Teppei's daily commute to the advertising agency where he worked was a straight shot, with no need to change trains along the way. As for St. Mary's, the kindergarten where they were planning to enroll Tamao, it was a ten-minute walk from the apartment. Looking ahead a couple of years, the district's public elementary school was even closer; it wouldn't take more than eight or nine minutes to walk there, even for a child.
A convenient shopping area and a large, privately owned hospital were situated nearby, just steps away from the north exit of Takaino Station. Best of all, the apartment building didn't have any bothersome rules against keeping pets indoors, so there was no need to worry about Cookie.
It's pretty close to perfect, Misao thought. What more could anyone want? Two LDK (real-estate shorthand for two bedrooms, living room, dining area, and kitchen); nearly a thousand square feet, including the balcony; a building that was only eight months old; full-time resident managers, right on the premises. For a family in search of a wholesome, peaceful life, it was really quite ideal. Not bothering with a tablecloth, Misao laid out two coffee cups on the bare dining table, along with Tamao's mug, which was adorned with a picture of a cartoon bear. When she happened to glance toward the balcony, a fleeting wave of misgivings about the location washed over her. Shaking it off, she made a conscious effort to focus on the positives. Beyond the sliding-glass doors, the verdant-smelling March air was whipping around, and there were no buildings nearby to obstruct her field of vision. If only the sublime greenery belonged to a park, and not a graveyard ...
Misao gave her head a quick, purposeful toss, as if to banish such futile thoughts, then laughed out loud. There she went again, fretting about minor drawbacks and useless hypotheticals. As if she had time to waste on that kind of nonsense! Cut it out, she told herself sternly.
The percolating coffee began to fill the room with a delicious aroma. Misao grabbed a frying pan that had just been unpacked a few moments earlier and gave it a quick rinse under the tap. She heated the pan on the stove and added a splash of cooking oil. When the oil began to sizzle, she dropped in three of the eggs she had brought from their previous place — painstakingly packed to make sure they wouldn't get broken in transit.
As she worked, Misao couldn't keep her eyes from wandering to the living-room windows. The nearly perfect apartment was partially surrounded, from the south to the west side, by a vast graveyard that belonged to an ancient Buddhist temple. To the north were some uninhabited houses, long since fallen into ruin and engulfed in weeds, while on the east side there was a patch of vacant land. Beyond that empty field the smokestack of a crematorium was clearly visible, and from time to time the tall, cylindrical brick chimney would belch out a billow of thick black smoke. Depending on which way the wind was blowing, it wasn't inconceivable that some of that mortal smoke might waft in through the apartment's open windows from time to time.
"We really lucked out, finding this place," Teppei said when they came to look at the Central Plaza Mansion for the first time. "If it weren't for the proximity to a graveyard, there's no way the price would ever be so low nowadays. I mean, think about it. Do you really believe that a large luxury apartment like this in the Tokyo metropolitan area would be priced so low if the surroundings were different?"
"And look, there's a crematorium practically next door!" Misao said with mock enthusiasm. "That'll be handy for the next step, when the time comes. Talk about a stroke of luck!" Upon hearing this, the agent who was showing the property launched into a spiel that was clearly designed to be persuasive, explaining that sophisticated people in Europe simply thought of graveyards as another type of public park, with no negative connotations whatsoever.
"Yes, I see your point," Misao said, her voice dripping with sarcasm as she gazed at the view from the balcony. "If only the ground beneath the graveyard weren't full of the decomposing bones of human beings, it would be exactly like a botanical garden."
Misao had absolutely no desire to live in a place like this. However low the price, however marvelous the accommodations, however sunny the exposure, however close to the center of the city the apartment might be, her initial gut feeling was still: Uh-uh. Never. No way. Surely, she thought, nobody in their right mind would intentionally invest in a property surrounded on three sides by a cemetery, a temple where funerals were held, and a busy crematorium.
Yet at the same time, from the very first viewing of the apartment — indeed, from the instant she looked out at the graveyard and thought, No way — the truth was that Misao was being inescapably pulled in the opposite direction by the stark numerical realities. She had given up her freelance illustration work when Tamao was born, and that had taken a severe toll on the family's finances. As for Teppei's salary, the advertising business was in an industry-wide slump, and there was no chance of his getting a raise any time soon.
But still, at their current rental — a dilapidated, sun-deprived apartment where even in the midsummer heat, the laundry Misao hung on the north-facing balcony took forever to dry — they were essentially pouring money down the drain every month. Fortunately, they had managed to hang on to some of their savings, and Misao got the feeling that if they were going to use that money for a down payment on a suitable apartment, it was probably now or never.
As Teppei pointed out at every opportunity, you could look all over Tokyo and not find a single comparable unit at this price: only thirty-five million yen for a great deal of space. When you factored in the convenience for commuting, shopping, schools, and so on, it wouldn't be unusual to pay sixty million yen or, more likely, seventy million yen for an apartment of similar size, or smaller. So on the one hand there was the disadvantage of having to look out at a graveyard and a crematorium smokestack, while on the other hand you were getting a very attractive living space for something close to half price. I need to look on the bright side here, Misao thought. I mean, if you need to live within commuting distance of central Tokyo, finding an affordable, family-size home that offers perfection inside and out is the proverbial impossible dream, with no chance of ever coming true. This apartment is gorgeous inside, at least, and (if you don't think too much about the view) the location really couldn't be more convenient.
Excerpted from The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike, Deborah Boliver Boehm. Copyright © 1993 Mariko Koike. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
MARIKO KOIKE was born in Tokyo and is the recipient of a number of literary awards including the Naoki Prize, the Shibata Renzaburo Award, and the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature. She is the author of The Graveyard Apartment.
DEBORAH BOLIVER BOEHM, who translated The Graveyard Apartment, is also the translator of Koike’s 2009 release The Cat in the Coffin and of Kenzaburo Oe’s The Changeling.
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Not your typical American horror story. Dark and edgy, keeps you on the edge of your seat.