Originally published in 1990, Kazushi Hosaka's Plainsong is not so much a novel as it is a reaction to contemporary prose. Hosaka stands still amidst the forceful stream of dramatic literature, and in Plainsong renders a plot so peaceful and real that patient readers will marvel at the honesty and clarity he achieves with so little action.
In Plainsong's opening, the nameless narrator signs a lease to an apartment just before his girlfriend suddenly leaves him. Holding off a quiet wave of depression and loneliness, the narrator preoccupies himself with the neighborhood cats. He feeds strays and observes their behavior, evidently finding some solace in his ability to look after the creatures. Perhaps these feelings are still at work when his friend Akira asks if he can stay over indefinitely - the narrator quietly obliges, as if secretly hoping to fill his life (and empty apartment) with something to look after, and a little more meaning.
More houseguests flow through the narrator's home. Akira's girlfriend, Yoko, moves in and grows similarly infatuated with the area felines. Another friend, Shimada, drops in and together the four wander the Tokyo suburbs, clinging to whatever traces of youth they can still feel. Not quite in their thirties, the four find themselves caught between reminiscing of the past and looking towards the future. For the time being, though. they're perfectly content to just drift.
"There was such a thing as a person whose talents were too obvious. It wasn't always the person with the special gifts who rose to the top...it was almost as though what you really needed to make it to the top was not so much talent itself as...as this thing, whatever it was, that saved you from standing out too much from the crowd."
Just as horseracing is used to present Plainsong's deeper themes, Hosaka introduces a filmmaker friend named Gonta who indirectly explains some of the literary motifs of the novel. Like Hosaka writes, Gonta films everyday simplicities in search of whispered plots. His techniques are explicitly detailed in Plainsong, almost as if Hosaka himself is speaking through Gonta:
Both Hosaka and his characters accept the simplicities of their plots. And, with this acceptance, Plainsong coasts along with impressive confidence. However, the contented floating of these characters isn't met without a sense impending change. The cats, for instance, provide a lovely reminder of time's inescapability. They paw their way through the novel and appear sporadically through the text, each time a little bigger and a little more grown up.
Plainsong is a novel for the good old days, capturing an acceptably directionless time in many people's lives before they really need to grow up. Hosaka writes from an older and wiser point of view, though, and even allows his narrator some flashes of maturity and nostalgia during his wandering:
"The feeling was one I often have - a sense of something that vanishes into intangibility just before you can grasp it and put it into words. ...This sense of something nebulous, forever on the point of taking form verbally, but never quite doing so, is one that comes back to me even now from time to time, allowing me to taste again the pleasant sensation I often had back then of drifting aimlessly yet enjoyably through the days."