The matter I’d been tasked to investigate had to do with Kan’ichi and the nature of his return. Kan’ichi Hiraizumi came home after the bureau sent out a notice, entirely separate from the first and second waves of repatriation. He had been admitted to a military hospital during his duty. After the war, he had also been detained as a prisoner of war in a place that was well-known—even to those with limited knowledge like myself—for having far from humane conditions. Still, he sustained no major injuries or infections, and with his mental and physical health cleared, he returned home on foot, alone.
Although it was a miracle worthy of celebration, this kind of story wasn’t particularly rare at the time. The problem was with how Kan’ichi looked since returning. There was little to no resemblance between photos of Kan’ichi from before the war and his current appearance, so much so that it seemed likely that a complete stranger could do a better job at mimicking him.
In short, he had returned a completely different person.
Not many photos remained of Kan’ichi before the war, as all his family photos burned with their home. However, a photo of Kan’ichi taken shortly before the draft could be found in the member directory of the Imperial Society of Fine Arts. Although the print is very much blurred, it still serves to verify his old face. Additionally, an art book published for one of the Imperial Society’s exhibitions contains a small self-portrait that Kan’ichi had completed during the war. Fellow painters and society members all claimed that it was in fact this self-portrait that accurately captured Kan’ichi’s appearance at the time, not the blurry photo. According to this image, Kan’ichi has white, round cheeks that give his face a softness evocative of his gentle personality, and resting upon them are crescent-shaped single eyelids framing his black irises. The corners of his mouth are buried in his plump cheeks, creating an expression that looks like a smile, even when he is silent.
At present, I have in my hands a copy of that self-portrait and a photo of the current Kan’ichi that I received from Enokida. In the new photo, he looks absolutely nothing like his prior self, to the point where if ten people were shown the two images side by side, all ten would confidently proclaim that they were looking at two different people. The dark, gaunt face had protruding cheekbones and a rugged jawline. Deep-set eyes opened wide with intensity and complex wrinkles were carved into the forehead.
This wasn’t a case of simply looking a little off—there wasn’t a single shred of resemblance. The two looked so different that no matter how long you spent examining them, it would be impossible to find any common features.
In fact, even Kan’ichi’s own parents hadn’t realized that the man standing at their front door was their own son. They had initially welcomed him into their home under the impression that he was simply some soldier who had returned from war.
“I didn’t remember Hiraizumi’s face at all to begin with,” Tae said, “so I hadn’t put much thought into it, besides thinking, well, stranger things have happened.”
As Tae told me, although Kan’ichi had returned home looking like a complete stranger, all his paperwork sufficiently proved that he was indeed who he claimed to be. Identity fraud was rampant at the time, so his sudden appearance did raise some suspicion. Still, as Tae murmured bemusedly with her hand over her round chin: “What’s the point of committing fraud to enter a penniless family like ours? Everything we had burned with the house.”
As for Kan’ichi’s parents, while they had initially welcomed him in as a stranger by mistake, the moment they understood that the man before their eyes was in fact their son, they were beyond elated, attributing his complete transformation to the exceedingly brutal conditions of the battlefield. Poor thing—the war was so awful that it turned our son into a stranger, so awful that it made him unrecognizable even in our eyes, they said, clinging to the man as tears streamed down their faces. While Tae was glad to discover that Kan’ichi was safe, the return of her husband for whom she had no strong feelings, along with the sudden, almost theatrical performance by her in-laws, left her unable to do anything but look on in a daze.
“So anyway, that’s more or less what happened,” Tae said as she stood up. “I wish I could be more help, but I’m afraid that’s about all I have to say. I’m sorry if none of this is useful.” As she had to make a trip to the shopping street before dinner, Tae offered to walk me to the train station.
Tae was about two years younger than me, and we got along well, perhaps because she was making an effort. I had decided not to take up too much of what little free time she had, but as we were talking I felt that it would be a shame to have to cut her short; before I knew it, my visit had run much longer than planned.
She told me that she knew a good path to take, and sure enough, the route she led me down didn’t have any of the steep hills I’d encountered on the way. Then again, going back the way I came meant that I would be going downhill anyway.
“Isn’t it strange how you can avoid all the ups and downs just by changing your path, even though you’re still moving down a hill? It’s almost like a trick painting, don’t you think?”
She kept talking right up until we arrived at the ticket gate. The next time I visit the studio, I should use this route, I thought to myself.
Tae told me that since his return, Kan’ichi had been living in the studio with his family, working with even more fervor than before the war. Recently, however, he had seemingly disappeared.
“To someone like myself who’s trained to analyze human faces from the level of bone structure, Hiraizumi is, without a doubt… Yes, that’s a completely different person,” said Yoji Enokida, refusing to back down from his claim.
Enokida had always taken care of Kan’ichi in one way or another, as an editor at the art publisher and as a good friend since before the war. While Kan’ichi was at the front, it was Enokida who had arranged for the Hiraizumis to move into the studio after their house had burned to the ground.
Enokida was also the one who approached me about this series of (in his words, “body double”) incidents—or events, rather—and tasked me with an investigation.
The man who returned from war looks like nothing but a stranger. Now he has disappeared. It does sound strange when you put it into words, but this isn’t an event that threatens lives, nor does it deal with a master thief stealing large sums of money. In these chaotic times, a story like this wouldn’t even be remarkable enough to share over cups of sake. In all likelihood, even if I were to write an article based on these interviews and brought it to a newspaper or a magazine, there wouldn’t be enough interest to run a feature.
It seemed as though the only kind of person who would accept Enokida’s proposal was someone like myself who was interested in documenting everyday life during these times, motivated not by compensation or recognition, but by curiosity alone (although, at the time, it’s true that there were a handful of people besides myself who recorded trivial events across the country without any intention to publish their findings). He must have approached me because of this.
The first thing Enokida said upon meeting me at the cafe was, “I want you to blow the lid off of this thing.”
He began speaking to me as if he was asking me to investigate the crime of the century. Enokida was slim and small in stature, and the oversized glasses he wore had a slight tint to them. Initially I’d thought that he came to meet me in disguise, but this was his regular look it seemed. I wondered if he was able to properly assess the quality of paintings with tinted glasses on. His black hair was slicked back with grease. His facial expressions led me to believe that he was the neurotic type, but this made sense given that he was talking about Kan’ichi with the utmost seriousness. If he were someone that I was meeting as a friend, I’m afraid I would struggle to take him seriously. But it would be premature of me to let my imagination fly and judge the man by his bright orange necktie alone.
“And Hiraizumi’s parents for that matter… I’m sure even they have a vague inkling,” Enokida said. “I mean, even if they don’t know much about physiognomy, this is their son we’re talking about… Of course…”
There’s no way they wouldn’t notice, Enokida seemed to say.
Not just Enokida, but everyone around the Hiraizumi family must think that there’s nothing to be done about this situation, especially out of pity for the parents who have lost everything. Their son returning home was their only hope. Maybe they have no doubt in their minds that the returned man is indeed their son, or maybe they accept him simply in order to carry on with their lives. Whether it was the former or the latter wasn’t really the point; everyone thought that Kan’ichi’s parents had made up their mind about accepting this man as their son.
On top of all of this, it seemed that Kan’ichi’s parents had little regard for me. To them, I was doubtful of their son’s return, coming to them like a grim reaper ready to declare his death.
I heard that he was never the chatty type, but Kan’ichi had been awfully taciturn since returning, even by his standards. Kan’ichi was known for being cheerful, personable and a good listener, and to Enokida who frequently drank with him before the war the new Kan’ichi seemed like a “changed man” in every sense of the word.
“Still, I bet his folks would say that he became this way because of the nasty treatment he got at war or something along those lines. Even if that were so, people don’t change that much.”
How was it over there, Enokida would ask, and if Kan’ichi preferred not to talk about it, I could try revisiting old memories, he thought. No matter the approach, Kan’ichi was silent, only taking small sips from his cup. Under these circumstances, it was hard not to wonder whether the man was keeping his mouth shut in order to protect his cover.
Enokida let me in on his theory. The current Kan’ichi was probably a man who met the old Kan’ichi at the front. The man was skilled in painting, but most likely never received recognition for his talent. He happened to meet Kan’ichi, a moderately well-known painter, and then a disturbing accident—all too common on the battlefield—took Kan’ichi as its victim. If he took Kan’ichi’s name, he would be able to live as a painter after the war; this must have been his plan.
“Luckily for him, this new man is talented. He’s almost as good as the old Hiraizumi—no, he can produce art wholly on par with Hiraizumi’s old work. When I think about it, he might be even more talented than Hiraizumi.”
Enokida suspected that this man must have known Kan’ichi from before the war in one way or another. He could have been a fellow student, for example, or maybe he had eagerly studied the Imperial Society’s exhibitions and contests, even submitting his pieces as well.
“I can look up these records through my work, so I’ll provide as much information as you need. Besides, coming from a battlefield where you have no idea who’s lying dead in the mud, anything can be done about those official documents if you’re one of the lucky ones who made it out alive. Also, Hiraizumi had…” Enokida fell silent again.
He then told me that as far as Kan’ichi’s disappearance was concerned, there was no need for a full investigation. Presumably, Enokida wanted me to only look into his suspicion that Kan’ichi returned from war as a different person. The man has vanished as of now, and while Enokida would be appreciative if the real or fake Kan’ichi was found, it wasn’t an absolute request.
Listening to his story up until this point, I had an emerging thought that perhaps Enokida was harboring feelings for Tae. At first it was a faint suspicion, but as I heard Enokida repeatedly interject with, “I feel bad for Tae,” or “for Tae’s sake,” it became clear what was really on his mind. It was obvious that Enokida despised the current Kan’ichi. I assumed that his desire to separate Tae from the fact of Kan’ichi’s survival was what motivated him to approach me in the first place.
Finally, Enokida spoke with a strained tone in his voice and added an extra detail: “On top of it all, he has a mistress.”
This didn’t come as a surprise to me. Stories like these are common among painters, novelists and the like, and it wasn’t unusual for me to look into these things as part of my work. Kan’ichi and Tae were over ten years apart in age. Therefore, while it was disheartening to hear, what made me more uneasy was how Enokida told me this as if to denounce Kan’ichi. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem necessary for me to vilify Kan’ichi’s entire existence upon learning this information, so I continued.
“So, this mistress—that started after his return?”
Enokida responded to my question gravely: “No, he’s been seeing this middle-aged woman since before the war.”
If that were the case, his affair was wholly unrelated to Kan’ichi being his pre-war self or not, and it didn’t seem likely either that disparaging it would bring Tae closer to Enokida. Still, I had no intention of pointing this out to him. All I had to do was to focus on investigating whether or not Kan’ichi was the same person as before the war. I accepted Enokida’s proposal.
As of right now, there isn’t a single shred of evidence that would convict Kan’ichi as an imposter. If a man really did swap places with Kan’ichi on the battlefield, it wouldn’t be difficult to at least mimic his hairstyle or build. Besides, if he had truly known Kan’ichi from before the war as Enokida had suggested, it was even more reason for him not to return with a completely altered appearance. At the end of the day, Kan’ichi did indeed return fair and square, carrying all the paperwork necessary to prove his identity.